- Format: PS4 (version reviewed), PS3, PC, 360, Xbone, Wii, Vita, 3DS
- Unleashed: Out Now
- Publisher: EA
- Developer: EA Canada
- Players: 1-2
- Site: http://www.easports.com/uk/fifa
Another year, another FIFA. Tempting as it is to leave the review at that, such a snarky summation would be to do the developers – and, indeed, the game itself – a great injustice. Improvements to the series have been undeniably incremental over the years, but they have here culminated in what is identifiably the best FIFA yet – especially if you’ve skipped a few versions.
To begin painting the picture with broad strokes, it’s clear that something along the lines of “ultimate official FIFA experience” has been at the corporate table recently. To be fair, this has been achieved more or less as desired. As well as the usual swarms of officially licensed teams, referees and players (as well as familiar commentating voices – Martin Tyler and Alan Smith again for us UK chaps), and authentic-looking replays and camera angles, there are dozens of other little touches that further enhance the package. As usual you’re asked to align yourself with a team (which you can change, of course), and you then have access to real-life headlines and stats relevant to them from within the menus.
You also have the option of instantly playing whatever match is scheduled for them next in the real-life season (though this won’t rip through spacetime and affect the real league table – sorry). Regardless of who you’re playing as or against, there are lots of neat little touches during gameplay that pleasingly mimic what you’d see on a real pitch. For one thing, the crowd (finally) looks like a proper crowd made up of individual people, rather than a competent afterthought. In the scenes that play out after a particularly physical or controversial foul, players sometimes shout at and push one another, just like the consummate professionals they emulate. Said emulation is also the best it’s ever been here. Animation is spot on and, while player likenesses still aren’t perfect, everybody is still instantly recognisable despite (because of?) the fact that most of them look like their heads are made out of plasticine.
The FIFA controls reached their zenith a few years ago, but there are still barely perceptible tweaks made here and there. The most important change is to shooting, which now relies more than ever on your accuracy in the heat of the moment. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing depends on how good you are. We’re really not a fan of the penalty system, though. Saving penalties is a little more fair than usual if you pay attention, but taking them is harder – and therefore more frustrating – than ever. Not only do you have to be ridiculously accurate in judging the power and angle of your shot (hold the stick in your desired direction too long, it goes flying over/past the goal; not long enough, it goes straight down the middle), you also have to make sure you hit the button when the constantly-moving cursor in the meter at the bottom of the screen is in the green. You get better with practice of course, but it remains feeling more awkward than we’d like.
Penalties aside, we really can’t fault the controls at all. Long gone are the days where the ball sticks to your feet like Keith Lemon to terrible TV programmes. Skill, judgement, and just a little bit of luck are now needed for a decent run. The sense of satisfaction you get from successfully making it past one, two, three defenders and then scoring – especially against a human opponent – is immense. If it’s raining, you’re still almost guaranteed the amusing sight of grown men falling over their own feet on a wet pitch if they try to turn too quickly no matter how good you are. Of more concern is a snowy pitch which, despite the brightly coloured ball, can make it hard to keep track of play – especially when the ball is in the air. This is something that really should have been picked up by QA. We’ve fortunately seen only one snowy pitch in all the games we’ve so far played (plus a second we deliberately chose to check the problem), but this shouldn’t be something players have to contend with at all.
Back in the menus, the ever-popular (not to mention ever-profitable) FIFA Ultimate Team makes its inevitable return. In case you don’t know, the basic idea is that you get licensed players and other items (such as healing or stat-increasing items) in ‘packs’ classed bronze, silver or gold according to the value of the randomly assigned items within. You then use these to create and build up your ‘Ultimate Team’. As you may have guessed, microtransactions (spit) come into the equation, as you buy these packs with in-game coins. Coins are also earned at a reasonable rate simply by playing matches with your current team, however, and there’s even a live transfer market for buying/selling cards. Combine this with the standard micromanagement of your team setup, and it’s easy to see why football fanatics devour this mode with glee.
FIFA still isn’t perfect – not least because commentary often repeats itself within a match, and there’s still no punishment for losers quitting online other than a default 3-0 loss – but this latest version is probably closer than any other football game currently on the market. A huge bonus is that the servers seem to be behaving themselves very well this year. Most people are still taking either Barcelona, AC Milan or Paris St Germain online, but you can’t blame EA for that…