FIFA 14 PS4 review – footballing superstar sparkles on long-awaited next-gen debut
If there’s a single word that summarises EA Canada’s first crack at next-gen football with FIFA 14, it’s ‘intricacy’. The big-money transfer to PS4 United has seen this long-standing franchise change in ways too numerous to count, but it’s the subtle touches on and off the park which really stand out.Passing that’s just that one iota more delicate. Movement that earns you, and your team-mates, a critical extra split second to fire over a cross or curl in an effort on goal. And an attention to detail that borders on surgical when it comes to all the trappings surrounding the beautiful game.
It’s critical to state that this is still the FIFA you’ve known and loved for a number of years. For all the noise its developer made regarding the ‘brand new’ Ignite Engine, a sense of familiarity pervades from the second you’re thrown into a Real vs Barca derby in order to learn the ropes. Except if you’ve so much as dabbled with current-gen FIFA, these ropes feel more like silk scarves draped by angels, with the same liquid-smooth gameplay and TV-style presentation making itself known from the get-go. It’s as comfortable a transition from PS3 as you could have wished for, and within seconds you know you can never go back.
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That’s just the beginning. The more you play, the more the game evolves into a nigh-on perfect footballing dream – not quite on par with doing unspeakable things to Penny Race after a Melchester Rovers cup final win, but very, very close. The most crucial of those subtle tweaks is additional time on the ball, brought about chiefly by a raft of new animations, such as a player shuffling his feet around an underhit pass from behind and turning to face forwards in one fluid movement. Instead of waiting an instant for your man to gain control, then, that extra moment becomes time where you can think about what to do next – and as a result, you no longer feel constantly rushed to get a shot away or offload to a team-mate.
Not that those are your only two choices when in possession. Now, ball retention – for instance, when protecting a lead or mimicking the slow build-up play of a Roberto Martinez side – isn’t only possible by ping-ponging the thing all over the shop in the hope of keeping it away from opponents. Instead, properly-implemented physicality – Gareth Barry holding off a challenging midfielder rather than letting him whip the ball away with next-to-no-effort every single time – coupled with that more intricate movement enables you to play at your own pace, even in a crowded midfield. Speed still matters, but power and control are just as vital. Which is as it should be.
Naturally, everything mentioned here is contextual and attribute-based – you’re unlikely to see Jermain Defoe holding off Vincent Kompany down by the corner flag for more than a couple of seconds – but that only adds to the authenticity, and therefore the magic. Play as Arsenal and you can mimic their smooth attacking play so realistically you’ll believe you’re Arsene Wenger and develop an instinctive blindless to every foul committed; take control of Chelsea, with that strapping spine of Terry, Lampard and Eto’o, and you really feel the benefits of the newfound physicality. Getting its teams and players to feel unique is the one area where EA has struggled to outclass Konami in recent years, but PS4 changes that. Here every squad feels different, every match a one-off.
This huge development isn’t borne out of on-field tweaks alone. EA Canada has also gone to great lengths to make next-gen FIFA feel like real football by exhaustively researching every aspect of both the stadium experience and the tellybox equivalent. That means, for starters, the end of cut-scenes when you make a substitution or win a corner – instead, everything happens in real time once the ball goes out of play.
Force the keeper to tip a shot over and you see your corner taker slowly jog over to place the ball in readiness for the kick, while centre backs amble forwards and the opposition sets up to defend it – all from a multitude of broadcast-style camera angles. Earn a penalty and you see the other team debate with the ref while your designated spotman prepares himself for the forthcoming pop at goal. Same for Freddy Fourth-Official readying electronic subs boards, goalies retrieving the ball for place kicks, and so on. All of this can be skipped, but it’s so refreshing to experience a football videogame as if it were a real life contest – and again, to have the sensation that you’re constantly being rushed through matches removed.
Astonishingly, that’s just one facet of PS4 FIFA’s improved presentation. You also see home and away fans seated in the correct part of every stadium, and celebrate appropriately after each goal; working, correctly placed scoreboards; replays of key moments (complete with Tyler and Smith discussing them) throughout matches; ball boys chucking extras onto the pitch from time to time; and lots, lots more. I’ve evangelised MLB: The Show for details like this for years. Now, EA Canada can absolutely consider itself on a par with Sony San Diego where attention to detail is concerned. And the main beneficiary of that is, well, you.
“Not quite on par with doing unspeakable things to Penny Race after a Melchester Rovers cup final win, but very, very close”
These changes combine in a direct gameplay sense via a new, default camera angle. It still manages to cram in around a third of the pitch at any one time, but is lower and steeper than you’re used to – providing a more intimate view of your individual players than on PS3 (which is a good thing, given the improved sense of control) and enabling a significant portion of the crowd opposite onto the screen too. That may sound like a purely aesthetic tweak on paper, but in practise it turns an away game at Exeter City, with the home fans on top of you in a tiny, cramped ground, into a genuinely nerve-wracking experience. Nicely done – again – from the Canuck developer. (Spotting a theme yet?)
I’ve not delved into Ultimate Team and Career here because they’re essentially identical to the PS3 version. Swifter menus make for an overall more user-friendly experience, but those critical of the new scouting system in Career will continue to find it heavy going. (And only that fan-splitting mechanic prevents this earning a double digit score.) It is worth noting that you can carry over UT (and Seasons) data from PS3 to PS4, so your all-gold, all-blond, all-surnames-beginning-with-Van Eredivisie side can make the leap to next-gen with you.
And it’s a leap you need to make the second you acquire that half-matte, half-shiny black box. FIFA 14 is one of the few launch games to have evolved in ways that aren’t solely graphics-based, and every one of its changes brings clear, distinguishable improvement. This is an essential day one purchase and – quite literally – the football game you’ve waited generations for.