FROM a distance, you’d be forgiven for mistaking FIFA 14 on PlayStation 4 or Xbox One for its last-generation brethren.
But while its recipe might include the best parts of last-gen, there’s a brand new microcosm of detail that tells you this is indeed a next-gen game, and as such there’s a moment when that realisation ‘clicks’ with the gamer.
For me, that moment came when I reviewed a replay of a stray slide tackle.
When my player’s foot recklessly speared its way between his opponent’s jumble of legs, his toe clipped the leg and so his foot – unbelievably – moved back as it would in real life. All in stunning 1080p detail.
The fact that my player red-carded meant little. For that moment, I had been blown away by the attention to detail in FIFA 14’s next-generation visuals.
I can tell you that these moments continue to occur the more you play. Sometimes, they’re funny. Just the other night, in fact, I lofted a through ball to my striker.
The ball bounced about shoulder height, and so he jumped, one leg out as high as it could go, and took the ball whilst clipping the ear of a defender on the way through.
The defender’s head was forced sideways as my man’s boot brushed it. Yep, should’ve been a foul, but I went on to slot one past the keeper.
For the majority of shots that occur when the ball is on the ground, you’ll notice a bevy of other details, too. Such as grass flying through the air, shadows cast on everything that they should be – including down to individual blades of grass – smoother animations that imbue players with natural movement, and improved ball physics.
And the crowd: my goodness, the crowd. You have to see it to believe it, but spectators ride the bumps, so to speak, often getting out of their seats before sitting down again whilst clutching their head when your striker narrowly misses a shot.
They then jump about with ecstasy once you do slot the ball in the net, and EA ensures that the camera cleverly pans to the crowd celebrating, just to add to the atmosphere.
There’s very rarely a disruption to play, too, save for substitutions and the occasional free kick, the game keeps going.
Should your ball go out of bounds – even into the crowd – a sideline volunteer throws a new one to the player taking the inbound.
On one occasion I saw this happen while the old ball was still on field. A Real Madrid player near the old ball quickly ran to it and flicked it away towards the sideline. It’s detail like this that feels next-gen. Smarter players, living stadiums, realistic animations, sharper resolutions: it truly is an orgy of fine detail.
Of course, this immersion has a significant impact on the gameplay experience. Make no mistake – only the uninitiated would tell you that there is ‘no difference’ between last-gen and next-gen FIFA.
The Gamer Thumb team just a month ago had a FIFA 14 night on PS3. While it was fun, the controls felt sluggish and the visuals looked flat.
This week we gave it a good bash on PS4 and the difference is marked. The controls are incredibly responsive, and goals look amazing.
However, there are fewer noticeable improvements to gameplay, and this is to be expected. FIFA 14 is a great game in its own right, and much like NBA 2K14, it doesn’t tinker with a winning formula while taking advantage of newfound next-gen power.
Unlike NBA 2K14, FIFA has included the same hefty stable of game modes from last-gen. This is great if you’re wanting to make as smooth a leap to next-gen as possible.
Unfortunately, save games, seasons and other data earned on the PS3 or Xbox 360 will not carry over to the new game. You’ll have to make a fresh start, but it’s going to be worth it.
We played online while the PSN was experiencing issues, and still managed to secure a solid connection to a friend in New Zealand. The odd lag spike occurred, but the experience was fine overall.
Sharing is easier this gen thanks to both consoles’ ability to record game footage. With both you can trim the section you’re looking for and simply share it in the background as your game continues.
It might be the game footage, or you can whip to replay mode in FIFA where you’ll notice the ‘save’ option has is conspicuously missing.
On PS4, we simply tapped the Share button, rolled the replay, and hit it again to stop. It’s easy stuff.
The one thing we’d like to see improved, especially with Move functionality and the TouchPad is improved AI teammate control, especially for creating runs.
Say you want your winger to make a run. Then imagine your rectangular TouchPad is the field. Swipe towards the goal from the wing side you wish to request a run from, and that player – or players – will do it, based on how many times you swipe.
As we discovered playing Killzone: ShadowFall, you don’t need to move your right thumb far to reach the TouchPad, so this could work.
Move functionality would be great for keeping during penalty situations. You’d simply move it in the direction you wish to save as the kick is being made, rather than just moving a stick. It would be more precise and more exciting, and thanks to Sony’s 1:1 tracking technology, practical rather than a gimmick.
We’re not sure how responsive Kinect would be but this could be a consideration for the Xbox One version, too.
It’d also be great to see more emotion throughout the course of a game. For example, FIFA 14 tracks players’ progress across seasons, but what if a player is hot after the first half? Does his rating temporarily increase? Not right now, unfortunately. At leastnot that we can see or notice.
And what if he is having a great rivalry with an opponent? Do we see it getting heated? Is the contact more pronounced, the goals celebrated harder, or if a defender, does his team get around him when he makes a daring yet successful slide tackle and put the ball into touch?
To a certain degree, NHL 14 on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 introduced this aspect. But we’re confident that FIFA 15 will be able to introduce a new level of player emotion thanks to the Ignite Engine that has already seen the arrival of amazing graphical detail.
As an aside, I just wanted to comment on the game’s Remote Play functionality via the PlayStation Vita.
It works well, is responsive, but the frame rate seems capped at 30fps due to the Vita’s streaming technology.
It doesn’t hinder the gameplay, but you won’t always appreciate the eye-candy compared when you play on a television.
Also, you’ll need to configure the Vita’s touchpad to act as additional triggers and stick-click buttons.
This can make FIFA 14’s four-bumper ball control challenging, as the TouchPad on the Vita during Remote Play isn’t always intuitive – there’s a precise manner in which you must touch it to trigger the buttons. An onscreen guide tells you when and which button you’re hitting. But it could be better.
Still, with FIFA 14 not making it to Wii U, this is the only way to enjoy next-gen untethered from a console and large-screen TV. So get to it if you’re a Vita and PS4 owner.
The short of it is: if you’re a FIFA fan, you must own FIFA 14 on either PS4 or XB1. EA has outdone itself in terms of presentation and immersion.
And while there is still room for gameplay improvement, we admire the way they’ve managed to preserve what is good about FIFA whilst making the leap to the next-generation.
FIFA 14 for PS4 and Xbox One has earned: