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FIFA 14 Hands-On Impressions

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With all the focus on E3 and the impending arrival of next-gen consoles there is a certain buzz around the games industry. A general sense of rejuvenation following what may prove to be the longest generation in history. But for the FIFA folks in Vancouver and EA Sports as a whole, this generation will be one to remember. The years where they not only stole the crown, but managed to hold it year after year. At the Xbox One reveal event EA teased us with a glimpse of what to expect from their blockbuster football franchise in the future. But that is for the future, and EA must maintain it’s momentum by delivering on current-gen in September. So how does EA plan to continue this trend of footballing success with FIFA 14 for PS3, Xbox 360 & PC? All is about to be revealed.

SUFF’S IMPRESSIONS

We recently had the opportunity to play some pre-Alpha FIFA 14 code in order to experience some of the changes the development team are implementing this year. Rather than focus on the buzz words from the back of the box we would prefer to tell you how it plays and feels in layman terms. From the moment you kick off your first match on FIFA 14 you immediately feel a sense of a much more conserved game. It feels slower compared to it’s predecessor, yet not in a visual sense. The game feels more true to the real sport. This was achieved by refining the various gameplay elements EA have developed this generation to allow better control of the ball and possession play. The development team added a feature known as “Protect the Ball” that allows you to focus on maintaining possession by holding off players and using your body/physical stature to your advantage. It works pretty well and provides you with time to build up play and wait for runs from teammates etc. The only quarrel we had with is was that it could be triggered at any time even if there was no opponent near you. We were assured that this system was still a work in progress.

We were told of a new feature called “Precision Movement”, a step-based locomotion system where every step counts. It not only produces better looking results on the visual front, with footplanting/pivots and unique animations, but it allows player attributes and personalities to be better portrayed with accurate acceleration/deceleration and the ability to change direction instantly based on player attributes. I had the opportunity to play with the “cover boy” Lionel Messi and the changes were obvious. I tried again with Daniel Sturridge, a player renowned for his pace and skill. Again, his movement and skill was visually and responsively more true to life. The results were even more obvious with Luis Suarez, a player known for his twisting and turning ability. The most impressive aspect was that visually it looked smooth even at this early stage of development.

The more time we spent playing the game, the more the new shooting animations and mechanics became apparent. It’s not instantly obvious to the eye, particularly on the regular broadcast camera, but upon closer inspection on replays and repeated play you begin to notice the range of shooting styles and more organic shooting animations that “Pure Shot” brings to the table. Gone are the scissor legs and unnatural shots where footplanting doesn’t exist. Players set themselves better and take shots by changing their body positions to execute the best possible way. This also impacts the outcome and shooting style of the final attempt. I managed to see some spectacular little dinks over my on-rushing keeper (Asim winding me up with Balotelli) and some special long range knuckle shots (Stuart Downing of all people).

At such an early stage there is still much to be unveiled about FIFA 14 especially with E3 around the corner and Gamescom rapidly approaching. But as it stands the progress and refinements to gameplay seen in FIFA 14 show great promise and a clearly improved experience. We look forward to sampling more over the coming months.

A SECOND OPINION – ASIM’S THOUGHTS

Suff is absolutely spot on. The pace of the game is noticeably slower, allowing to get some proper build-up play in rather than have the ball furiously go from end-to-end and have the midfield be completely bypassed. Part of this down to the new “Protect the Ball” feature, but it’s the introduction of some kind of proper locomotion system (Precision Movement) that seems to have helped the most. The quicker players are no longer favoured like they were in FIFA 13, mainly because they don’t have the ability to turn on a dime. Now the player’s weight and body shape are both taken into account, so whilst in some instances you might be able to quick turn and slip away, in others your player will take a little time as he deals with weight shift or  a slight shift due to his body is positioned. Variable dribble touch were also very much noticeable, with some touches moving the ball forward a bit too much when running at pace. No more holding down the sprint button and hoping, folks! These are all things that FIFA has been crying out for, as it helps bring some much needed balance to the defensive side of the game.

Speaking of defense, it was clear to see that the AI is this area has received some real attention. For example, I visibly noticed the midfield and defense four were much quicker in reacting to situations, getting behind the ball in two banks very nicely. It’s a shame then that AI for the attacking side of the game was still a bit cumbersome. I’ll be honest, I didn’t notice any huge changes compared to FIFA 13. This might be down to the improved defensive AI or something completely different, but there were several occasions where I was hoping for a run from an attacker yet nothing was forthcoming. Still, it was great to see that EA has listened to feedback regarding the defensive side of the game.

The shooting and ball physics were other stand out features, both greatly improved when compared to FIFA 13. There’s some real variation and weight behind the shooting mechanic now. I didn’t manage to score any Gerrard-esque daisy cutters (the dinks against Suff will do), but was successful in getting off some shots from range that moved about a bit and tested the keeper nonetheless. In fact, during one match against the CPU I hit a shot that I thought was destined for the top corner, but swerved away at the last second. In fact, I’m pretty sure that shot would’ve hit the back of the net in FIFA 13 (you know the shot type that I mean), but here I was disappointed. Still, it was a satisfying enough hit and I didn’t feel cheated. Part of this is down to the way the animations now work in conjunction with the shooting, it’s all just that bit more natural.

I touched on it very briefly in the opening paragraph, but “Protect the Ball” was a feature that left me a little bit cold. After the first-look event I was interested to see how this would affect the gameplay, and was of the opinion that it could have the biggest impact. In reality, it’s a bit hit and miss. When it works it’s wonderful, allowing you to slow down a little when need, shield the ball from a defender and then continue to move at pace. However, when it doesn’t work the on-pitch action looks, well, a bit silly. I came away with the concern that it could be abused to time waste even when no-one is around you and irritate opposition players. EA (Sebastian Enrique in particular) doesn’t think that’s the case, calling it a chess-like mechanic that will players will eventually adapt to. I certainly hope that is the case, but it seems like a little more refinement is needed to make the feature truly stand out in a positive way.

On a visual front, there were some nice touches here and there, especially in regards to new shooting animations. Apart from that and slightly better looking grass (yay), there wasn’t anything else to write home about. It seems like refinement is the word when it comes to FIFA 14. I said mentioned it in my first look preview, and after getting hands-on with FIFA 14 last month that sentiment still holds true. That’s not necessarily a negative, but it isn’t exactly a resounding positive too. Right now, my thoughts regarding FIFA 14 sit somewhere in the middle. Still, even in its current state it’s an improvement over FIFA 13. Slight, but still an improvement. E3 and Gamescom, enlighten me!

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