The annual sporting roadshow pulls into town once more as EA Sports unleash the latest behemoth in their dominant football franchise with the launch of FIFA 15.
Bringing yearly improvements to a series that is already head and shoulders above its competitors is no easy thing, by any stretch of the imagination. The pressure to stay one step ahead of your rivals who are constantly snapping at your heels like some rabid terrier is always there, and yet EA Sports prove that this is a task that they are more than capable of reproducing with startling regularity.
Those gamers expecting a mere carbon copy of last years outing for FIFA will be disappointed because the sheer weight of new content in FIFA 15 means that instead of the usual introductory waffle we will be leaping right on into the review will little to no delay.
With that we begin by kicking off the action in this latest version of the superb soccer title as we jump right into the new feature of the ‘emoticon’. Gamers will now see and experience a far more life-like game, thanks to the next generation of consoles which are allowing the developers to bring the 3D characters to life, so to speak. This is done by giving each player on the pitch his own ‘emotion chip’, similar in thinking to the very thing used on the ships android in Star Trek. A ‘Data-ldinho’, if you will.
This wonder of technology means that your players will react according to everything such as weather, the crowd’s reaction, referee decisions and if your team is performing or not. Some may argue that this is, in fact, a rather unnecessary use of the advanced processing power of the next-gen consoles over their outgoing siblings, we would disagree.
While in any other genre gamers cry out for deeper, ever more immersive features to take them further into the gaming experience EA sports are doing just that, for the first time by any developer, in a sporting title. For this reason alone they should be commended, but praise also should be heaped upon the men and women behind the scenes who, in their first attempt to ‘bring the players to life’, have managed to produce such startling results.
Now, instead of your team merely walking around the pitch looking like emotionless robots, players will respond to each other often offering pleasantries when a team-mate has missed a shot at goal with an encouraging ‘thumbs up’, or scowling and shoving an opponent should they commit a particularly grievous challenge against them.
Adding into this new arena of authenticity comes what EA like to call the ‘Living Pitch’. This new aesthetic addition see’s the actual pitch condition degrade over time, affected by weather, player tussles and tumbles and also things like sliding tackles.
When you combine this with the commentary, supplied once again by Martin O’Neil and Alan Smith, then it all comes together perfectly to bring a far more believable and enjoyable experience for the gamer.
Gameplay has also seen its annual assortment of tweaks and tucks with the AI becoming far more skillful and aggressive in the higher difficulty settings, although it has to be said that the lower difficulties have one or two issues because of this where opposition players will just take off on meanderings runs, sometimes even when in goal-scoring opportunities, and head back towards their own goal mouth or even, on occasion, just taking the ball out of play altogether.
Naturally those players engaging in the Xbox exclusive features, FIFA Ultimate Team, will not be complaining as this benefits players early on in their FUT career if they decide to ‘farm’ coins in the lower ranked tournaments.
Defending has taken a bit of a ‘hit’ with this years format making gamers learn new tactics. This is in part due to the AI becoming far more adept at build up play, and also because EAS developers have coded the AI with far more ‘confidence’ in their own abilities as they hold, press and slot the ball around to each other with what can only be described as surprising professionalism.
The days of merely sprinting off up field with the ball from the kick-off and scoring a spectacular scorcher from outside the box are long gone. Even on the easier difficulties those gamers not too familiar, or particularly experienced, at FIFA will still find their opposite numbers giving them some kind of challenge. Yes, of course, gamers who have enjoyed FIFA for many a season will find the game extremely simple on the lower difficulties, but that is nothing that hasn’t been the same for years.
Fouls and free-kicks are still the contentious distractions that they have always been, and there will still be many times that you stare incredulously at the screen with arms outstretched crying “ but I never touched him! “, or the classic “ but when they do that to my players nothing happens? “. The fact of the matter is that just as in every sport in real-life there are many moments when decisions are questionable, and when rulings are unfathomable. So too, then, are there in FIFA. Art imitates life, and as far as in sports based videogames, at least, there is no-one better at imitating life than Electronic Arts.
