Back in October, I reviewed FIFA 14 on the last-gen PS3 console (it feels so weird saying that already.) While the game scored as well as expected, I did mention that the best was yet to come. Now we can all finally see what EA are bringing to the beloved football franchise with the new hardware at their disposal and the much-touted Ignite engine.
Because we’ve already reviewed FIFA 14, this article will focus on what’s new to the Xbox One - and an obvious starting point would be in the visuals. From a distance, it would be difficult to tell that you’re playing a next-gen game. But zooming into the action, thanks to the fully-controllable replay cameras, you can tell that the beautiful game has definitely been given a facelift.
The crowds that adorn the stadiums look better than ever, with distinctive individual models that now react realistically to the events on the pitch. If you’re playing as Manchester City, for example, you’ll hear boos and heckles everytime Rooney touches the ball. The crowd is even dynamically positioned around the stadium, with pockets of supporters behind the goal which breathe a real sense of atmosphere into every match.
All of the player models are more detailed too, featuring the likenesses of their real-life counterparts as well as smoother and more realistic animations. Not only do the footballers move fluidly, they are also capable of more realistic behaviour on the pitch. Players are far more responsive, which can take a little while to get used to. Initially you’ll overstep a tackle or misjudge your ability to turn on the ball. However, with practice, you’ll start opening the doors to attractive football and stunning shots at goal.
This heightened level of realism has dribbled into the ball physics as well. On the Xbox One. the ball feels even more like an independent entity than ever before, spinning and bouncing around as it would in real-life. This is particularly noticeable when taking shots on goal, where it can volley off the outside of a striker’s boot and change direction when it hits the ground - or a goalie’s open hand. It sounds like a basic feature, but FIFA 14 feels more dynamic and responsive as a result.
One of the most significant improvements that the computational power of the new hardware delivers, though, affects aerial contests. It’s staggering to think that, for all of the previous FIFA games’, brilliance, there was always a glaringly obvious shortcoming in every one. Previously, only one defender was able to jump and compete for a header, with the end result often coming down to a coin-flip as to whether the attacker or the defender would make contact with the ball. In fact, more often than not, the odds were stacked in the attacker’s favour. Now, multiple players can contest for aerial balls, jostling in mid-air in a realistic fashion - sometimes even ending up in player pile-ups. It makes corners, wide crosses, and set-pieces more realistic and harder to score from.
All of this visual eye-candy leads to some spectacular football magic. You’ll witness goals that you’ll want to watch over and over again via the slow-motion action replay system in the game. There's the occasional glitch, where a player’s arm may float through an opponent, but overall FIFA 14 is just as much a spectator’s game as it is a hands-on affair. Other improvements - such as quicker throw-ins and substitutions, as well as television-esque cut-aways and replay highlights - make FIFA 14 extremely watchable, regardless of your level of passion for the sport.
FIFA is best when played with (or against) friends, but the next-gen hardware does allow for some elevated artificial intelligence for singleplayer matches too. You’ll see smarter defenders marking forwards and playing the offside trap more realistically, and attacking players will find space more intelligently allowing for quicker counter-attacks and break-away runs. To put it in context, EA have stated that “AI players now make decisions four times faster than on previous consoles... resulting in players that are more aware of their surroundings and react accordingly.”
True FIFA fans will be disappointed that there are no additional game modes available on the Xbox One, when compared to the 360 edition. In fact, there are actually less. Head-to-head and the Creation Center are absent from the Xbox One release, but the game still contains identical Career Modes, Ultimate Team, Seasons, and both quick-play and extensive multiplayer options.
It is unusual that it would be minus gameplay modes, but few would notice and those new to the franchise will still be blown away by the extent of the options available in FIFA 14. With over 500 officially licensed clubs, dozens of authentic leagues and tournaments, and a competitive, socially engaging online community, few football fans could complain.
Xbox One owners (along with those on the 360) will get an extra feature over and above those available to Sony gamers, though, in the form of the new Legends mode. It adds a rich history of golden oldies to your player roster, with some all-time greats such as Pele, Luis Figo, and Dennis Bergkamp. But also Fredrik Ljungberg for some reason?
FIFA 14 on the Xbox One is a fantastic experience, but there is something that doesn’t feel quite right still. EA Sports have tackled some worthy features to elevate the game into next-gen status, but there are other sections that feel rushed. Because of the transition period, there have been improvements on the surface but FIFA 14 hasn’t been rebuilt from the ground up to fully appreciate the new hardware.
Fundamentally there are improvements, but the game doesn’t feel completely balanced as a whole and the pace of matches is sometimes uneven. It happens often between console generations and while FIFA 14 on Xbox One is certainly no cheap port of the current-gen edition - I can’t help but think that the next rendition will truly take the franchise to the next level.