I long one day to have a FIFA game that truly encapsulates what that title suggests, although that would probably be a House of Cards-esque, murky, political adventure title, or a bureaucratic take on Crusader Kings II -- all backstabbing, corruption, and intrigue.
The limited edition set would come with a watch that you'd have to return to the store, naturally.
Instead of that, however, here we have another buzzword-stuffed game wherein you take control of teams of players from a side-on perspective, stringing together intricate passes, laughing at the foibles of player impacts, and cursing when your player tries to volley inside of heading the pinpoint cross you just floated into the box.
This is really the first true new-gen FIFA title (we're not counting the graphical scrub up of FIFA 14), and it's clear that a number of things have changed on the pitch. Perhaps the most noticeable tweak is that pace is back in a big way. In the real game, a player with pace, someone who runs at defenders and looks to take them on, is a huge asset. FIFA has finally managed to recreate the thrill of having someone like Bale or Sterling or Di Maria really take on opponents at speed. No longer will full backs conveniently be able to catch up, it seems like teams with pace have a real edge that's finally realised thanks to expert balancing to go along with the precision control that has been standard for the last couple of years.
It's a change that makes FIFA 15 a better fit for quicker games. The ball zips back and forth a little speedier, the action moving from end to end in a heartbeat. It's thrilling stuff, but EA Canada have also shaken things up in other areas to ensure that speedy players aren't absurdly overpowered. It might be a little easier to skip past defenders with a technically-gifted speedster, but overall it seems that scoring is a little trickier this time around. Crosses have been nerfed somewhat, as have chipped through balls, and AI defenders will track back and fling themselves in for interceptions and deflections. The flight of the ball is less predictable than it has been in some time, and picking your passes, shots, and their respective types is more crucial than before.
On the other end, however, things are much more difficult than before. Slide tackles and automatic pressing are far less effective than in previous games. Unskilled defenders don't stand a chance in FIFA 15 (something my early forays into the relatively-unchanged online experience certainly taught me). If you've become used to phoning it in on defence, FIFA 15 might be something of a baptism of fire. Precise timing is required for tackles, reading the play and watching for off-the-ball runs is a necessity on high difficulty levels, and keepers (despite having improved movements and animations) are often prone to spilling the ball. Ah yes, the "next-gen" goalies. They've certainly had their animation toolsets tuned up, and they react more impressively, with Neuer-esque rushes at times. They're also still hilariously/frustratingly inconsistent and prone to dumb mistakes.
There are exploits to be had, of course, but by and large I've found FIFA 15 to be an enormously satisfying experience on the pitch. Things feel more exciting, success more rewarding, and the challenging nature of defending means that saving a goal can feel almost as exhilarating as scoring one. It's important to ramp the difficulty level up, mind -- playing the game on anything less than Professional will turn the AI into idiots (and EA Canada have actually added in a new lowest difficulty level for some reason).
The presentation is more Sky Sports than ever before, with a greater degree of build up, more intricate commentary, and now comes with the addition of incredibly hammy match reports from Alan McInally. It's fairly good, I guess, still not a patch on 2K Sports' work in that regard, but it does a good job of recreating the weekend atmosphere, and unique crowd celebrations help too. I'm not sure about the whole "emotional behaviour" stuff, to be honest, though. For me at least, FIFA's emotional experience has had very little to do with camera shots of players mouthing off, and far more to do with scuffed chances, last-second interceptions, fingertip saves, and squeaky-bum time.
Off the pitch, things haven't changed an awful lot in terms of the game modes themselves, but the UI has been worked over, particularly when it comes to team management. Creating team sheets, tweaking formations, and flitting between custom tactical templates is easier than ever before. At the single press of a button or the flick of a stick you can see suggested substitutions, tailor the priorities of your players in attack and defence, and adjust the behavioural balance of your squad's game. You could do most of these things before, of course, but the new UI makes things readily accessible, easy to adjust, and provides greater visual feedback than before.
Career mode remains largely unchanged, but there are one or two observations I'd like to make. First of all, transfers are utterly bonkers. Teams will sell their star players to direct rivals for absurdly low prices, yet charge astronomical rates for human players. In the first week of my career in the Premier League, Chelsea basically gave Arsenal Oscar and Willian, but that was okay because Liverpool handed them Sturridge for £10 million. I sort of like that you have to scout players no though. You can't simply search for the best-rated players, you have to invest in a scouting network, let your minions know what you're looking for, and then pluck the best from the reports that roll in.
It makes me sad that Ultimate Team is where EA Canada's focus is clearly at, as the other modes could have done with some tune ups, but there are at least a few little tweaks to be found here. Friendly seasons mean that you can now finally play full seasons in FUT with your chums rather than simply with online strangers. Loan players in FUT is something that's been coming a long time and I'm glad it's finally here. It's also cool to be able to make dream squads, share those with your friends, and see how prospective players might gel with your team.
EA Canada, much like their PES counterparts, are stuck between a rock and a hard place. What is the perfect FIFA game? This is certainly the most modern, perhaps the most feature-stuffed version out of the box yet, and on the default settings it plays a fast-brand of attacking football that requires relearning much of what you thought you knew. But the alternative is stagnation. I for one love the changes that have been made this year on the pitch (those unskippable little emotional reaction cutscenes aside), but the lack of growth elsewhere is troublesome, as are the online bugs that continue to plague FIFA launches.
- Faster pace makes for exciting, thrilling, end-to-end matches
- Presentation and framing keeps getting better each year
- Defensive tweaks create a steep but rewarding difficulty curve
- Goalie upgrades create closer games
- Ultimate Team just as addictive as ever
- Team Management UI is much improved
- Not many changes off of the pitch
- Bugs galore in the netcode
- Unskippable emotional scenes are a pain in the butt
- Absurd AI transfers
- Goalies improved but inconsistent
The Short Version: Not much has changed off of the pitch, EA Canada still can't seem to work out how to create stable netcode at launch, and goalkeepers still make hideous errors in spite of their obvious upgrades, but ultimately FIFA 15 is a fast-paced, thrilling triumph where it counts. It's frustrating at times, but it's also the most rewarding FIFA in years.
Platforms: PC | PS4 (reviewed) | Xbox One
Developers: EA Canada
Publishers: EA SPORTS