FIFA 14 Review
Beyond the obvious high score, there’s a further testament to this game’s quality: I really don’t like soccer. In fact, I basically hate it. And because of that, I have to do quite a bit of research in order to effectively and accurately review a video game based on the world’s most popular sport. I also have to talk to a few friends who enjoy the sport and have a lot more experience with soccer games. In other words, it’s a pain in the ass for someone like me to review FIFA 14. And yet, it gets a 9. I learned a lot, I got into it, and, wonder of wonders, I had fun. The world must be ending.
I do have both the PS3 and PS4 versions to look at, and I can guarantee that there are noticeable visual upgrades in the next-gen iteration. The basic presentation and style is the same, of course, and there are the expected improvements in terms of clarity and detail. But the upgraded version features new and appreciated additions, such as more realistic stadium and fan depictions, and a myriad of subtle updates to the way players react in certain situations. In other words, while both versions look great, the next-gen version ups the immersion level considerably, simply by enhancing the overall atmosphere and embracing the spirit of the sport.
I’m not seeing the same significant jump in terms of audio, though. However, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, because the effects, commentary, and score are all fantastic in both versions. Perhaps the PS4 version has a bit better crispness but strangely, it seems the older installment has better sound balancing. I’ve noticed a distinct audio balancing issue in several PS4 launch titles, in fact; it was glaringly obvious in Killzone: Shadow Fall, for instance. But no matter which version you play, you’ll be treated to authentic fan roars, top-notch commentary work, and all the sounds that go along with an epic soccer match. If it isn’t so epic, that too is reflected in the sound presentation.
Despite the obvious similarities – and the fact that the PS3 version is perfectly solid – the upgraded PS4 version of FIFA 14 is clearly the way to go. When a sport hinges on the extremely enthusiastic, even manic, dedication of its fans, you need that atmosphere in order to accurately depict the sport. The better the depiction, the more intense the experience, right? Well, the PS4 version delivers all the extra gravy that’s missing from the older installment; there are more animations and everything is simply more fluid and more realistic. It also seems as if the extra power of the new console allowed the developers to produce more believable physics.
For example, the relatively straightforward process of moving a player around the field is more indicative of real life. And as such, possession hinges more on your ability to control your position, and defense relies upon your strategy and timing. In past entries, referees were more likely to toss the penalty flag, just because there wasn’t as much freedom of maneuverability. Now, one would think that because you’re not as limited, the refs might be stopping play every two minutes. But the developers must’ve understood that the increased mobility and freedom might result in a ton of frustrating penalties. Hence, the refs don’t seem to be all that strict. The hardcore might find this irritating but I appreciated the leeway.
As I said above, the technical improvement in the next-gen version is easily visible, and it has a direct impact on the gameplay. Because the game loads so quickly, and because the entire game is sharper and more defined, you feel as if you’re truly part of the soccer experience. There is a bit of a learning curve for newcomers but then again, I have a feeling that the FIFA franchise relies heavily upon long-time supporters and avid fans of the sport. So, if learning and practice are necessary, such individuals will enjoy that part. As a simulator, this game is all about learning the nuts and bolts of the on-field action, and that can take some time even for seasoned veterans. Those vets will love every second of it, though.
In terms of depth, there’s little to complain about from a gameplay standpoint. The control is only tricky at times because there’s so much you can do. Again, practice and diligence! Once you’ve mastered the art of passing, shooting and defense, you will start to feel quite effective, and that’s when you can start to impose your will. The physics are excellent and the technical aspects are on point, so you needn’t worry about a lack of options or mechanics. As for modes, there are plenty of ways to spend lots of time with the game; you can Be a Pro and take control of an individual player, or you can select Ultimate Team and build your own fantasy club.
There’s also the appealing Season mode (which can be played single-player or co-op) and Pro Clubs, which lets you create an online team with friends. However, for whatever reason, EA Canada opted to ditch the Tournament mode for FIFA 14. That kinda sucks because you can’t immediately participate in the World Cup or the Copa del Rey; to do so, you have to go all the way through Career mode. For my part, I find this to be a disappointing omission because I love tournament modes in sports games. It lets you get involved for a moderate amount of time, and the rewards are huge. It’s why we had Playoff tournaments in all the EA Sports games dating back to the early 90s. A few games and we're in the championship!
Other features that are oddly missing include the chance to let guests into your online game. Unranked online friendlies are gone, too, which some fans may find somewhat irritating. Even so, there’s always plenty to do when playing with others. The online experience is solid and very entertaining, especially when you’re teamed up with a dozen super dedicated fans. Thing is, such fans add a certain flavor to the multiplayer action, mostly because they take it so damn seriously. That’s good and bad; the bad should be obvious, but the good is equally clear to me— they all practice and play hard and because they respect the sport, they despise cheating and bad behavior of any kind.
The PSN has had some problems over the past week or so, but this game’s servers appear to be functioning just fine. With crisp, believable physics and control, an overwhelmingly impressive ambiance in every stadium and during most every match, and a multitude of highly effective gameplay mechanics, this is a top-tier product. It’s not necessarily a pick-up-and-play sports game, just because the inherent complexity of the sport requires at least some knowledge and expertise. If you’re willing to put the time in, though, you’ll emerge with a newfound respect for soccer. Still got no interest in playing as the goalie but that's okay.
FIFA 14 is a rip-roaring success on the PlayStation 4. The older version is great, too; it’s just an understated greatness when compared to the upgraded version. For the record, I’d probably give the PS3 iteration an 8.5. The two versions are indeed basically the same game, but the PS4 version ultimately improves on the entire experience. That’s why I give it that critical extra half-point. It’s too bad that we don’t get a tournament mode and the game is still tough to get into for soccer newbies. But aside from that, fans will be more than satisfied, ‘cuz the developers absolutely cover all their bases here. And yes, I’m aware that phrase arises from a different sport. I'm allowed to mix my sport sayings.
The Good: Excellent technical elements, including superb physics. Great control afforded by more maneuverability and freedom. Plenty of authenticity and realism for the die-hard fans. In-depth Career and Be a Pro modes are crowd pleasers. Awesome atmosphere and ambiance.
The Bad: Not having a Tournament mode is a letdown. Unforgiving for unseasoned soccer players.
The Ugly: “Okay, so it really is that hard to score a goal.”
12/3/2013 Ben Dutka