Control, Precision and Forward Momentum
FIFA is, by far, one of the most popular video game series ever created. It’s been around for over 20 years, and has practically been an annualised franchised for most of its lifespan with no signs of slowing down any time soon. I’m quite the football fan myself, so the marriage between two of my favorite things in my life (video games and football) has always been a genuinely appealing tale to embark on every September.
FIFA 15 represents the first true iteration of next-generation football on the new consoles, and it’s also finally made its proper introduction on PC. I’ve been very excited to delve into FIFA 15 since the original reveal a few months ago, because the improvements that have been spoken about are what has been needed for years. Goalkeepers, precision footwork and a more definitive and emotional depiction of football is what FIFA has required for so long, and FIFA 15 delivers, and then some.
Gameplay within a sports game might seem like something that’s recycled over and over again to the untrained eye, but like football itself, the game constantly changes, weaving various caveats into new areas of play. Whether it’s pace, footwork or physicality, everything is always evolving in a sport that is rightfully titled the beautiful game. FIFA 15 brings with it various improvements in gameplay, but the most striking improvement is the enhanced goalkeeping AI.
Goalkeepers in previous FIFA games have been, to put it lightly, quite sporadic in their performance. Sometimes they’d be nearly unbeatable, other times they’d let in a goal from 42 yards out. It’s a roll-on effect that online gamers (especially in Ultimate Team) grew feverishly frustrated of as players began to take advantage of AI mishaps. This year the developers, EA Canada, have put a stern mark down in the name of making the game truer to real world keepers and making them an imposing last defender. Goalkeepers will now track your movements and guess which way you’ll strike the ball, they’ll cut off play if the ball is played too close to them and they won’t run towards you if you’re heading for a one-on-one. It makes the game feel ultimately truer to the experience of watching or playing real football and marks a significant step up from the keepers of yesteryear. Chipping, volleying and shooting from distance all come with a tremendous amount of added difficulty this year, and that’s a great thing.
“Goalkeepers will now track your movements and guess which way you’ll strike the ball, they’ll cut off play if the ball is played too close to them and they won’t run towards you if you’re heading for a one-on-one.”
The slogan for this years FIFA is “feel the game” and to compliment that EA Canada has added in an abundance of new presentation elements that make it feel like a more progressive, emotional and dynamic experience. Players will now interact with each other throughout the game in ways that are representative of what’s happening throughout the match. As I was playing through career mode one great example came up for this added amount of presentation – it’s the 87th minute, City are 1 up over United, Falcao goes on a bone-storming run down the left after linking up with Di Maria, as he does, Zabaleta smashes Falcao with a crunching challenge in an attempt to waste time and stop the developing play. Falcao get’s up, walks right over to Zabaleta and starts pushing and shoving his way through him, clearly not happy with the challenge that he’s just received. Zabaleta sees yellow and funnily enough United score from the free-kick. This specific addition to the game gives it a dynamic and realistic tone to the real world antics of football, and watching player emotions flare up throughout a game of football is always an intriguing practice. EA Canada has encapsulated this part of the game, and it’s ultimately a lot more believable because of it.
Like the additions to gameplay mentioned above, there are slightly smaller additions that impact the gameplay enough to have it feel fresh and new compared to last years iteration. The focus is back on pace and precise passing once again, and the game plays at a much faster pace as compared to FIFA 14. There’s also a significant emphasis on counter attacking football and the use of tactics throughout the match. There’s also the added bonus of having a ‘Park The Bus’ tactic and ‘All Out Attack’ tactic which will help defending or attacking teams push for the win.
“The focus is back on pace and precise passing once again, and the game plays at a much faster pace as compared to FIFA 14. There’s also a significant emphasis on counter attacking football and the use of tactics throughout the match.”
The overall presentation of FIFA 15 is wonderful, especially in career mode – which has had a slight upgrade following last years major rework. All of the 2014-15 Barclay’s Premier League clubs have had their respective stadiums embedded into the game, and the graphics during Premier League clashes have now been reworked to those akin to the actual Barclay’s Premier League presentation graphics. Likewise, the introduction of a teams line-up and if a certain player has been playing well, underperforming or has been substituted out is also covered upon through the commentary of Martin Tyler and Alan Smith – who again absolutely smash it out of the park. The introduction of a teams line-up is always covered throughout every game mode in FIFA 15, however I did notice that teams like Southampton and lower league sides don’t have the added commentary over the top unless top players are brought into the club.
As well as career mode, Ultimate Team makes a triumphant return with a couple of significant changes in the fray. The biggest change is the addition of loan players, who are signed either through the EASFC Catalogue via coins earned while playing FIFA or through the Ultimate Team store itself. The loan is entirely dependent on the player, and players such as Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsay have been available to play for five games, whereas a player like PSG’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic was only available to play for two. It’s a nice way to see how the player adapts to your side, but ultimately unless you’re a major FUT player you’ll end up cycling through loan players like I have. There are a couple of other slight changes in the way Ultimate Team is played, but the one I found most intriguing was the way EA will be handling coin transactions off the pitch. If you search say, eBay at the moment with a phrase like FIFA 15 FUT, you’ll notice that there are a couple of listings available that allow you to buy coins made by other players in the game. This is a big no no, and EA has said that any player caught doing this kind of thing will be banned from Ultimate Team all together. You have been warned. Seasons and Pro Clubs return again this year for players to also dig into if their heart desires. It’s worth noting that on Xbox 360, PS3, 3DS and Vita versions of the game that Pro Clubs has been removed.
I’ve had a fair amount of time to play through all of FIFA 15’s modes, and while it’s been a staple for gamers to label EA’s servers as sporadic in functioning properly, I haven’t had a problem at all – especially during various runs with Ultimate Team and Seasons. To be frank, I think the servers have been much improved for this years iteration and it’s really showing.
FIFA 15 represents a lot of improvement within a series that has only required a bit of reworking each year to make it a truly perfect representation of the world’s most popular sport. There are a few niggling issues that I’ve come across though, and those have mainly come through small issues with the goalkeeping AI. Although the AI is excellent about 98% of the time, there were a couple of occasions where the keeper would glitch out and just watch the ball go through their legs or around one of them. It’s a bit of an immersion breaker, but it’s something for the team to work on in the future. Likewise, as I mentioned above, the inclusion of team lineups with commentary for lower league sides would be a much welcomed addition in the future as well – even through an update, as it really makes a difference in the bigger games.
To sum it all up, FIFA 15 is an absolutely incredible package this year. The various improvements made makes it by far the best FIFA ever made, and if improvements like this are made throughout the next couple of years I’m fairly adamant we’ll have the perfect football game very shortly. Whether you’re a fan of realism or the more arcady side of things in a football game, FIFA 15 is the way to go. See you on the pitch.
A review copy of the game was provided by the publisher.