In a year where EA have released football games as frequently as Danny Welbeck has found the back of the net, we now approach the business end of the football gaming calendar. Following a solid first attempt on next-gen with FIFA 14, there is no doubt that the anticipation for FIFA 15 is high.
The first and most significant news for many is that the IGNITE Engine is coming to the PC version of FIFA 15. However, we must make it clear that we did not have the opportunity to sample the PC version at our recent play test. The build we played was reported to be 50 – 60% complete. Only exhibition matches were available with PSG, Dortmund, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Liverpool, Man City, Juventus and LA Galaxy. From our first moments with it the development teams tagline of “feel the game” was evident. One of the primary foci this year was to provide the emotion and intensity of the modern day game across the globe in various arenas. To achieve this a new emotional intelligence system has been implemented that dynamically connects the emotional relationships of all 22 players on the pitch in real time. Based on the match occurrences you will see players respond and react with a range of over 600 different emotional reactions. Teammates and opposition respond to missed chances, poor control, bad challenges and various other on the pitch situations. We saw a wide range of emotions and Arturo Vidal was not pleased when we missed a glorious opportunity to equalize with Tevez in the 85th minute. It’s great addition but there must be some tweaks before it ships, as I doubt Luis Suarez/Steven Gerrard would get much grief from Coutinho as we saw in one instance. Player role and stature must be factored in to influence how quickly or significantly players exhibit their emotions.
Extra attention has been given to the overall Match Day presentation with specific focus on regional differences in the stadium and match atmosphere. Man City fans performed the Poznan after their team took the lead and impressively the commentators mentioned the fans’ reaction. The half-time and full-time match highlights have a much more cinematic feel to them with only the key moments making the highlights reel which is presented with cinema style 21:9 aspect ratio. The commentators also weigh in with their thoughts of the various key moments of the game, an impressive touch. You can also expect to see 10-man goal celebrations (that aren’t pre-scripted/animated) and bench reactions in major/dramatic moments. The commentary is also more contextual meaning it will better engage in the story of the match as it unfolds. The development team reiterates that these new systems have been implemented to enhance the visual and emotional elements of the game without dramatically changing the gameplay. From our play test it seems it would be hard to argue with them otherwise. If you would like to know more about why they don’t allow the emotional state of the players to affect their performances then check out our interview with Producer Sebastian Enrique.
“Intelligence” seems to be a key phrase with FIFA 15. The power of the new hardware allows them to make the AI significantly smarter and thus better able to mimic the behavior and decisions of professional footballers. At least that’s the target over the coming years. In previous versions of FIFA, the AI used to make decisions on a frame-by-frame basis. In FIFA 15 the players on the pitch now have an awareness of what’s happening in game, not just the score but also an ability to read opportunities and threats in order to better respond. The AI in this year’s game attempts to play more “like a human” and react like a team of 11 humans would. This season Team Tactics has taken centre stage, and more specifically the way a team changes its tactics dynamically in real-time to deal with various in-match scenarios. The AI will now park the bus if you play with a superior team, or alternatively run the clock down by holding the ball in the corner if the result is in their favour. We did see a few occasions in matches against the AI where 10 men were behind the ball as we attempted to break down the “Mourinho-style 17th Century” tactics. However, we would have liked to see more attention given to Team Styles and attitudes. In the build we played Liverpool, Man City and PSG all played with a similar style to their real-life counterparts, however, the other teams felt a little more generic particularly when they were under AI control. It is still too early to make judgments as the code was only 50%, but hopefully subsequent builds will show an improvement in this area.
FIFA 14 on PS4/XB1 was a graphical improvement over the PS3/X360 versions. However it suffered from poor lighting or dullness and inaccurate colour palettes. FIFA 15 sees significant improvements on the visual front when compared to last year’s effort. The most striking difference is the new in-game lighting system (using physics based rendering and real light sources) that fundamentally changes the look of the turf, players and pitch items. The result is a much more photo-realistic feel to the players and the pitch (yes we keep mentioning the pitch but it’s that good). The player models have been amended and subsequently the animation rig to remove those annoying and unrealistic upper torsos and un-natural shoulders. Overall the visual clarity of the game seems to have improved with the pitch showing impressive signs of wear and tear and even grass and mud patches on player kits. This season I finally feel like I truly feel the rain when playing under adverse weather conditions. Drop in some animated ad-boards and more authentic pitch physics with moving corner flags and goal frames that rattle and you have a much more realistic playing arena. To put it simply, once you’ve played FIFA 15, your eyes will not be able to endure the torture that is the visuals of FIFA 14.
Changes to gameplay you ask! How have the mechanics been improved? Well there is one fundamental change that stands head and shoulders above the rest. Historically in all football games once a ball is controlled or even touched by a receiving player then the spin on the ball is reset to zero automatically. In FIFA 15, the spin of the ball does not automatically reset to zero now once a touch/contact has been made. The AI calculates the intensity of the touch and determines how much of an effect this would have on the spin as well as the movement of the ball. For years we have been playing football games and wondering why the first touch doesn’t feel natural or passing doesn’t look or feel great. The effect of allowing the ball to carry its spin whilst being manipulated has a profound effect on the ball behavior in FIFA 15. It’s a game changer in a sense that will allow future tech and mechanics to flourish. But in FIFA 15 you can now build up play with pass and move using the momentum and spin of the ball without it feeling cheap or like “ping pong passing”. This change allows players with better control to shine a little more and thus injects a little more personality into them.
Personality in dribbling is more evident this year as there have been some significant improvements to step based locomotion. Firstly players that are heavily one footed will dribble with that foot. Furthermore, players now use both the inside and outside of the boot for dribbling. This looks great with players that predominantly use one foot like Sturridge (left-footed). The concept here is to create authentic and correct contacts with the ball when dribbling with the results being quite positive with clear visual indicators. It’s not to say that a heavily left-footed player will never use his right foot in FIFA 15, but they will only use it in circumstances where it is the only or best option. The changes to the step-based locomotion system have allowed highly agile players with exceptional dribbling skills to shine, step forward Mr Raheem Sterling. Quick sharp turns look authentic and realistic whilst players demonstrate that they can weight shift and accelerate with great looking visual detail. Some other changes we noticed included more shoulder challenges as well as a physics based shirt pulling system. The shirt pulling can’t be triggered by the user but is controlled by the push-pull mechanics in-game. The possession tackles were something I really enjoyed as they reduce the amount of loose ball situations after a tackle has been made which really used to bother me. One other change that we welcomed (taken from PES) was the ability to flick the right stick to change the player you’re controlling during set pieces.
The development team has been listening and the annoyances that have plagued FIFA 14 have in some instances been addressed. The lofted through ball has clearly been toned down and is now reliant on good timing and execution. It also appears that the defenders are far more aware and better able to deal with it. We are also expecting fans to question the effectiveness of headers in the game. Again, no anomalies were spotted by the various play-testers in this area. I’m sure many of you will want to know about Career Mode or Ultimate Team, however, these announcements come later in the year. We are also expecting some more gameplay announcements to come between now and Gamescom in August.
At this stage it seems the development of FIFA 15 is on track and we look forward to future extended play-tests with more complete code that will allow us to truly dissect the various aspects of the game. As the development of the game progresses and features are added/tweaked we will be able to paint a clearer picture of how this year’s game tackles some of the issues of its predecessor.