Next generation sports games, particularly the ones released in transitional years that straddle two console lifespans, aren't always high in quality. Often one title is rushed and stripped of features, leaving keen fans ripped off by a half-baked product. FIFA 14 is not that sort of game. It's stylish, gorgeous and packed with content, making just enough changes to the existing PS3/360 versions to justify reinvesting even if you've already played it to death elsewhere.
The most important thing to note is that EA Sports have rebuilt FIFA 14 from scratch using their brand new Ignite Engine. Playing the game doesn't feel different in any revolutionary ways, and you'll mostly notice changes in things outside of your control. The ways players animate has stepped up a level from PS3/360 FIFA 14, with more subtle, automatic movements added in and the transitions between different animations smoothed out. The way bodies shift, turn and strike the ball whilst sprinting, for example, feels much more natural, especially when combined with old FIFA 14's focus on making player body weight feel more realistic. Your players will jostle for possession in meaningful ways when alongside each other, and collisions look positively gnarly. The impact engine is less glitch-prone than it has been in previous iterations, and although you'll still have the occasional blip where you'll accidentally be tripped up by a teammate or get away with a tackle you really shouldn't have, it's better than ever.
The switch to new consoles also allows for the presentation and graphics to receive a substantial boost. The raw look of the the game is fine, but the power of new consoles has been mainly used to expand the scope and realism of the way the game is presented. Licensed stadia are now given the same kind of reverence Forza gives its cars, with lush helicopter shots of the entire area and lingering wide shots of the crowds before kickoff. The one drawback to this is that the small number of licensed stadia are inadequate. If you want to recreate authentic Premier A League action, EA, at least spend some of that money to ensure all grounds are faithfully recreated.
The game isn't afraid to show you the crowd any more, and instead of zooming in and restricting your view of the celebrations when you score, it pans out and gives you a better feeling of satisfaction. They way they react to actions on the pitch looks impressive; blaze a shot just wide from distance and you'll see a few fans throw their hands in the air in excitement, and when you view the replay of a goal the crowd has a realistically-delayed reaction to the ball hitting the net. It isn't perfect - focus too hard and you'll still see the same handful of models over and over again - but it makes a big difference and boosts the realistic presentation style the game has been going for in recent years.
Pleasingly, no game modes have been stripped out in order to rush this version of FIFA 14 out the door. Over the years, the series has built up an intimidating number of different ways to play, giving it huge longevity. There's a method of playing for every type of player: pro clubs and player career for the fantasists that want to see their name in lights, ultimate team for wannabe stockbrokers, manager mode for control fiends and multiplayer seasons for the competitive. They're all varied and engaging in their own way, and each provide enough entertainment alone to keep you occupied even if, like me, you grow bored of Ultimate Team after you completely assemble one tactically pure squad.
FIFA 14 exudes polish from every pore. It's a great all-rounder, able to entertain players of all abilities. Until Battlefield fixes its problems, there isn't a better multiplayer game on PS4 either. Sports fan or no, there aren't many more complete games you can pick up this launch window.