Style and substance.
Given the hundreds of hours I’d dedicated to last year’s edition of FIFA, I regarded myself as a fairly accomplished player. Facing opponents on Legendary difficulty settings or coming face to face with Romario or Van Basten held no fear for me. I’d romped to the top division in Seasons, enjoyed a successful career as player manager and managed to assemble my very own group of Galacticos in Ultimate Team. With the release of this year’s edition from EA Sports, I had no reason to think I wouldn’t be able to repeat these feats…
The usual criticism with each annual update is that it amounts to little more than a slightly shinier rehash of past games. The animations may be smoother, the crowd chants and commentary more realistic, and the soundtrack updated but underneath that glossy veneer, the gameplay is always much the same.
"No matter my choice of team and which world-class line up I’ve employed at the back, tackling is far tougher now too."
With FIFA 14, having a player bomb down the wing and outpace the opposition was largely the key to success, as was an overpowered header, lofted through ball or a ridiculously ambitious shot from a certain sweet spot. Not so this time round; the new edition is an altogether different beast.
My first few games garnered mixed results; a smattering of draws and disappointing losses proved that my previous experience would not prove as much as an advantage as I thought.
The goalies are noticeably different for one thing; a change that has been lauded by EA – but I’m not yet entirely convinced. Sure, the guys between the posts boast the agility and reflexes of their real-life counterparts and are capable of pulling off some astounding saves. But it seems far too easy to score following a simple side step as you enter the area. For all their aplomb at diving through the air, fingertips extended and poking the ball over the bar, they regularly seem to fall victim to a tap in, having been wrong footed. Perhaps it’s more the fact that attackers have an inordinate ability to dribble their way into a prime shooting position nowadays but either way, it can be hugely frustrating – as is the difficulty I’m having with my defenders.
No matter my choice of team and which world-class line up I’ve employed at the back, tackling is far tougher now too. I’ve lost count of how many penalties I’ve conceded because of a seemingly innocuous shirt pull, or how often my back four seem to lurch forward leaving huge holes in defence.
With those gripes out the way… now onto the positives. And there are plenty. First and foremost, FIFA 15 is great fun to play.
"Presentation-wise, it’s top notch. The crowds chant and spur you on, or whistle at you when the opposition turns in a great performance."
Get to grips with the many changes – learn how to shoot without skying the ball and how to time those tackles – and you’ll have an absolute blast.
The ball physics are much more realistic, the AI has improved and your team mates now run into space and react with disdain when you miscue a shot. Firing a ball towards the goal doesn’t always mean it will hit the back of the net and through balls and headers aren’t nearly as successful as they were. Jostling for a ball is far more effective, while simply sprinting past the opposition and hitting a hopeful cross rarely guarantees glory. You can even “Park the Bus” if you want to defend a result, or tweak a player’s individual position.
Presentation-wise, it’s top notch. The crowds chant and spur you on, or whistle at you when the opposition turns in a great performance. The commentary is just as good as ever, with the addition of little tid-bits of information about which player is celebrating their birthday or who had a particularly disappointing World Cup in the summer. Every so often, you’ll hear the public address system trying to track down someone in the crowd, for example – it’s a nice touch.
The 20 stadia of the Premier League are all lovingly recreated and the instant replays are sublime – just like a real broadcast on TV. Character models are fantastic, with nicely replicated faces (over 200 players have been captured perfectly thanks to 3D scanning) and body types also look very realistic. Even the pitch degrades over the course of a game, with skid-marks and scuffs appearing on the grass. Hell, even the kits get muddy.
Other equally impressive changes are the introduction of goal line technology to rule out those ghost goals and the fact that referees are better at playing advantage and judging offsides.
"FIFA 15 looks better, plays better and sounds better than its predecessors. It offers so much more than a few minor enhancements over last year’s edition. Sure it has a few foibles but it is still my football game of choice."
Team selection is improved too and you can now adjust player positions and tactics with ease, reacting quickly in-game. Options appear during set pieces too, with goalies able to usher the team up the pitch before a kick or allowing instructions to be issued prior to taking a corner.
As ever, there are loads of game modes available. Whether you dive straight in to a single match against AI or a friend, or try your hand at Seasons, 26 new Skill Games or try to take your favourite team to victory in Match Day Live, it will probably be the Career and Ultimate Team modes that will soak up most of your life.
Getting your foot on the managerial ladder in career mode is just as fun as before but this time it feels even more complete. Searching for new talent has been streamlined, scouts appear more adept at highlighting players who could enhance your squad and you can now select from six team-sheets, which makes it easy to plan for cup and league fixtures.
Ultimate Team, meanwhile, boasts a new line up of Legends on Xbox (including Alan Shearer, Roberto Carlos, Sir Bobby Moore), concept squads (so you can pick from the entire catalogue of players and pick a dream team to test chemistries and styles), and there’s now the option to sign loan players! Stop that slump to the bottom of the table by sticking Aguero or Messi in your team for a few matches. An inspired idea… I just hope that EA updates the catalogue now and again to make more loanees available.
FIFA 15 looks better, plays better and sounds better than its predecessors. It offers so much more than a few minor enhancements over last year’s edition. Sure it has a few foibles but it is still my football game of choice. Such is its replayability factor and addictiveness, I once again expect this FIFA disc to be whirring in my drive far more than any other game in the year ahead.
This game was reviewed on Xbox One.
From the cut scenes to the players’ detailed facial features, it’s the best-looking edition yet. Gameplay tweaks provide a far more realistic feel and there’s plenty to keep you occupied.
Defending can be a nightmare – especially against physical players with decent ball control. Not entirely convinced about the goalkeeping “enhancements”.
EA is back with its annual update of the hugely successful sporting series – and it not only looks better but it’s an altogether different experience too.