Taibi strikes again
Having spent a considerable amount of time with EA’s latest iteration to its most profitable cash cow on the show floor at Gamescom, it’s clear that FIFA is still in somewhat of a hold and consolidate pattern, drip-feeding new features and extra content on top of their already best-in-class gameplay engine. So what’s made the cut this season?
The following is by no means a comprehensive list, but these are the additions that left an impression (good or bad) after the first hour and a half of gameplay.
GoalkeepersThis is the big one. FIFA 15’s goalkeepers have been entirely reworked to allow for a more varied range of reaction saves and less predictable pattern of rebound angles, and boy does it ever show.
The first few encounters are revealing. Joe Hart palms the ball straight back down the middle from a shot that’d be far *too* easily caught in FIFA 14, whilst a deflected rocket at the other end sees PSG’s Sirigu reaching back with his left hand to get a limp wrist to the ball before it dribbles onto the post and over the line (it looks excellent in motion). Lofted through balls into space also seem a little less potent as both ‘keepers perform the role of sweeper without the need for a button prompt, hopefully lessening the impact of the chipped pass tactic that dominates FIFA 14’s online duels.
It’s good stuff, and goes some way to addressing long-held concerns over static goalkeepers and inflexible gameplay patterns that eventually dominated both 13 and 14. However, the lasting impression I took away from FIFA’s Gamescom goalkeeper display was that of utter, frustrating calamity.
The AI simply *has* to be tweaked before release, as the goals that peppered our other matches were an absolute horror show of out-of-context mistakes, and far too numerous to be ruled as unlucky.
As examples, Joe Hart let the world’s slowest bobbler of a shot between his legs before palming the ball over his own line, then shortly after dropped the ball off a tame cross into the box, allowing Zlatan to nip in and score with ease. In the very next game Simon Mignolet palmed the ball practically down the throat of an attacker before falling over, while at the other end, Petr Cech launched into a comical dive over a geriatric daisy cutter as it plodded its way towards the net.
I understand the reasons for introducing more fallibility and unpredictability in goalkeepers, that’s football after all, but this is too much. And it wasn't just our own games either; other matches around us displayed a similar selection of Massimo Taibi moments, while general chatter amongst fellow attendees revealed the same concerns. The genesis of a great feature is there, but my word does it ever need some swift attention.
Passing, tactics, muscleOn the ball, small alterations to passing speed, animation timing and shooting power add up to a familiar and yet strangely jarring experience. As always, until a couple of months down the line it’ll be a little difficult to tell whether the changes are successful, but initial impressions are fairly mixed.
Ground passes seem to zip around with more speed than before, while nimble players like Messi are able to turn and twist with almost superhuman speed. Again, it’s a feature that seems to be dialled all the way up to eleven. The smooth animation priority in 14 is replaced with something a little more jarring, with swift cutbacks and changes of body positioning feeling more responsive but almost robotically efficient in execution.
The likes of Barcelona’s short-passing midfield benefit hugely as a result though, with Iniesta and Xavi gaining extended time on the ball thanks to the increased speed of the ground game. To counter that threat, the tackling system now appears to be weighted more favourably towards the defender than the attacker, with a well-timed prod at the ball usually shifting play in their favour rather than the previously momentum-heavy attackers automatically stumbling back onto the ball.
Coupled with new ultra-attacking and uber-defensive tactical selections (one of which is literally labelled “Park the bus”, Chelsea fans), a lot has been made of FIFA 15’s reworked physical models. On the pitch they translate to a more visually distinct and believable experience, even within the context of a familiar but expanded suite of jostle-and-barge gameplay animations.
On the pitch, Oscar’s slight frame and nimble feet seemed different to those of the similarly pint-sized but bulkier Ezequiel Lavezzi, lending a little more believability to the latter’s ability to hold off a defender on the run or the former’s penchant for tumbling to the turf. New gameplay ramifications of that additional muscle seemed few and far between however, with the already excellent bodyweight system guiding the action in pretty much the same manner as before.
Presentation, cinematics“Emotion” is the key word for FIFA’s presentation overhaul this year, and the results manage to delight in some areas but disappoint in others. Players now visibly react to contentious moments of action on the pitch, breathing life into their character models with a flurry of little hand gestures, facepalm moments or desperate slides to the turf. Relationships are tracked through key moments, goals, saves, tackles or a last-minute slice into the stands, with nerves and tempers visibly fraying as time wears on.
It’s non-intrusive and appreciatively decorative stuff for the most part, but the resultant one-on-one player confrontations quickly became tiresome even within our limited time with the demo. A bad tackle brings play to a halt while both players rise to their feet and run through whatever pre-canned sequence dictates their relationship, with the referee holding ground until the animation completes and a card is brandished. They feel a little too prolonged for their own good, much like the "kick the spare ball off the pitch" routine in last year's game.
Elsewhere, the rest of FIFA’s presentation is also gently evolving into a more complete whole, either by license-based war of attrition or small changes in UI design. Anfield was immediately recognisable during our session as one of the 20 Premier League stadiums meticulously scanned into the game, while small details such as scuff marks on the pitch, movable netting or a more notable “clang” as a shot smacks the goalpost were appreciable for their inclusion.
The tactical screens have also undergone a fairly dramatic change (by FIFA terms, anyway). Player selection is divided into block-type icons with pictures representing each player, along with a huge pitch on which to select and manipulate positions. Stats are also better represented with an old PES-style hexagonal graph for key attributes, while the tactical menu seemed to be finally free of the stop-start pausing as each player tinkered and selected different options.
So is it ready?Yes and no. While the overhauled presentational aspects of the FIFA 15 demo were (on the whole) largely positive, its gameplay tweaks raised more questions than the tangible benefits FIFA 13 and 14's changes immediately conjured at previous Gamescom events.
There’s time of course, and the rough aliasing on the PS4 version suggests this may well have been an older E3 build rather than anything up-to-the-minute. There are several good systems in an embryonic or evolving state in FIFA 15, I just hope that September brings about a slightly more mature form.
Anticipation rating: watching with interest
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