STAFF REVIEW of FIFA Soccer 14 (Xbox One)

Monday, December 9, 2013.
by Scott Fowler

FIFA Soccer 14 Box art Football. Soccer. Depending on your location, and your affinity for "accuracy", this sport goes by both names. For me personally, I adjust as I go. With my European friends, and some select American super-fans, I call it football, but for everyone else it's soccer. EA Sports has launched its seasonal cult classic FIFA 14, beloved the world over in all markets, and probably easily their hands-down leader in international sales. It's also now available for both the Xbox 360 and the Xbox One, and this review will shine some light on both consoles. Coming in at $59.99 for both the 360 and the Xbox One, this years title is trying to keep the magic going. Does it hold up? Let's take a look and see.

I feel that I have to be totally transparent in these reviews. For me personally, I pick up the FIFA release every year, but I'm not a "launch day" player. More importantly, though, I'm not a major football/soccer fan. I know the leagues, I know most marquee players, but I'm not an avid fan. I'm not saying any of this for any reason other than full disclosure of my FIFA habits. Those of you reading this that are die hard soccer fanatics, or consider yourselves hooligans may want to keep that in mind as you read my take on the game.

I wouldn't want any crazed Liverpool fan coming after me for EPL inaccuracies or perceived injustices. Besides, I'm a Magpies guy myself, so if you want to talk misery...

Anyway, on to the game!

This will be my first sports review for the Xbox One is FIFA 14, and it's a great title for my first Xbox One review for a few reasons.

First, it's FIFA. This is a game that's probably not picked up by many casual fans. Conversely, it's the quintessential soccer/football game to the millions of fans around the world that live and breathe for their clubs. That makes the fan base somewhat ravenous for more and also makes them have pretty high expectations.

Secondly, the Xbox One release comes right on the heels of the Xbox 360 release, back in September of this year.

What many developers face this year, though, is somewhat unique. How to keep a franchise going on a console that's end-of-life (360), with a new generation on the horizon, and keep fans happy, while dedicating enough resources to the new platform to make a truly remarkable launch product. EA Sports has done well by both standards with this years FIFA 14. The changes to the core game have been subtle, mostly along the AI side, and actually achieve their goals of improved gameplay and more accurate simulation. I'll get into those in a second.

Let's dig in. Up front, I really like the menu and navigation screens on both consoles. Microsoft and Xbox's big push toward tiles interfaces is not lost here, but I think it makes significant improvements on last years framework and layout. That’s not to say it's perfect, because a few inconsistencies exist within the navigation on the 360, but what you get is a clean very current UI and layout, and it makes some nice strides in this area. The cut-scene and pregame animations feel lighter, and refreshed, with the exploded soccer ball animations and such presenting very nicely. There are still some really minor inconsistencies: things like using the "Y" button to jump to the top of a sub menu to select advance versus using the A button like you do everywhere else, but that's being nit-picky of me, and quite honestly doesn't detract at all from the layout. Most of these were ironed out on the One version of the game, however, and might just be left overs in the old console world from trying to move to a new UI/Theme.

Game presentation is still super clean, with some minor shading and shadow enhancement/changes to put a slight more bit of polish on an otherwise solid aspect of the franchise.

Two months have gone by between the 360 and the One FIFA releases, and we have a lot more firepower in the console world. Did the developers step up? Let's find out.

For Xbox One, versus the 360 version of the game, FIFA 14 got a coat of fancy high-def paint, but it's really just the same game. The Xbox One iteration is still leveraging the major UI pushes and evolutions of this years 360 title, and was in all honesty, probably developed in lock-step with the previous gen version of the game. What's sort of amazing is, even though this is the same game with a shiny new veneer, it still really works.

It's splashier, for sure, with a darker theme and more transparencies than the previous iteration. The cut scenes and things are all very similar, but the tweaked graphics just give a cleaner overall images look better. That's probably a lame way to say it, but they really do just look better, and react a bit better, too. Going in for a tackle has more realistic outcomes and some of the movement just looks cleaner, less chunky, and more fluid as a whole.

