Prudence advises postponing the purchase of next-generation hardware. After all, launch titles are habitually shallow- engineered to flaunt the capabilities of a cherished new console, rather than providing long-term play value. Ports are another shortcoming of launch libraries- typically offering little more than a high-resolution veneer over last-gen’s mechanics. Expectedly, FIFA 14 for the PlayStation 14 is hardly revolutionary. Beyond the improvement to visual fidelity, it will take a few matches for players to discover the differences. Yet, once they do, they’ll discover that this is the definitive iteration- even if Electronic Arts disconcertingly omitted one of FIFA 14’s past-gen components.
After a forty second pre-installation, players are able to jump into a game pitting Barcelona against Real Madrid while the rest of the game is transferred onto the PS4’s hard drive. Like FIFA 14’s engaging pre-match skill games, it’s a ruse which cleverly masks the game’s load times. Five minutes (or half a match) later, the full game is ready to be played.
A sweeping aerial shot and subsequent stadium pans of Camp Nou demonstrate the changes made to FIFA’s stadiums. Gone are the oft-jaggy crowds which resembled cardboard cutouts. In their place are three-dimensional character models who wave flags and banners- during matches they’ll react intelligently, properly jostling about when their team wins an underhanded challenge or places a streaking shot on goal. These introductory scenes reveal amendments made to other venues- occasionally exhibiting the spaces that surround a stadium. Although these segments are detailed and rendered in high resolution, they’re still not close to being photorealistic. Asset recycling and a lack of evocative lighting are the missing entities. Fortunately, once a match starts, FIFA 14 does a much better job at simulating a television broadcast, save for the thirty frame-per-second output during replays.
From jerseys which wrinkle and bend realistically as players move, grass particles which follow the trail of sprinting forwards, to the recreated athlete faces, the game certainly impresses during play. While the new default camera provides a lower perspective on the action, this viewpoint isn’t close enough to admire all of FIFA 14’s visual enhancements. A few PS4 functionalities are included in the game, from using the touchpad to switch to the goaltender (but not aim a shot?), to remote play for PS Vita owners.
With the extra processing power of next-gen, FIFA 14 articulates a greater sense of continuity during a match- as athletes, officials, and ball boys all act autonomously. Now, matches aren’t interrupted with cut-away shots where polygonal models are magically repositioned. Every corner kick, throw in, and substitution is handled organically, as players scuttle about. A dividend of this presentational change is that FIFA no longer feels like it’s rushing you through a match. However, after the half players magically teleport onto the field. We know Cristiano Ronaldo is quick (and faster than a Bugatti Veyron according to a Nike commercial) but he’s not instantaneous. One element of FIFA 14 that is undeniably immediate is the game’s Metro-inspired menu system, which feels much snappier that its Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3-based brethren.
Once gamers hit the pitch, they’ll notice subtle changes to the aptitude and athleticism of players. Electronic Arts’ new Ignite engine purports to bolster athlete intelligence and exponentially increase the number of animations. In execution, it’s hard to verify EA’s claims, but AI is noticeably improved in several aspects. Now, opponents seem to exhibit a better sense of anticipation, as players swoop in to capture slightly ill-aimed passes and evade the slide tackles adeptly. Defensively, they’re more likely to try to slow opponents down and demonstrate a greater awareness of other players.
EA Canada’s increase in animation has a far more subtle effect on gameplay. Most often, the increase in player movement routines is used to express physicality. Now, booting the ball halfway down the pitch displays the extra excursion expended by a player- with a longer wind-up and an impact that suggests the athlete is using his entire body to strengthen the kick. Likewise, pivots and cut appear more lifelike, while missed shots proficiently reveal regret. Although players don’t have direct control over it, the number of shot types has been augmented, with replays showing realistic depictions of foot and ball contact. Remarkably, all these new animation routines are seamlessly woven into FIFA 14’s gameplay, with context and player ability determining the nuances of shots and passes.
Most of FIFA 14’s always satiated collection of play modes return. From the time sink of FIFA Ultimate Team, a co-operative Season mode, Pro Clubs, a Career campaign, as well as online and offline friendly matches, there’s a wealth of components for players to explore. Pleasingly, any progress made in the PS3 can be imported into this iteration. Unfortunately, Tournament mode has been inexplicably excised, which seems certain to rile FIFA fanatics. What’s more, although the back of the box states that FIFA 14 can handle up to 22 simultaneous online players, I couldn’t get into a game that held that many net-based competitors. Whether this was a matchmaking issue (friendlies are limited to people on your friend list), bandwidth issue, or bug, I am uncertain. I did compete in several Pro Club matches, which accommodated ten players and were generally lag-free.
Undoubtedly, an attempt to revolutionize FIFA 14 could have resulted in the removal of play modes. Wisely, the PlayStation 4 iteration improves the already stellar gameplay, while just enough graphical candy to make this launch title a series consideration for any footie fan. While the loss of Tournaments mode is knocks FIFA 14 down a bit, a bevy of thoughtful enhancements ultimately makes the PlayStation 4 iteration the one to own.
A copy of FIFA 14 for the PlayStation 4 was provided by the publisher for review.