Lads... it's been emotional.
What is FIFA 15?FIFA 15 is the gazillionth update to Electronic Arts’ football franchise, and the first to be developed in its entirety since the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One hit the market last year. Despite the extra headroom afforded by that new hardware however, EA Sports are evidently still concentrating on polishing their excellent football engine rather than stripping it down for a complete overhaul. The end result is a game that (at times) plays beautifully well, but appears stuck in somewhat of a holding pattern.
Despite a prevalence of buffed-up features (as noted in our Gamescom preview) such as improved ball physics, cinematic presentation and a pitch that actually cuts up over time, FIFA 15 is also (of course) winging its way to PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC, Vita, 3DS and the Wii. That leaves the Wii U still out in the cold, although the lack of attention shown to FIFA 15’s 3DS and Vita iterations may well indicate another few consoles soon to be shivering by its side.
What are the new features in FIFA 15?Another year, another set of bold box quotes and trailers from EA, with FIFA 15 keen to differentiate itself by bringing the “emotion” and “intensity” of the game into your hands, all played out on a “living pitch” with drastically improved goalkeepers.
The first of those buzz-phrases is probably the most prominent. FIFA 15’s gameplay now sees far more interaction between players on the pitch, whether physical or verbal, and each of them can potentially affect the outcome of a game. Strikers visibly lose confidence when their shots miss the mark, rivalries are built as midfielders jostle and barge each other off the ball, while persistent fouling will result in agitated, frustrated players. Short and subtle on-pitch animations and cutscenes effectively communicate the mood of your superstars.
The “living pitch” on the other hand, is part of a series of presentational tweaks that further the matchday atmosphere of the game, and particularly so if you’re interested in playing on a wet and windy Wednesday night in Stoke or any of the other less glamorous Premier League locales.
Turf now cuts up as sliding tackles and weaving runs leave their mark, resulting in realistically browned and dappled grass at the end of 90 minutes. Corner flags can bend and react to both ball and player, goalposts wobble and move when smashed by a 25-yard screamer (accompanied by a pleasant ‘thunk’ sound effect), while the net can also lift off its hinges if the same shot finds its mark. Pitchside features have also had some attention, with ball boys and camera crew stalking the players, team-specific crowd chants and celebrations, substitutes emoting from the bench, managers fist-pumping on the touchline and animated advertising hoarding that’s as distracting as real life.
The improvements in goalkeeping come via a raft of new animations and overhauled AI routines. In combination, those features allow for a huge variety of fresh goalscoring scenarios. The likes of Hugo Lloris will now dash off their line to clear danger without any user prompt, while fleet-footed acrobats such as Tim Howard are capable of agile reaction saves that spin the ball off at unpredictable angles. Elsewhere, the Joe Harts of the world will more often than not find themselves rounded easily and a goal down whenever a crucial moment arises. Realism folks.
Is FIFA 15 better than FIFA 14?With a series of tweaks that alter but don’t revolutionise the series, the answer to whether FIFA 15 is an improvement largely lies in the quality of online opposition and your taste in speedy or thoughtful football.
In its initial state, FIFA 15 plays a familiar, yet faster and more unpredictable game. Passing speed and through-ball accuracy have been increased alongside a corresponding improvement in player responsiveness, lending the game a strangely frantic feel in its first few sessions. Lumbering defenders now need to take a few extra steps to reach their terminal velocity, allowing players such as Raheem Sterling and Theo Walcott to routinely tear them apart with blistering pace, dancing around the opposition with incredible ease. At that stage, FIFA 15 feels horribly unbalanced.
Once you adjust to the newly-snappy player controls however, things begin to click. Pace is still as brutal as it is in the real world, but it can be countered by careful defensive positioning, well-timed tackles and effective jostling and shirt-pulling. Timing for standing tackles is now an absolutely key skill to master, while lunging into an accurate sliding tackle usually results in the ball changing hands, rather than FIFA 14’s inevitable attacking momentum winning out. The (somewhat overly) error-prone and dramatic goalkeepers simply add to the sense of tension; the ball frequently rebounds and spins off their limbs at frightful angles, and can just as easily nestle in the net or strike a post as it can be deflected wide.
However, with the laser-like precision of passing and faster speed through midfield, FIFA 15 can feel a little more like basketball than football at times, with Ultimate Team particularly prone to end-to-end five or six-goal thrillers. Whether or not that’s a good thing is largely down to your own personal taste. I’ve had more last-minute barnbusters in my first week with FIFA 15 than I did in the entirety of FIFA 14, while the new ultra-defensive “Park the bus” and ultra-attacking strategies provide ample opportunity for those siege-happy final 15 minutes.
Elsewhere, FIFA 15’s UI now oozes fluidity and is largely free of the hitching and jankiness that plagued earlier iterations, while the tactical screen has finally been re-worked. There are additional options for the tinkerers too, allowing almost Football Manager-like levels of specific instruction to be handed out to every player on the pitch. The net code remains as stable as ever, with swift matchups across Ultimate Team, Seasons and Pro Clubs. Thanks to the emotion-tracking of players, offline AI-controlled teams are now also more prone to fouling and dramatic tactical changes, which will be a welcome sight for those of you still shunning the connected world.
- Superb atmosphere
- More physical than ever
- Player emotions
- A little too quick at times
- Occasional physics glitches
- Counter-attack heavy
FIFA 15 PlayStation 4 ReviewFIFA 15 is undeniably entertaining and subtly different in many ways to FIFA 14, but EA’s latest series of tweaks might not be to everybody’s taste. Where Pro Evolution is the equivalent of a ponderous Serie A heavyweight matchup, FIFA 15 is Liverpool vs Chelsea. It’s pace, it’s power, it’s technical skill and performance at breakneck speeds. There’s little time to dally, and little time to think your way through the midfield without specifically selecting slower, mid-tier matchups.
In that respect, FIFA 15 mirrors the reality of its Premier League license more than ever, and so it’s no surprise to see the English spectacle recreated with all 20 stadia, team-specific chants, commentary and celebrations. At its best, FIFA 15’s presentation is utterly superb, and there’s no doubting the appeal of seeing an EPL matchup recreated with such an eye for detail. That the players now semi-robotically respond to their changing circumstances is also commendable, even if the resulting animations can feel a little more staged than you’d hope.
FIFA 15 has fulfilled its remit to bring the emotion of the game to the forefront then, and it’s done so with a focus on ridiculously fast, entertaining football. Sometimes it strays dangerously close to becoming too much of an arcade videogame for its own good, but it’s certainly never short on drama. Maybe that leaves Pro Evo wide open to bring back the class. There's room for both.
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