It goes without saying that annual releases, especially sport games, have it quite tough. They release every 12 months and are expected to be largely better than the previous year. While some games get years of development, the teams behind these games only get a year to bring out a product that people will want to buy again.
EA and its FIFA series has been at the forefront for so many years in this regard, and will no doubt continue to do so, despite some corner of gamers wondering why people buy it every year. For those that do buy it, you (we) know exactly why, especially when it comes to the beautiful game of football.
So once again EA Sports have promised lots of improvements over FIFA 14, which was already a fantastic game, but have those promises been realized, or have the team been caught offsides?
The presentation in FIFA is always a highlight. The production value that goes into the game is quite astounding year in, year out. The menus are vibrant and easy to navigate making it a seamless experience throughout. The presentation of the actual matches is once again out of this world with the pre-match information and the likes going the extra mile.
New in terms of presentation is the set out of the team management screen and options. This was long overdue and I am pleased to announce that the change is a successful one. The new management screens are for more intuitive and aesthetically appealing. Managing your squad is no longer a list based mess and it comes with the ability to mess around with formation, player roles, specific positions, duties and a whole lot more. Something which felt missing in earnest from previous games so it’s great to see some improvement here.
Graphics and Animation
The graphics in FIFA are always a high point. The stadiums look fantastic and it’s easy to see how much detail went into them. Crowds are now realistic rather than cardboard cutouts and the pitch especially looks amazing. The grass now cuts from the players running about it and you can see it start to tear up the longer the game goes on. It’s a nice touch, but after a while you will stop noticing it at all.
One disappointing aspect is still the facial likenesses. Players have similarities to their real life counterparts, but they look, at times very plastic like and at other times as though they have been petrified by a ghost. It goes further in that the players just don’t look realistic as they could. They look animated and cartoony at times and it is a bit of a pity considering how good the rest of the game looks. It’s obviously still a very pretty looking game with all the licenses, but a bit more effort is needed on the players.
The animations are a bit hit and miss. All the same tricks and movements return making the game as fluid as ever, but the impact system that EA have been working on just still doesn’t seem to be quite right. Players bump into each other which results in highly over exaggerated stumbling over. Players fall everywhere on the field and it gets quite annoying frequently. It spoils what is otherwise a great flow.
The music in FIFA is once again great and you will get quite accustomed to the tracks playing in the menus. The commentary has some improvements such as reading the team sheets before games (sometimes) and new anecdotes. BUT it is mostly terrible with the same phrases returning from the last 5 years or so, and then you also get them telling you things that don’t happen on the field, like saying a keeper dived to save it when you can see your keeper standing still… yeah. The less said the better.
Gameplay and Modes – Offline
The gameplay is split into two parts because I find the experience to be quite different. Offline modes do not include anything new at all. You can play friendlies, match day challenges, highlight challenges, career mode and skills training. Match day and highlight challenges are updated regularly (so technically you need to be online to get them) and add some quick challenges if you only have a short time to play. The real meat is in the career mode which returns with a few upgrades.
Firstly the scouting has thankfully been improved drastically. For well known players you no longer have to scout them to see their stats. For lesser known players, however the scouting works far better and you can get a good idea which players to get and which not to. The player search function is largely improved as well making buying players far less annoying than last year’s game. There are still some odd transfers that occur, but nothing quite like Messi going to Real Madrid.
Another improvement long overdue is the progression of younger players. Previously there was very little incentive or use out of getting young, average players with great potential because by the time they were anything close to decent you were sick of the game. Now they progress at a much more natural rate making it worthwhile to invest in youth.
Gameplay is what counts most though and against the AI it’s hard to say anything has really improved. Shooting and passing feels more natural with a good weight to and movement of the ball and I am happy to say that finesse shots seem a lot more balanced than before.
However, goalkeepers still seem to react terribly to situations, they are very unrealistically poor at the near post and occasionally forget to jump for crosses, dive out the way of the ball and other howlers which make you wonder if the game has a bug of sorts. It’s sad considering how good the diving animations look, and considering the marketing EA put into ‘next-gen’ keepers, but the truth is they just aren’t good enough still.
As much was made of intelligent players and this seems to be completely absent. You never really feel in control when defending and while I love the tactical defending it still needs some work. AI defending on your own team is as bad as ever as your AI controlled teammates refuse to mark players and end up leaving them free in the box where there is nothing you can do. Going forward is slightly better but at times your players just don’t make obvious runs, or if you break and have a 3-on-1 situation a player hangs back. Intelligent attacking? I think not. It has improved somewhat, just not enough.
The offline gameplay is still great fun and you will encounter some really tense moments, especially against a friend in couch co-op. The AI still feels a bit ‘rubberbandy’ and you can’t help but feel cheated when you concede yet another last-minute goal against the run of play. Thankfully the great moments and ability of players makes it worthwhile. Surely though, team identity started becoming a thing in FIFA now? Every team still plays the same kind of football, and that is the biggest letdown for me.
Gameplay and Modes – Online
Easily the biggest focus of FIFA nowadays is the online modes. It’s here that the game really thrives and helps set it apart from the cons. Returning once more is FIFA’s biggest seller in Ultimate Teams (FUT). The mode that has you building a team from scratch, play matches and tournaments to earn currency and improve your side in a number of ways.
FUT is as addictive as ever without really changing much in the formula at all. Included now is the ability to test out teams with the ‘Concept Teams’ function. This allows you to see where players would fit and how they would affect your set up before you buy them. It’s useful but adds nothing to the game. Loaning players is now a thing, but again doesn’t change much up. It’s an easy way to get a star player into your team for a set number of games which can’t be extended. I am not sure I see the point of it if I am totally honest.
FUT is definitely the most appealing factor to FIFA once again. Building a team is as much fun as playing in any of the numerous tournaments or season competitions. New tournaments and team of the week opponents are updated regularly, meaning it doesn’t go stale. You can play online or offline in any of the FUT modes and you even have the option to play in a sort of ‘Lounge mode’ against friends which is a wonderful inclusion for testing your mates out at the game.
Other online modes return in Seasons which is again something that has taken off well. You now have the option of co-op seasons, which is fantastic as you and a mate can take on the world with your favourite team. Pro clubs makes its appearance again and is still underwhelming, though it can be fun if you have enough people playing.
Gameplay online does change that much. As always there are exploits which people figure out and near post shots seem to be this year’s problem. Chip through balls rear their ugly head again and seems like something that will never get fixed up, and once more there looks to be an over-bearing emphasis on pace. If you have fast players you almost always succeed, irrespective of quality.
It’s something you learn to live with though because online is still just so much fun. Sure it is a bit like ping pong with the end to end action, but who says that can’t be enjoyable? It’s perhaps not the most realistic of all aspects, but the fun and frustration go hand-in-hand and it adds to the experience.
FIFA 15 is another great football game, but it’s hard not to feel like they haven’t progressed it quite enough. It was always going to be a problem considering how good FIFA 14 was on the new gen consoles, but there were obvious flaws that needed fixing which haven’t been attended to at all. The whole player emotion thing adds nothing to the game after being the catch-phrase in the build-up to launch and the AI still just doesn’t feel authentic enough.
It’s still FIFA, and still fun with that typical FIFA flair. We all know that every football fanatic is going to buy it and play it, but I think EA need to be a bit more careful. We all know what happens to games at the top of the competition when they start to rest on their laurels.