FIFA is not a series I have had as much exposure to compared to the likes of Madden, but over the last few years I have really come to appreciate not just the real-world sport, but what a spectacular job EA Sports does in recreating the game’s fluidity and atmosphere. These traits are in the forefront yet again this year as FIFA 15 gave me more of what I wanted – and even what I did not know I wanted – and delivering a great experience.
I was impressed last year with how smoothly the FIFA series made the transition to the current console generation when I had a chance to review it for the PlayStation 4. Unlike titles such as NHL 15, there was very little lost and plenty gained. That has created a solid “current-gen” foundation upon which FIFA 15 so skilfully expands on.
The addition of an engine called “Emotional Intelligence” was the most highly touted feature in the months leading up to this release, and it delivers wonderfully. Football and hockey players have masks and padding, adding a layer of separation between them and the viewers, but with FIFA, players wear less, and therefore the way the character models react to the events of the game has typically looked canned. It’s a small thing from a gameplay perspective, but when celebrations aren’t very interesting the atmosphere of the game takes a hit. This year there is a greater sense of authenticity when viewing players reacting to what has been taking place on the field. Joy, frustration – it is all there and makes for a more theatrical, impactful gameplay experience.
That being said, this is a feature that may not mean as much to some players. This has no tangible impact on how FIFA 15 plays. It provides no competitive advantage. I know some players just mash the buttons to skip scenes like this in sports games – they just want to get back to the game itself. Clearly for those players, this feature will not mean as much, but I enjoyed it immensely. I am someone who after winning the Super Bowl in an online franchise mode with my friends in Madden will sit there and watch the familiar cinematics playing out each year. The range of unique animations found in this year’s FIFA 15 is nothing short of staggering.
Another notable but no less interesting cosmetic update is the more realistic field of play. The power of the PlayStation 4 has meant slides and pivots mark up or tear away at the ground. The cumulative effect over ninety minutes is really impressive and creates the visceral “blood and sweat” aesthetic that committed fans of the sport should appreciate. These two additions to the base FIFA engine combine to create arguably the most atmospheric sports title I have ever played.
Thankfully there is more to FIFA 15 than just a fresh coat of paint, but I will say from the outset that if you are looking for new gameplay modes, FIFA 15 might disappoint. The same primary modes are there as in previous iterations (I particularly enjoyed the RPG-like player creation mode), and they are as deep as ever, but they are not much changed from what FIFA 14 provided. However, the gameplay on the field itself is a marked improvement over prior years.
Team mates are more intelligent than ever, for a start. In prior years it was quite easy for me to dribble the ball across the field with minimal passing and try to wing a crazy shot that would beat the goalie more frequently than it really should have. Now defenders do a better job of cutting off those lanes, but in return my team mates do a better job of moving to meet the ball instead of just standing around and letting defenders jump over the passing lanes. Player momentum is more realistic as well, making it a challenge to stop and turn in traffic.
Goalkeeping is perhaps the biggest question mark. In some games the goalkeeper is like a steel vice who lets nothing through, and other times he is a sieve that stops nothing. This would make sense if it was simply a matter of statistics, but the two aforementioned goalies could be two very similarly rated goalies and I have not yet discerned exactly what makes one so much more effective than the other. No doubt the goalie position is the most complex of all for a football simulation to emulate, but where in something like NBA it’s not a huge issue if wonky AI makes it too easy to land the occasional basket (after all, there’s going to be 80 shots per team in a basketball game), in football each shot really does matter and wonky goalie AI is all the more obvious as a result.
While not the most innovative title in terms of modes and menus, FIFA 15 delivers where it counts – on the field of play. It will be interesting to see if EA Sports can continue to make these kinds of strides going forward, because for soccer fans FIFA 15 may already be just about the perfect game.
– Nick H.