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FIFA 14 review

FIFA 14 review

Imagine a world where Liverpool let Luis Suarez leave. After weeks of public bickering between the munchy striker and Brendan Rodgers, the Uruguayan forces a move to anywhere but Merseyside. At the same time, Wayne Rooney is offloaded from Manchester United and Chelsea snap up Robert Lewandowski for a stint at Stamford Bridge.

Business in FIFA 14’s Career Mode may be dramatic, and certainly pokes fun at a summer transfer window that failed to deliver on its promise, but it sums up EA Canada’s next release rather succinctly.

Just as you identify targets to improve specific areas of your squad, rival bosses look to do the same. EA want you to make key decisions in a tactical title that promotes the use of well-rounded teams and individual strategy. No longer can you place 11 speedsters on the pitch and expect to pace-abuse your way towards the net.

This realisation affects the action in a huge way. FIFA has long been referred to as the ‘realistic’ simulation in its eternal battle against Pro Evolution Soccer, but the gameplay in recent iterations hasn’t matched such a description. Pace overpowered all, physical players had their attributes docked and tactics took a back seat.

FIFA 14 lets gamers develop their own brand of football and strives to ensure each virtual player holds his own value. Finally, the lumbering legs of Per Mertesacker can halt forwards who used to stroll beyond his position. Weighty players now have the arsenal to match those who bounce off with significant contact. While pulling the opposition’s shirt is a useful option, an increased sense of physicality means battles within each match are natural and, most importantly, even.

FIFA14_06Such a tweak is emphasised when trying to keep possession. On any difficulty above Professional, FIFA 14 tests your ability to maintain control. Patience is key as short passes help to relieve pressure that is far more imposing than previous versions. Opposition midfielders avidly close space and defenders intelligently track runs to ensure there is no quick getaway.

Passes no longer robotically ping towards your colleagues with pinpoint accuracy. The ball needs to be thoughtfully distributed, as tiny taps of X provide little power, while holding the button sends the dome racing with real intention. Direction must be precise if you’re going to hold onto possession in a system that feels like it has been designed as a Pep Guardiola training exercise.

Gameplay is incredibly slick and gives football fans a formula that feels fair, but animation is a mixed bag. Although your teammates’ ability to make runs in anticipation of attacking moves is extremely useful, it often appears as if players are stuck on rails when doing so.

For every brilliantly animated diving save, there’s a slightly unnatural twist and turn of the body which reminds everyone this isn’t a Saturday afternoon broadcast brought to you by the attention-grabbing moustache of Chris Kamara. This isn’t an “unbelievable” problem, and his on-air buddy Jeff Stelling does a good job of introducing each match, but it does occasionally hinder the match day experience.

FIFA14_01EA Canada has put a lot of work into ensuring the sounds of game day don’t stutter in a similar way. Whether you prefer to chant U-N-I-T-E-D at Old Trafford or sing You’ll Never Walk Alone at Anfield, famous atmospheres have been added to increase intensity. Home crowds react to saved shots and make you feel like a hero when hitting the back of the net, while scoring an away goal has the power to silence a previously deafening crowd.

The updated chatter between Martin Tyler and Alan Smith also adds to encounters that manage to feel unique. In Career Mode, you’ll certainly notice the difference between facing Everton at Goodison Park and taking Barcelona for a run at Camp Nou.

Aside from hunting offline glory, FIFA 14 is crammed with other activities to enjoy. Skill games return and are tougher than ever, as is online competitive play in modes such as Pro Clubs. In Ultimate Team, the realisation that you’ll never afford that shiny Gareth Bale card also comes rushing back quicker than the Welsh winger can shout, ‘Hala Madrid!’

EA Canada has mastered the ability of including something for everyone, but this year, proceedings on the pitch are where FIFA 14 makes a real difference. With the battle between pace and power tightened, passing freedom granted and incredible match day authenticity to experience, the series continues to grow ever-closer to the real sport. If you take time to explore tactical nuances and the advantages of building a diverse team, it also emerges as both the most challenging and rewarding entry into a franchise that is evolving rapidly.

With the PlayStation 4 transition approaching in November, FIFA 14 exits the current generation in match-winning form. At just 2,125,000th of the sum Real Madrid paid for Bale, it also offers terrific value for money.

Score: 90%

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