Normally, the war for interactive soccer supremacy begins in chilly September, shortly after the kids have all gone back to school. That isn’t the case this year, though, because Konami has chosen to hold Pro Evolution Soccer 15 until November. EA Sports, on the other hand, has gone ahead and released the latest iteration of its venerable FIFA franchise, allowing those with an itch for footie to take the pitch in FIFA 15. Whether or not it will end up being this season’s best interactive version of the sport remains to be seen, but there’s no denying that it’s another very solid and well-made outing.
Before I start this review, I’ll be honest and announce that this is the first FIFA game I’ve played on a current-generation console. I did, however, review both FIFA 14 and the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil game on last-gen consoles. As such, this was my first time seeing what more powerful systems have allowed the development team to do with its grass-based gameplay.
Upon inserting the game disc into their consoles, or loading a digitally downloaded version, armchair footballers will find themselves rooted in a match between Liverpool and Manchester City. The tilt — which acts as a digital rematch of last year’s Barclays Premiere League final — tasks players with rewriting history, by putting them in control of the Liverpool red shirts. Of course, the main reason for its existence is an attempt by EA to show off its revamped presentation facets and introduce players to its latest iteration of FIFA soccer – two things that it succeeds at. What it doesn’t highlight, though, is the fact that the routinely requested Turkish Super Lig has made a return for the first time since FIFA 11.
Following the above-mentioned one-off, the main menu opens up and player freedom becomes a virtue. It’s then that users are able to do exactly what they want when they want, whether it’s customizing teams, creating players, formulating game plans or jumping into one of several different modes. There’s a lot to do in FIFA 15, and many hours can be lost within its intricate menus, not to mention its set of revamped gameplay options.
Although work was put into making almost all of the game’s modes better, you’re essentially looking at the same predictable list. There’s Play Now for those who just want to jump into an exhibition match with their favourite team, Online Team Play which allows friends to band together and take on foes over the Internet, and Pro Club Seasons, just to name a few. Of course, Online Seasons, Tournaments and Careers (for both created and assumed players, as well as managers) are also in the game, as is FIFA Ultimate Team (FUT). And, if you’d like to hone your skills, why not go into a practice arena or improve your abilities through the title’s twenty some odd new Skill Games?
The team behind this effort has improved upon last year’s options by bettering in-game scouting, creating more in-depth storylines, making it so that older players don’t retire as early as they used to, adjusting player growth plus potential and increasing set piece control. You can now also create concept squads while playing FUT, and will be given the opportunity to select an elite loan player right from the get-go. These stars (or simply very solid players) are available for use for only a limited amount of games and cannot have their contracts renewed, so you’ll want to use them wisely.
For me — someone who enjoys soccer and played it for many years, but only casually follows the sport on TV and online — the most important thing was how accessible this game would be. I appreciate all of the changes that are made to the series’ back end year in and year out, but most of the terminology and intricacies go over my head. That’s the honest truth, although I do my best to figure out what’s going on and how to best serve my team. Still, I’m never going to be the kind of player who spends hours dealing with transfer windows and team tactics.
What’s great is that FIFA 15 runs incredibly well on PlayStation 4 and performed fantastically during each and every game I played. There were no hiccups, and I rarely saw any graphical or presentation issues outside of what looked like scan lines on the pitch. Those showed up from time to time, and were most evident while using certain cameras, such as the standard Career mode one. However, I did find that I could see the lines in replays and via overhead viewpoints. That said, they only took me out of the experience a bit, and didn’t really mar it overall.
In previous years, I complained about both soccer series’ inability to nail their shooting mechanics. Appreciably, FIFA 15‘s shooting abilities have been reworked and are now more precise than they used to be. Now, pressing the circle button in just a bit doesn’t result in the ball careening over the net, which is nice. In fact, it’s also easier to score from further distances, and goals from outside the box are absolutely stunning to watch.
As always, ball physics have been improved, and in noticeable fashion. The way that the round piece of stitched rubber moves around the pitch is a beauty to behold, even more-so when it slides under a goalie or careens off of a post and into the net. Goalies have also been reworked from the ground up, though, meaning that they’re more realistic than ever. As such, you can expect better awareness, in addition to much more lifelike save animations. Hell, they even challenge more.
Electronic Arts has once again created a comprehensive, entertaining and thoroughly immersive soccer game, but the experience still feels a bit sterile to me. While this iteration accurately depicts the sport and is essentially soccer porn in digital form, it doesn’t think outside of the proverbial box, and instead of bringing anything overly creative to the table, its development team played it a bit safe and focused more on refinements. That’s one thing I like about the NHL series: The small team behind it isn’t afraid to innovate, by introducing things like the Skill Stick and True Performance Skating. Maybe FIFA could learn from them and find a way to better its own running mechanics, because pressing a button to give a player a boost feels dated. Not only that, but it results in jerky animations.
When it comes to presentation, this is an absolute winner outside of the occasional animation jerk. The announcing — from the great duo of Martin Tyler and Alan Smith — is fantastic, and is easily some of the best video game commentary I’ve ever heard. Furthermore, the game is absolutely beautiful and shows the power of the “next-generation of gaming.” Add in stadium-exclusive chants and a fitting soundtrack full of worldly artists I’ve never heard of and you have another impressive showing from one of gaming’s more realistic franchises.
In the end, there’s no denying that FIFA 15 is a fantastic soccer game and perhaps the best out there. However, its sterility and lack of risk-taking mars its overall impact and keeps it from getting a perfect or near-perfect score. Perhaps next year’s outing will display more creative thinking, but this game is very easy to recommend to those who must have their annual footie fix.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game, which we were provided with.
FIFA 15 is a great soccer game, but it feels a bit sterile due to a lack of creative thinking.