Speaking of fouls we cannot mention the one without mentioning ‘the other’ deciding factor in these scenario’s, and that is ‘tackling’. Once again tackling has been ‘tweaked’, but it is entirely up to the opinion of the individual if these ‘improvements’ are for the better.
In our experience we found that due to the modifications it is now far more difficult to perform a stand up challenge, and in many cases it is because of another vast improvement in FIFA 15 that defensive duties and tackling have taken a direct hit.
Close control is now better, in our opinion, than it has ever been in any version of FIFA, and as such the players are able to keep the ball far better than ever before, particularly when under attack from an opposition player in the tackle. The player with the ball is able to use quick deft touches, drag backs and side slides with far greater efficiency and because of this it is much more difficult to stay with the player if you are defending. As a result what happens, more often than not, is that the defending player makes an approach to the opposite number with the ball, is side-stepped with considerable ease, and then you spend the rest of the action trying to keep pace with the advancing player regardless of if your speed is greater than his.
Now, this may seem like all would be balanced when you are advancing with the ball, but that is not always the case. Defenders controlled by the AI will often seem almost prescient about which direction you are going to take, or which pass you intended to play. But the biggest gripe regarding the new close control and defensive issues is when you have managed to play a beautiful through ball to your man in space and before he has made three yards of progress an opposition team member has somehow sprinted the entire length of the field, tackled you and left you in a bloodied heap as he nonchalantly begins his amble back towards your goal.
A final point on the subject would be the question as to why your players seem so slow down, even when sprinting, the moment they cross the thresh-hold of the eighteen yard box? Quite why this happens, and it happens ‘every’ single time, is beyond us, but it does not look like something that will be addressed any time soon as we believe that this was a similar issue in the previous three FIFA titles.
That being said these are minor, albeit they are still sometimes crucial, moans and groans and in the grand scheme of things maybe they will be ironed out in future additions to the franchise?
In good news the ‘kick off glitch’ looks all but eradicated, so that IS fantastic to hear, but it does appear that the CPU has a few tricks of its own up its sleeve from the kick-off when it feels that the chips are down, so do be aware of instant sprint runs and mysterious fouls and hand-balls on the edge or inside of the box for either a free-kick or penalty.
Another new ‘trick’ that has been added to the CPU’s arsenal is the now well-known tactic of ‘parking the bus’, or ‘playing defensively’ when they have taken the lead. This can often mean that a frustrating time to trying to crack open a locked tight defensive line is in store for the gamer, but it is still part and parcel of the real world game and, as such, should not be frowned on by anyone, particularly Arsenal fans. ( ‘1-0 to the Arsenal’, anyone? )
Other new tactics from the CPU that show a decided increase in footballing nouse by the developers in the new ‘playing for time’ method, but one such annoying new staple to the format has been the head-scratching introduction of ‘Fergie Time’ when it comes to the end of ninety minutes and the addition of injury time. Why is it always 5 minutes? Regardless of the fact that there have been no bookings, no fouls, no sending’s off…nothing? “ Five minutes Mr Ferguson? “ asks the groveling fourth official, “ That’ll do nicely “, says a cheery Sir Alex, “ and would you like to rub my bunions while you are down there? “
More new on-field experiences await gamers in the form of the totally re-vamped goalkeepers. Those of us who have had more than a few hair-pulling moments in the past thanks to these ‘guardians of the goal mouth’ will understand our scepticism when hearing of the ‘adjustments’ to the keepers, however, our fears were unjustified as EA Sports have done yet another sterling job of of bringing genuine authenticity to the ‘man between the sticks’.
Gone are the clunky movements, the lack of any real control and complete lack of vision from thee keepers as EA Sports rejuvenate everything about the shot-stoppers from grass roots basics such as positioning, handling and better motion right through to vision and athleticism. In our own preferred team, ( Newcastle United ), we cannot tell you how vastly different the performance of Tim Krul in this years FIFA 15 even compared to the previous edition.