Now let's talk gameplay. I noticed the subtle AI changes. My FIFA 13 tricks of how to burst out ahead on the lower difficulties and dribble in and score at will had been thwarted. Ok, so that's probably a good thing, because it means that I'll have to put some time in to figure things out, which is always part of the fun. Once I got my new tricks in the easier levels, the challenge of the AI on the harder difficulty levels really became intense. So intense, in fact, that I had to take it down a notch to even remotely compete with the AI. Again, you diehards are going to have your hands full playing this on some of the higher levels of difficulty, because this is no joke. It's freakin' hard. I did find the settings a little bit easier to tweak on the One and got to a level of difficulty where I was happy with how easy it wasn't, yet not baffled by how hard it was.

The overall simulation aspect has some interesting things going for it. I found that this year’s title forced the mid-field game to be played much closer to the sport itself. What does that mean? Well, in previous years, it was basically all defense, or all offense, and rarely did the play on the pitch take place at midfield. Midfield sort of became relegated to big outlet passes and poor defending breakdowns when I got too committed offensively. This year, there's a lot more time muddying up the middle of the field, because there's more challenges, and successful ones, and the ability to just drop to some front running striker has been significantly reduced.

More fluid might be the most accurate way to describe the nuances at work on the Xbox One side of things. I'm not sure if it's graphic processing power pushing higher FPS or if it's just MORE POWER in general, but the game just oozes smooooooth. What's more, is it does so without feeling slow or bogged down at all, and is in fact very responsive and peppy. There was much talk about corner kicks and the AI in general being much improved one the One over the 360, and I've either gotten better at corners these past few months, or I'm not sure how much has changed.

Corners present a little bit more realistically, with a flurry of players on the pitch trying to position and cut in on the ball in flight, but it didn't make it harder. In fact, I scored on a header in the first game I played on the Xbox One, which took me at least a dozen or so attempts on the 360. And I was playing as Newcastle, so there's no real corner talent there. (Sorry fellow Magpie fans!)

New this year is "Precision Movement". I find this really taking the animations and player elements to a new level within the game. Specifically, things like dribbling, and the way the player with the ball looks/behaves/acts. Its just cleaner. I've also found that AI teammates show up more. I know its not the same sport, but this years title makes the "One-timer" hockey pass and shot style of play much easier, because AI teammates are actually much better positioned than years past. Makes for some pretty lopsided scores on the lower levels, but just shows the advance in the team style of play. I'm personally curious to how much of this was driven by the Next Gen console work, because every piece of information I've gotten from people who's played the soccer titles on the next gen consoles says that the team AI and the volume of player interactions make these sports game really shine by comparison. Let's hope that is the case moving forward.

Also new this year is the "Global Transfer Network", allowing teams to build scouting programs and scout players all over the world. Obviously, scouting stars in the La Liga and EPL, you know what you get, but I found it an interesting way to get a peak at some up and comers around the world. Pick what your after, pick a region, and assign your scout accordingly, and you get what you're after broken down very nicely. Is it perfect? No, but it's a welcome addition and puts the season/career tracking components on par with the recruiting efforts in Madden and the like.

The Online play and Ultimate team modes haven't departed much from previous iterations, and unfortunately I didn't have enough time to get into them in earnest, but this is one of the games with massive online following, especially internationally, so clearly EA is doing most things right in this regard.

Kinect integration was ok, especially on the One. I found myself using it for substitutions more, and know there's more set play features, but my style doesn't lend itself to that as much. There's nothing in the way of Smartglass support, either.

All in all, the game's the same on the 360 and the One, but that's generally a good thing. It's got some well executed spit and polish on it, and a few "Xbox One" exclusives for the die hards out there (Ultimate team cards, etc.) but it's just a shinier new.

Now that the Xbox 360 is really in the rear view mirror, I can't wait to see what development opportunities come out of building exclusively for the next gen consoles, especially once the development shifts to focus exclusively on the One.
I really hope that we get to the "wow" level of sports game play once the shackles of 360 limitations are truly shed!

Overall: 8.9 / 10
Gameplay: 8.8 / 10
Visuals: 8.9 / 10
Sound: 8.6 / 10


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