Football clubs don’t like change.
Just look at Manchester United. After 20 seasons of regular silverware Manchester’s red side is struggling to cope with life after Fergie. In their desire to take their quest for realism above and beyond the call of duty, historically football games have suffered in a similar way.
Last time we were introduced to a new generation of consoles, Pro Evolution Soccer was king – but it didn’t cope well with the transition to the Xbox 360 and PS3. Before it could find its shooting boots FIFA had stolen its crown and poached many Pro Evo fans with it, most of whom have never looked back. So will FIFA 14 suffer the same fate when it lands on the Xbox One and PS4 next month?
Ignite: Setting FIFA alight
After three hours with a nearly finished build of FIFA 14 for Xbox One, it’s clear that EA has coped with upheaval much better than Man Utd has under David Moyes.
Most notable is the impact of the Ignite game engine, which will only feature in the Xbox One and PS4 versions of the game. It’s substantially changed the way players move, with a seemingly endless collection of new animations that are more context specific and enhance the sense of realism already instilled throughout the current-gen version of the game. Players roll the ball short distances with their studs, use their chests to lay it off, or lean back to sweep long, diagonal passes across the field, balancing themselves with an outstretched arm.
Let's get physical
It’s not just passing that the new moves cover. You’ll notice new ways of shooting, heading, crossing and controlling the ball, with the sense of physicality further enhanced thanks to the increase in processing power offered by the new consoles.
In previous games only two players at once would ever challenge for an aerial ball but with four times as many calculations going through the physics engine, next-gen versions of FIFA 14 see whole groups of players all going up for the same cross or corner, making tussles in the penalty box increasingly fraught and lifelike. It means strength, anticipation and timing will be more important than ever (and hopefully cut down on those headed goals from corners that never feel like your fault).
FIFA is never going to be the most graphically challenging game for a console to deal with; there are no landscapes stretching off to the horizon (even the Nou Camp’s not that big) or particularly complex lighting effects to deal with. That’s not to say FIFA 14 doesn’t look great – player likenesses and crowds in particular have taken a leap forward – but what it will test is lifelike movement, realistic collision detection and accurate physics, all of which feel very much enhanced in this version of the game. It’s the kind of stuff that could be dismissed as window dressing, but for a game that strives to replicate what you see on the pitch every Saturday and give you more tools to do so, it makes a real difference to the feel of the game.
This jump in detail also extends to the crowd, with home and away ends now distinctly separate, rather than the whole stadium being a big, mass of bodies. EA has also lowered the in-game camera to enhance the feeling of being inside the ground. We can’t say we really noticed but it didn’t affect our on-pitch performance, which is the main thing.
You’ll also now see replays for more than just chances and fouls. Make an important tackle or pull off a neat trick to beat your man and the game’s virtual TV director will highlight it once the ball goes dead. As with all replays in FIFA they’re skippable but in our time playing it never felt like they were too frequent or annoying. The goalkeepers could still do with being a bit less like tin soldiers – using the post to knock mud off their boots before a goal kick, for example, or shouting at their teammates to get higher up the pitch – but that’s hardly a game changer.
Something that could potentially affect the game is what EA calls Match Flow. Essentially it means the game doesn’t ‘cut’ when the ball goes out of play. If the defending team isn’t paying attention at a throw-in, for example, and the players fail to organise themselves it’s possible to catch them unawares and hit them on the break. It’s a counter-attacking tactic that’s only ever been sporadically available in previous games but should now come into play far more frequently.
Arguably the best thing about next-gen FIFA 14 is that it feels like current-gen FIFA 14. There’s no adjustment to the learning curve or new skills to master, it’s the same game enhanced with an added layer of accuracy and detail. For some that might not be enough but if you’ve been holding off buying the 360 or PS3 version in anticipation of FIFA’s next-gen debut, you won’t be disappointed.