Krul may not be the world’s greatest but he is a definite ‘twitch’ keeper, and as such is one of the best at reaction saves. In FIFA 15 the digital version of the Toon Army Goal Trustee now bears more resemblance to his real-world counterpart than ever before.
The same can be said for every goalie we have so far used between the posts in FIFA 15. From Tor Stegen to Scezny and beyond.
All the fun of the fair returns in the many excellent modes in FIFA 15, all of which have had their own nips and tucks, but are essentially still the said same modes we all know and love so well.
First up comes Match Day Live, and although this mode seems to have received the most tinkering, ( apart from the online only FUT ), we kind of ask ourselves ‘why’, when so many gamers opt for other modes, was Match Day Live given so much attention? Yes, we are grateful to EAS but surely modes such as the first rate Career segment or the second-to-none FIFA Ultimate Team could have benefitted from the additional time spent on it.
However, it has to be argued that because of the tweaks to the Match Day section of the game that new additions and upgrades to the format, such as players now being able to right-click the all-new FIFA widget and access all manner of things from social interactivity amongst friends to the EA Catalogue and Store, are now possible and far more easily accessible. So the knife cuts both ways on this one.
Career Mode speaks for itself with pretty much all of the world’s football leagues and the players who populate them, being at the fingertips of gamers as they play as either manager or player and try and carve their own slice of glory in the form of a successful career over the span of around 15 seasons for a player and 20 for a manager.
One very good tip for you all, however, when entering into Manager Career and that is to disable your Kinect if playing on the Xbox One. We have noticed both in FIFA 14 and FIFA 15 that should you use *ahem ‘more colourful’ language when bemoaning your teams latest result, or calamitous own goal by a player, then you will soon start to see ‘warnings’ turn up in your office email section from your board. This will eventually turn into a notice that you have been sacked for engaging in behaviors that is not condoned or supported by the club and so they will dispense with your services. You have been warned.
Career Mode also uses real-world squads and updates, so be wary of selecting a team, based solely on your own preferences of player or performance. It could well be that they have been transferred in real-life and, as such, will be unavailable for you until you purchase them.
Speaking of ‘purchases’ we feel we have to mention some of the exceptionally poor budgets and wage packages of the lower division teams in FIFA. It makes deciding to start your career as, say, Greuther Firth in the Bundesliga 2 a total non option because it will take you around seven seasons just be able to get enough of a transfer budget to buy anyone of talent.
Create a Player returns also, as does Pro Mode for those of you out there who would like to be a little more involved in the actual playing of the game, in that you play your matches from a first person point of view and everything from speed to trajectory affect your vision making this a tricky prospect for even the most dedicated of players.
Match Day Live still offers up its weekly, sometimes daily, challenges from around the footballing world and gamers may well be asked to digitally recreate the latest triumph from Real Madrid, or prevent a trouncing from Chelsea. The challenges are as limitless as the possibilities in the real world.
Moving on now we come to what many of us consider to be the greatest mode in the entire franchise, the outstanding Xbox exclusive service FIFA Ultimate Team.
What can we say about this simply enthralling mode that has not already been said a million times before? So successful is EA Sport’s online only model that this is fast becoming an entity in its own right, and the main reason why a great many FIFA fans buy the game on Xbox One. Those people who try to claim that multiplats cannot be system sellers, ( as demonstrated by recent mega-letdown Destiny ), are fooling themselves, and the sheer weight of numbers for FUT players and, indeed, anything even remotely mentioning its name on social media outlets such as Twitch TV, Youtube and Justin TV ), clearly demonstrate the resounding success that Ultimate Team genuinely is.
However, it has to be said that there are still a couple of area’s in FIFA Ultimate Team that need to be addressed, not least the main headache of FIFA Coins.
The fact that transfers between gamers can ‘only’ take place using coins, and that EA Sports do not sell coins, they only sell FIFA points, is something of a head-scratcher for us here at GmP Towers.
