To many, soccer is life, to the point where it’s become much more than a sport. It’s a fun-filled past-time, a way to bring people together and an escape from poverty in places such as Africa. Without it, our world would be a darker and less jovial place, and none of us want that. Thankfully, we have the sport and its peers, because they make our lives a lot better.
Every fall, EA Sports releases a brand new version of its ever popular FIFA soccer franchise. This year’s iteration, dubbed FIFA 14 for obvious reasons, just recently hit physical and digital shelves, offering footie fanatics a chance to interact with their favourite stars through competitive means. Although it’s yet another annual outing and will receive flak for that reason, the game is a fantastic representation of its inspiration, and could easily be the best soccer game released thus far.
The experience begins in an overly dramatic way, with a short narrated video that talks about how great soccer is, and makes it seem like the greatest thing out there. It’s a bit comical, but the game itself is not. Once the introduction is out of the way, it’s all business, presenting beautiful-looking menus that are full of different hospitality settings, options and modes. In recent years, EA has done a very good job of creating menus that are both visually pleasing and easy to use, and that experience shines through here.
Listed in the aforementioned menu system’s tiles are a plethora of different ways to play FIFA 14. There are the obligatory options, such as exhibition matches and basic, head-to-head multiplayer modes. However, those are just the beginning of an absolute onslaught of quality design that includes card-based FIFA Ultimate Team, light RPG career modes that let gamers try for success with a created player or manager, and seasons that allow for co-operative play. That’s not counting the team-based, eleven-on-eleven multiplayer mode, the many included training mini-games or the Match of the Week scenarios that are inspired by real-life events. Needless to say, you’ll get your money’s worth out of this purchase.
Through the game’s many varied and engaging modes, it’s made obvious that EA Sports has not only captured the on-field action that makes up the sport of soccer, but also its culture and the passion surrounding it. Menu tiles are regularly updated with stats, transfer information, e-mails and previews; however, it’s the news updates (via RSS feed) that really make things feel alive. The in-game press members are both interesting and observant, and will comment on your team, league, player or manager in both positive and negative ways.
On the pitch, the same level of care and great attention to detail shines through. As a simulation, FIFA 14 presents gameplay that does a great job of mixing realism with accessibility and entertainment. The action is quick, but fluid and strategical, utilizing players who move like butter. Whereas Pro Evolution Soccer 2014 made the mistake of making its players slow and somewhat cumbersome in an attempt to add realism to its experience, its competitor’s stars glide and dance around the field with ease.
The one downside to be found here is that it’s sometimes a bit difficult to play great defence. However, perhaps that was my middling interactive soccer skill showing through. Regardless, I enjoyed taking the ball away from opponents by simply running close to them and letting the game do an automatic takeaway, but it didn’t always work as well as I’d hoped. Then again, maybe my angles were off.
Improving one’s skill-set can be accomplished by playing Skill Games, of which there are quite a few. They use great, but simplistic mini-game designs to teach the finer points of the FIFA 14 experience, including shooting, chipping, passing, goalkeeping and dribbling. Point plateaus are listed by challenge level, and achievements add extra incentive to work one’s way up from bronze to master level. Additionally, leaderboards are also present, which is good for those who are competitive.
The interactive tutorial games can be launched from the start menu at any time, but they automatically appear in place of loading screens. It’s a nice, returning touch, as being able to play a bit of solo soccer while you wait makes the game’s (rather short) load times fly by.
During my time with the game, I never really had any issues with it. It ran like a dream, and only a couple of visual oddities ever appeared. Everything felt tight, polished and great. That is, except for some of the achievements, which seemed to be glitched. It’s tough to overlook such a problem these days, especially when you consider that companies like EA have had quite a few years’ worth of experience developing for the Xbox 360.
Expectedly, FIFA 14 looks good and animates well, presenting gameplay action that looks real. Players’ faces also look lifelike, and seem to accurately resemble their real-life counterparts, adding an extra layer of immersion to the experience. Frankly, it’s tough to really fault the game as far as its visuals go, and the same is predominantly true of its audio. The duo of Martin Tyler and Alan Smith perform extremely well in the commentary department, offering great play-by-play and in-depth colour that relates to the on-field action and the context surrounding it. They’re complemented by quality sound effects and crowd noises, as well as a good licensed soundtrack that only has one downside. That is, the fact that at least one of its songs was recorded at far too low of a volume, making it hard to hear during menu usage.
Offering a great amount of content, excellent presentation and thoroughly impressive interactive soccer gameplay, EA Sports’ FIFA 14 is a winner. Once again, it takes the proverbial video game soccer crown, and does so in grand fashion.
This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of the game.
FIFA 14 is perhaps the best soccer video game of all-time, thanks to its polished gameplay, excellent presentation and general wealth of content. You can't go wrong with this one.