EA Sports has had a long and storied history with the sport of football since they released FIFA International Soccer in 1993. Since that release, we have seen a brand new FIFA title released virtually every year since that initial football game and FIFA 14 is the latest in the long line of titles.
EA's primary focus for FIFA 14 is to slow down the play and become more methodical. Players are encouraged to try and slowly build up their play through midfield and find a way through their opponents defense. This shows that EA were somewhat listening to the complaints of FIFA 13's mindless counter-attack style. The other added features includes "Pure Shot" which EA told us will "transform shooting, making every shot attempt feel real, and when players connect with the perfect strike, feel exhilarating." This means the higher-quality players will still be able to shoot rather effectively whilst losing their balance or being challenged for the ball. When you connect properly with the ball, shots do feel more exhilarating when they land beautifully in the top corner. Where there is a yin there is also a yang as this new feature is negated by the easiness of headers.
Not only are headers easy to score, they feel over-powered and exaggerated when you connect with the ball. Whether it is outside the box, in the 6-yard box or in the centre-circle, headers fly for miles from the most minimal of contact with the players' head. If you have Zlatan Ibrahimovic as your striker and you are desperate for a goal - lump the ball in the box and you are bound to score a goal or two due to this unbalanced heading system.
FIFA 14 also suffers from a few extremely unrealistic problems such as the countless overhead-kick clearances made by all kinds of defenders and the extreme lack of fouls made by the player and AI. This negates the free-kicks within the game, which is a huge part of the sport. One reason as to why there are a lack of free kicks and fouls is because the new "Protect The Ball" feature has some teething problems. The CPU AI will get away with a lot of shirt pulling and obstruction when you are trying to protect the ball from your opponent.
These weren't the only new feature as "Sprint Dribble Turns" was also introduced. Each player now feels and turns slower like they have anvils tied to their ankles. In principle, you have to admire EA for trying to combat the "speed merchants" from FIFA 13 with this new feature, however this change does weigh the game down (anvil pun intended). If you aren't playing as a 5-star team and you want to play as an average side, players feel somewhat clumsy and sluggish. After a few matches, FIFA 14 begins to feel tedious, thus in a nutshell: FIFA 14 is FIFA 13 slowed down.
Speaking of sluggishness, the menus throughout the game are crippled with lag. They have all been revamped with a Windows 8-style tiled system. This seems to have come with a price. FIFA menus aren't renowned for their user-friendliness and this latest title suffers the most from the chronic problem. It is most noticeable within the "Team Management" menu when you attempt to switch players in the team.
Graphically, FIFA 14 is the same old, same old. Although some players game-faces have been updated, the generic players and stadiums all look the exact same as before. The FIFA franchise is crying out for a graphical revamp and we may see it in the next-gen versions in November. There are still a lot of graphical glitches and problems that crop up. Here is an example from my very first match of FIFA 14:
Although the graphics seem extremely stale, one noticeable improvement is the floodlighting within the stadiums. The lighting seems more vibrant and sharper than before.
On the audio side of things, the commentary has improved from FIFA 13. Martin Tyler and Alan Smith discuss more topical matters; albeit general football chit-chat or specific players who have just joined a new club. They speak in depth on recent events such as last year's Champions League final between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund or PSG's recent investment from the Qatar Sports Investments group. Another new improvement within the commentary is: if an event during the match interrupts their discussion, they will revisit the topic in the context of "So, before we were interrupted Alan, we were just talking about...".
One problem that regularly rears it's ugly head is the repetition of this casual-but-specific chit-chat. I have lost count on the amount of times I have heard that "PSG's signing of Zlatan Ibrahimovic was a huge statement". Alan McInally returns as the reporter of other matches in live-play and a brand new addition of Sky Sports' Jeff Stelling is a welcomed touch. Sadly though, Mike West returns to give us the classified scores and continues to endlessly babble on about EVERY single position in the league table.
The crowd continues to sound peculiar as they continue to sing songs and chants and just completely ignore their team conceding a goal. Another strange example is the crowd celebrating a goal for 3 seconds then abruptly stopping. EA's continued botching of the custom chants continues as the glitches carry over from previous games '12 and '13 with the balance of audio being all over the place. Hopefully they sort this out for the next-gen versions as this feature is one of the better recent introductions to the series.
Much like the graphics, Career Mode is just the same old, same old. The supposedly brand new "Global Scouting Network" was EA's focus for selling us on another year of Career Mode. This scouting network allows you to hire 6 different scouts who not only looks for new talent, but becomes your main source for finding out how good or how bad the more senior players are too. You rely on these scouts in terms of valuations of players too (unless you enquire about a player yourself). Other than this, Career Mode is very much the same - inconsequential press conferences, redundant "match rescheduled" e-mails and players complaining about the weather.
The brand new introduction of the Colombian, Argentinian and Chilean leagues are a great addition for any purists who want to try out new teams and players. The amount of leagues within the game continue to grow and EA deserve a pat on the back for that nice touch.
The online modes remain the same as the "online friendlies", pro clubs, seasons and co-op seasons are the main features for anyone looking for some competitive FIFA 14 online action. Sadly, EA have removed the "5 minute rule". This was a neat feature added in FIFA 13 that allowed anyone who is suffering from lag to quit a match before the 5 minute mark and not have a 'L' on their record. Now that the rule is gone, you are going to have to suffer through the extreme lag if you want to keep your decent record intact.
Ultimate Team returns and follows the trend of being pretty much the same as last year. If you want to clutch at straws for new Ultimate Team features, EA have added a slightly more in-depth chemistry system. The legends feature doesn't come into play for another few months and by that time, the next-gen versions will be out.
Skill Games are back and better than ever. This year's crop of Skill Games are more creative and challenging and are a good way of passing the time whilst the game loads. It stands on it's own very well as single game mode within FIFA 14.
Overall, it just feels like FIFA 14 on the current-gen systems just wasn't EA's primary focus. Although they tried to bring in a new feature which slowed the play down, the attempted revamp of the game-play from previous titles just does not feel satisfying to play with. It suffers from many problems from past and present which holds back a lot of the potential enjoyment to be had from playing the latest football game. If you are a regular FIFA video game consumer, the addition of 3 new leagues and a few new stadiums doesn't make up for the stale feeling you experience in the end. The game feels outdated and depending on which way you look at it, you could already say this game was outdated before it was released once we found out about the planned next-gen versions. FIFA 14's value is quite low because of these problems and of course the next-gen versions being only a few months away, the game is simply not worth the full-price.
FIFA 14 indicates that the series is heading in the wrong direction and feels like a step back in terms of quality and enjoyment of previous titles. It's time to play the waiting game for the next-gen releases which is obviously EA's focus. Let's hope that this new slower style is executed much better on the PS4 and Xbox One systems.
This review is based on a physical copy of the game for the PlayStation 3 provided by Electronic Arts.