Now, with FIFA ‘coins’ you can do anything you want. You can buy any of the packs, any of the club items such as contracts, badges, balls and strips, You can buy managers, players…standard, rare or legends, but the only problem is, on average, it will take you 300 games just to be able to save enough coins to buy a Gold Marco Reus? It will take you 400 games to afford Messi and this is, of course, all dependent on you not buying anything else in between and that is also assuming, of course, that you have the players with enough contracts to actually play that amount of games without having to quit your pursuit or dip into your savings.
The average game nets you around 500 coins, the average tournament works out at around 800 coins ( average ) and should you be able to manage to avoid spending anything, ‘ever’, then a low ranking Legend will see you playing a staggering 3000 games.
Now, we ask again…how are you supposed to even have the ‘time’ to earn enough coins to buy these players? And with coin purchasing services bringing with them perma-bans and account deletion all that you have left is to either sit like a bot in front of your screen for six months and play a monotonous amount of games over and over again like some kind of nightmare rinse and repeat. Or you can spend an obscene amount of cash on FIFA points and hope for the best with pack openings. You have more chance of winning the lottery twice in the same day, by the way.
That being said FIFA 15’s Ultimate Team mode ‘is’ the most entertaining and enjoyable part of the entire game, and its value cannot be underestimated, nor can its replay-ability factor, its unsurpassed levels of fun and appeal be marred by the confusion of the coins/points debate. The fact that Xbox gamers can extend that enjoyment thanks to the sizzling Legends players makes it all the more entertaining and competitive on Xbox Live. There isn’t a single ‘real’ football fan out there who can honestly say that the prospect of banging them into the onion-bag Alan Shearer, Marco Van Bastian or Pele does not interest them.
Ultimate Team may have its share of oddities, but in truth most of those come from the transfer market and not in the way that the actual gameplay delivers the relishing promise of building your own dream team of fantasy footballing favourites.
Throwing in a word about the gameplay is to simply commend EA Sports for once again delivering on promise after promise that FIFA 15 would be a marked and noticeable improvement even on its 1 year-old sibling. They have managed to do this by the bucketful.
Smooth and silky the skills on offer by every single player from every club in every league FIFA 15 is head and shoulders above its rivals, and even its most fierce competitor PES must congratulate EA Sports for their outstanding achievement with FIFA 15. Just what the mood at Konami must be today is anyone’s guess, however, we are pretty sure that there air will be hanging heavy over the developers heads like London smog on a particularly close Summer evening. many faces sporting a distant look of wide-eyed bewilderment.
FIFA 15 is just so far ahead of anything else on the market when it comes to football that it is literally like trying to play a local pub team with Real Madrid’s Galactico’s.
Everything in FIFA 15 ‘just works’, and even the earlier gripes regarding the most minor of niggles pale into insignificance when taking the product into perspective as a whole. The frame rates are buttery in their delivery, the graphics make it feel like you aren’t just watching Match of the Day but actually ‘controlling’ the game.
Take the way EA Sports think not only of the larger scaled issues but even the more mundane and smaller trivialities that any other developer would not even consider worth the effort. For example take a look at a particularly nice touch to the dashboard which see’s the inclusion of the News Service. This allows gamers to access all of the latest developments from the ‘real’ football world, including injuries, club news and transfers. It is in fine tuning and additional ‘bonus extras’ such as these that EA Sports prove their class. It is not a case of ‘‘’Why bother’, because with the developers at EAS it is more like “ why not? ‘
Gamers who are familiar with the way that FIFA plays will notice many new alterations and improvements in FIFA 15, and they all enhance the way that this game looks, feels and plays. Yes, there are a few other football pretenders to the throne out there but if you want to experience the best, then there is only one ‘king’. FIFA 15 could only ever score an absolutely resounding 10 out of exceptional 10
FORMAT: XBOX ONE [reviewed])
DEVELOPER: EA SPORTS MONTREAL
PUBLISHER: ELECTRONIC ARTS
AVAILABLE PLATFORMS: ALL FORMATS
SCORE OUT OF 10: 10 out of 10
To purchase your copy of FIFA 15 then get on over to the UK’s biggest online retailer at Gameseek.