Maybe this year’s Men’s World Cup is why “FIFA 14” (PS3; Rated E; $59.99) feels somehow more visible than previous releases in the long-running soccer game franchise. Or maybe it’s the fact that “FIFA 14” is one of the best-reviewed games of the young lives of Xbox One and PS4. Or maybe enough people finally realized how great last year’s “FIFA Soccer 13” was.
For whatever reason, “FIFA 14” is getting some attention as a major sports release, sitting comfortably amongst the major NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL releases.
You may notice that few, if any, of the reasons listed above have anything to do with the game itself, which is as close to the dreaded “roster update” release as I’ve seen in any video game in some time. Perhaps most of the development energy went toward the new systems that “FIFA 14” now exists for, but a look at the “new features” for the old systems is disappointing.
The problem is that these are features that really can’t be quantified in any way; they are largely gameplay “tweaks” given fancy names. “REAL BALL PHYSICS,” they tout, as though previous games hadn’t thought to apply physics to the direction of the ball. “TEAMMATE INTELLIGENCE,” they offer, as if your computerized teammates in previous games simply ran around in circles.
How is it different?
Playing back-to-back games of “FIFA Soccer 13” and “FIFA 14” yields few hints. There is certainly a difference in the feel of the play, but it’s not very quantifiable. “FIFA 14” seems to place more of a premium on momentum, in that turning around a team that starts a strong and effective attack can be quite difficult, but it’s hard to tell how much of that is an AI reaction to an individual play style.
Most confounding of all were the updates to the chemistry system in the FIFA Ultimate Team mode. Ultimate Team hasn’t changed all that much, in that it’s still a mode that has you building a team based on decks of cards bought with virtual coins, which you can either buy or win by winning games with your team.
Still, before you play a single minute of time with your own team, “FIFA 14” goes out of its way to make you play a game with another team, one built to maximize the chemistry between players. This is to point out how it feels to play with such a team.
I lost “two-nil,” as the in-game announcers put it. I couldn’t give you one hint as to how a team with great chemistry affects the game, because such chemistry never manifested itself for me.
Complaints aside, it’s fantastic
All complaining aside, “FIFA 14” is still a fantastic game, probably the best soccer experience currently on the market. The music is well-chosen, largely upbeat without being overtly aggressive, avoiding the testosterone-fueled musical selections of many of its contemporaries.
There are still many, many different ways to play, from the ever-popular career mode to an online World Cup experience. And the gameplay, as with its predecessor, is as beautifully accurate as one can imagine any sports game being. Patience and geometry are at least as important as ball-handling skill and shot speed, and the dance between teams that gives soccer the nickname of “the beautiful game” is wonderfully represented.
Even if there’s no argument for buying it if you have last year’s model, “FIFA 14” is still a great game, and your best option for simulated World Cup glory as you cheer on your real-life team of choice. That said, it’s clear that its developers have their eyes on the future – a future in which the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4 are the consoles where the real work gets done.
(“FIFA 14” is also available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox 360, and PC.)
New this week: “Chibi-Robo Photo Finder” (3DS) is an interesting little budget-priced downloadable that sends you on a 3DS Camera-enabled hunt for real-life objects that match in-game silhouettes. Elsewhere, last year’s quirkily excellent PC survival experience “Don’t Starve” makes its way to the PlayStation 4.