World football tends to move in cycles – and as the FIFA games attempt to replicate the sport as closely as possible, EA’s annual soccer sim must also move on.
If FIFA 14 was Barcelona’s tiki-taka, death by 1000 passes, FIFA 15 is Germany’s more explosive World-Cup-winning evolution of it. Like Spain at Euro 2012, FIFA 14’s patient style was considered boring by some. In its quest for realism it had lost some of the breathless excitement that makes football such an absorbing game – and that’s the focus of FIFA 15.
FIFA 15 feels like it’s been in a few extra training sessions to sharpen up. Its reactions are faster and it’s found an extra yard of pace since last season. It maintains the realism but injects a bit more ‘heavy metal’ as Jurgen Klopp would call it. Players seem more responsive to movements of the left stick, with a last-minute nudge to either side often enough to beat a defender or draw the foul when running at speed and if the momentum is with you. With the right player it’s also more effective from a standstill, shifting the player’s weight one way and then bursting the other past the defender.
In fact, weight and momentum play a bigger part in general. Ground passes are zippier, particularly over longer distances, meaning you have to be more accurate with them to keep play flowing. Players now use all parts of their boots to nudge, flick and lay the ball off, although you will have to get used to giving them a touch more power. Stringing together a few first-touch passes is hugely satisfying, particularly because it often feels on the edge of all falling apart, a bit like pulling off an improvised combo in a beat 'em up.
When you do create a chance you need to take it, because two things have changed: hitting the target is harder and the goalkeepers are better. Defenders are very good at blocking shots and goalies react more quickly to them, so you often need to use power or inch-perfect placement to beat them. Too close to the keeper’s body and they’ll get a hand to it. The better ones will even manage to get something on the ball when it’s gone past them.
They don’t hold everything, but there seems to be less pushing it back directly into the path of another striker than in FIFA 14. They still remain suspect at claiming balls dropping from high but in general keepers perform better, with a much larger range of saves contributing significantly to the more lifelike feel of the game. Only many months of play will reveal exactly how lifelike they are.
Some of the veteran players of Stuff’s lunchtime FIFA tournaments have been frustrated by throw-ins for years so their overhaul in FIFA 15 is most welcome. Whereas before the lack of movement from your teammates meant you were often left with no choice but to throw the ball backwards or risk losing possession, FIFA 15 allows you to take control of the receiving player and move them around the pitch before commanding the taker to throw the ball in with a press of the pass button.
It opens up a whole new world of unique attacking advantages (or disadvantages, if you believe the assertion that it’s the only time you have 10 men on the pitch without being shown a red card). Most importantly, you can now skip that irritating phase when there are two balls on the pitch.
Corners have also been enhanced, with special tactics activated by pressing one of the four directions on the D-pad. Rather than just hoofing the ball hopefully into the box you can instruct players to crowd the keeper, make a run to the near or far post, or drop to the edge of the box. How successful they are depends on your delivery of the ball and the quality of the defending, but it’s nice to finally have some tactical options at set pieces.