The FIFA 15 demo has been out for around a week or so now, and I've been dipping into it in amongst swathes of Destiny, Hyrule Warriors and Bayonetta 2 (do check out Carl's review of Bungie's FPS, and my appraisal of the Zelda/Warriors mashup). As per usual, EA Canada have been showering us with buzzword-heavy promotional sentences largely devoid of any real meaning, and the biggest of the lot for this year's release has been "emotion" -- that is to say player and crowd reactions, presentation tuned to deliver the theatrical and entertaining, and a boost in dynamic atmosphere when it comes to the in-game environment.
Has it worked? Are all of the footballing feels writ large upon this new, super-shiny canvas? Here are a few thoughts are several hours spent playing the demo:
Emotional behaviour is a thing: FIFA's always been a rather emotional game for me, in much the same way as any multiplayer game that you love can be. When winning and bragging rights amongst your friends (or the rest of the online community) are onthe line, matches mean more, and the peaks and troughs of a game matter more than they really have any right to. But this is now reflected on the pitch. In one game where I was playing as PSG, Lucas skipped past several defenders, Ibrahimovic shook his man, but I wanted to get the winger a goal so I ignored the Swede and promptly ballooned a sitter over the bar. Ibra then launched several unintelligible insults Lucas' way.
Players will shove and barge more than they used to, they'll clamour and cheer when you do something awesome, but they'll also let you know when someone's been an arse. After unclean tackles, if those involved are not injured, they'll leap to their feet and start mouthing off and pushing one another. If anything, FIFA 15 has most gloriously captured the notion that footballers are whinging prima donnas, who'll get uppity about anything.
Player personalities are more visible than ever: Part of this may be as a result of actively looking for this in recent years (the floods of buzzwords from EA do rather serve to give you a list of things to inspect critically) but it seems as though the characteristics and physical idiosyncrasies of certain players have been brought even more to the fore. Controlling Messi is an absolute dream, and he moves with unbelievable fluidity, much like in real life. The bustling apparition of Diego Costa with the ball at his feet -- ugly, but effective -- is brilliantly captured here, indeed.
Furthermore, it seems as though the attacking intelligence has been tuned up a little more as well to make for smarter running, more intelligent, alert positioning, and allowing for a brand of tiki-taka football that has never been FIFA's forte. Physicality has generally played perhaps the greatest role in FIFA's Premier League brand of virtual football, but it's actually easier than ever before it seems to put on a passing tour de force. That said, those player ratings really do matter when it comes to the higher difficulty levels.
The atmosphere is electric: Further reflecting the on-pitch action, it's clear that the crowds have been tweaked with more models, more animations, and a greater spectrum of reactions, both in terms of body language and that collective roar when things get dramatic. There's still work to be done, of course, but it makes games feel more alive, helped on my subs and managers getting amped up when the action gets heated, familiar songs reverberating around stadia, and that mess of cheers and whistles and whoops and hollering when a game is on the knife edge.
The televisual framing has been ramped up too, with more replays, more commentary interjections, and seemingly more analysis, though it remains to be seen if FIFA can rival the likes of NBA 2K in terms of almost seamless commentary. We'll need the full game to really determine that.
The physics engine has been improved, but it still creates bundles at times: Ah, the physics engine. Players have a nice additional bit of heft to them in this demo, it seems, but the responsive nature of nimbler players is pleasingly immediate making for a greater degree of control over the pace of the game. The ball doesn't feel like it's a plastic, inflatable job from a petrol station, and the transitions between the various levels of controlled-vs-speedy dribbling are much smoother than they have been previously.
That all being said, I still found my players tripping over themselves and one another, and occasionally winding up in a tangled mess of limbs.
Goalkeepers have better reflexes, still occasionally lose their minds: Much has been made of these allegedly "next-gen" goalkeepers. They've certainly had some animations added top their arsenals, and the reactivity of shot-stoppers has been increased. But they're still prone to lapses of judgement, bizarre ricochets (I scored a goal where the ball ricocheted off the goalie's knee onto his head and then in), and inconsistent indecision.
Crank the difficulty up, and they are vastly improved, and you feel like you have to really graft for every goal. However, I've also noticed that screamers from outside of the box are very much back in, as are long-range, precision curlers. And they feel wonderful to pull off.
They've nicked some ideas from PES: Win yourself a setpiece, and FIFA 15 shows off an array of options. You can change the kicker, call over one or two more players, and now you can also opt to directly control a receiver as well. I've long loved the ability to do this in PES -- it makes setting up the perfect corner or floated free kick an absolute cinch -- and now you can do it in FIFA too.
Tactical gameplay has been expanded: I like that you can now "Park The Bus" or go for "All Out Attack" now, and I like that I can visibly see player behaviour change when I move that attack/defence slider. Better yet, the Team Management screen has been overhauled, you can save up to six lineups and tactical sets, and there are recommendations at the push of a single button.
Overall, I have to say that I've been enjoying myself immensely. Still, it's only a tiny slice of the full game, and we'll be bringing you our full review as soon as we can. In the interim, however, how have you been finding the FIFA 15 demo?