This is the least new FIFA for a long time, but it’s also one of the most complete new FIFA for a long time. With a new generation of consoles just round the corner, EA Sports seem reluctant to make any huge changes at all to a game that’ll be swapping engines in the very near future (the PS4 and XBONE releases of FIFA 14 are supposedly running on completely new engines). Having only minor refinements and roster updates from year-to-year is a false truism of FIFA, which has had several substantial changes over the last console generation, but this year it lives up to the stereotype. There’s still a great football simulator here, just not one that’s all that different from what you’ve been playing for the last year.
The main gameplay changes are in elements outside your direct control. Player movement has changed to accommodate a much larger focus on momentum. It results in a much more weighty experience, and heavy players feel accordingly slow yet powerful. Conversely, nippier wingers will hit top speed more quickly. If they’re a player with good ball control stats and technique you’ll feel powerful in their hands, able to fox defenders with sudden directional changes and bursts of pace. Your first few FIFA 14 matches will be scrappy and of poor quality, even if you’re a veteran of the series, as you struggle to master the subtleties of the new ways in which players move. It requires more thought as to how your players are positioned when you receive the ball, and if you have your body shape all wrong when the pass comes into your feet you’ll have a very hard time squeezing round the opposition player jockeying you.
That’s where the most significant gameplay addition comes in. The new dribbling controls have been implemented to provide a way of defending the ball when you can’t keep running. Press the left shoulder button and your player slows, entering something of a defensive dribbling mode. As long as you keep the button held, your player will attempt to put his body between the ball and any challenging opponents, giving yourself time to figure out a way to get around him via skill moves or canny passing. It’s a useful and satisfying addition. You can attract the other team in close with a strong player, shield the ball from them and then offload the ball to a runner overlapping you. It makes playing through the centre of midfield a more realistic and satisfying experience and makes the new, heavier-feeling players make more sense.
It all sounds good so far, but here’s the thing – that’s about it for new gameplay stuff. A couple of minor tweaks to physics, a new dribbling move and almost nothing else are the only noticeable differences to FIFA 13. EA Sports haven’t even fixed the long-running flaws with the gameplay. Despite the supposedly new ways in which your pro will strike the ball, there are still some avenues of attack that’ll result in a goal more often than others. I won’t tell you which. Figuring them out is half the fun. Player collisions can still be hilariously unrealistic on occasion, but it’s tough to see the funny side when what would be illegal blocking in real life takes place and it breaks down the flow of play. With EA wanting more emphasis on midfield control this year, they could have done a better job of ensuring referees are more intelligently positioned, and I seem to be tripping over the referee more often than in previous instalments.
Previously seen modes are all present and correct. There’s career for boring single-player losers, Ultimate Team for people with addictive personalities, online seasons and pro clubs for hardened multiplayer veterans, and skill games for when you’re waiting for a friend to finish his match and join a lobby. There are a couple of changes to the way these modes operate here and there, but they’re so insignificant they’ll only make sense to FIFA veterans who are buying this game regardless.
This is the essence of FIFA 14 – a great package but a hefty sidestep, rather than a leap, as some of its predecessors were. The menus are fantastically designed, accessible and simple, which isn’t a mean feat considering the sheer amount of different modes and ways to play, and make it seem a shinier, fresher product than it is. I suspect that this review is rather pointless, and you already know whether you want FIFA 14 or not, but I can only really recommend if you play a lot of multiplayer, as I do, or are truly desperate for updated rosters. Otherwise, you might as well wait a month or two and see if EA’s next-gen efforts carry the substantial gameplay upgrades this version lacks.