FIFA 15 (PlayStation 4) Review

By Robert Blowes 16.11.2014

Review for FIFA 15 on PlayStation 4

Annual sports games come in for some typical criticism. 'Re-skinned' with updated 'rosters' tends to be the common complaint, but football (or soccer for those that are that way inclined) has been lucky in that Electronic Arts never quite managed to get a monopoly on the market, thanks to some stiff competition from Konami's Pro Evolution Soccer series. That series, though, has been dying a slow, painful death, and EA has consistently taken top spot in the football market, both in terms of sales, and in terms of quality.

FIFA 15 sees the return of tournament mode, controversially left out of last year's release. It also includes the career mode, which is a 'create a manager,' and Be A Pro, where the user creates a player and works through seasons as that creation in their chosen position for whichever club they elect to join. There is an option to choose to play as an established pro, should it be desired.

It is also possible to jump straight into a team vs. team match. Highlights of the week challenges remain, as does the chance to play the next real live fixture for a supported team. However, the meat of the game is on the pitch itself, and warrants being reviewed in-depth. For whatever reason, EA has decided to increase the speed of the action this year. Things are rapidly quick - far too quick. There's an innate predisposition for the game to dribble rapidly back and forth, and up and down. In fact, it has gone fully towards arcade style football. Those wishing for a simulation game or a "thinking man's game" can stop reading here and avoid wasting time and money.

The AI of FIFA is atrocious; there is no real genuine attempt to play football. Teams don't really vary in their approach, there won't be an opportunity to see any tika-taka here, nor will it be possible to see the atypical long ball into the box type of matches. From the Premier League to League Two, all the way over to La Liga and the various other tournaments, every team will play the same way in the sense that they will kick off and just dribble.

Watching a game of football in real life, it's easy to notice only a select few will go on mazy dribbling runs. These, usually, are restricted to the top stars such as Angel Di Maria, Ronaldo, or Messi. Alternatively, they will dribble when faced with no other option, for example, in a defensive 4-5-1 the striker might hold up the ball or dribble forward to buy time for the rest of the team to catch up with him. Essentially, in reality, it is the pass that is primarily looked for, whether it's backwards, sideways, or forwards, as this is usually the safest and fastest way of transitioning from defence to attack. Possession is nurtured in an attempt to create chances.

Screenshot for FIFA 15 on PlayStation 4

FIFA 15 decides to eschew such notions, preferring to have the first person who has the ball to set off on a mazy dribble whether that person is the star striker or the lumbering centre-back in his own box. To FIFA it's irrelevant - that is the default setting for the AI's programming. It becomes absurd to see, and the complete lack of passing really means that the majority of the time all a decent player has to do is sit back and defend, crowd out the dribbling player, nick the ball of them and ping pong it up the field for an easy goal.

The inclination to dribble isn't the only fault the AI has since there is also an innate desire to sprint fully, regardless of what is being done. The result is, oftentimes, that the ball will be run out of play or merely overrun in general due to a lack of control. This has a knock-on effect in the sense that plenty of chances will be missed, if any can actually be made, purely because the players are zooming forward with their rocket boots rather than crafting the opportunity to score.

For the majority of users, such AI should in theory be easy to deal with, but some have struggled with it and this is mainly down to the speed of the performance. As the attacking side of the game has been sped up, it can be tricky to defend against a forward running opponent at speed. Defending hasn't been boosted up to match the attacking speed, which is understandable because usually they will be backtracking or jockeying backwards. This means if a tackle is mistimed or the positioning of the defender is wrong, the opponent will surge through the defensive lines with consummate ease. The fact that the user's own AI teammates don't always press the opposition or get into the right positions can make the problem worse. Essentially, the game requires a savvy usage of dual-pressing, containing and switching control, all at the same time, in order to restrain the attacking nature of the opposing computer-controlled side.

All those changes have invariably made the game a lot worse than it was - it has fully switched to an arcade game. The lack of passing and heavy focus on dribbling and speeding forward really just leaves the impression of playing a basketball game on a football pitch. It's a criticism levelled against FIFA in early reviews back in the late 1990s and it is something that should have been eradicated by now. In fact, the problem was slowly getting solved, so the design decision to return to the arcade roots is somewhat baffling.

"Be a Pro" is also adversely affected - expect very few crosses from the wings, very few intelligent passes to the user-controlled player. In fact, it can usually be expected to see the game bogging down in the midfield as players dribble and lose it ad infinitum. The only way to really get the game playing well is by gratuitous use of the 'call for ball' button, which might get the pass that is desired and some decent football going, but in the end its all an effort of futility wherein the gamer is the only one really attempting to play football properly.

Anyone that loves to kick off, dribble straight to goal, and punt in a 30 yarder, will be over the moon with FIFA 15. For the majority of football fans, though, particularly those who wish for the beautiful game to play like the real thing, this is a mockery.

That being said, there have been some improvements to gameplay. For one thing, goalkeepers have finally received an upgrade. Their animations have been motion-captured now to provide proper saves and, on the one hand, it works quite well, with goalkeepers pulling off great saves from anything that isn't on the ground, as they do in real life. They also palm the ball wide or elect to fist it away if it hangs in the air. The downside to the goalie animations is that they haven't been tested that thoroughly. Finesse shots from long range will usually curl around the keeper, but that can be excused as a sign of skill on the part of the player. What can't be excused, however, is the fact it is possible to score 90% of the time with simple tapped shots with no power, placed anywhere near the 'keeper's body. The new animations force him to do a kneeling 'block' attempt but they don't make themselves big enough and the result is that the ball slides rather tamely alongside their foot and into the net.

Screenshot for FIFA 15 on PlayStation 4

Hardly anything has changed on the modes front this year. Career is still plagued by the 'new' Global Transfer Network, which is a step towards a simulation of the transfer market in terms of preventing the manager from knowing a player's overall skill and instead just showing his strengths and weaknesses - and only after they have been scouted. It's a massive disconnect from the arcade gameplay and seems to show a split in the ideas of the development team. The minor improvement included in Career is that older players no longer decline rapidly and youth players now finally improve more quickly.

Career is, however, essentially untouched - most of the focus has gone into the apparently popular 'Ultimate Team' mode, which is an online/offline version of a trading card game. The addition to that mode is the chance to 'loan' specific stars using the in-game FIFA coin currency, a measure designed to crack down on rogue trading for inflated prices.

Be a Pro is the same watered down version of Career mode. Improving the pro is done by doing things out on the pitch, which is a wonderful idea in theory but falls apart in practice. For example, it's impossible to train individual stats outside of the match system, so it's not possible to create a hard working tackling striker because once all the restricted defensive accomplishments have been unlocked, a striker can only have a max of 30 tackling. This might seem minor but it applies to other attributes as well. Free kicks, for instance, which can't be improved without taking them, and the pro player won't be allowed take them at any half-decent club because their starting attribute is in the high 40s (as a striker no less!), which oft means it's impossible to have the pro be as skilled as Baines unless attribute enhancing packs are purchased - and even those don't improve them enough to make the 'rounded' player that users might seek to make.

FIFA could do with some love in both of these modes (Career and Be a Pro). It would be great to have a career mode with a proper transfer network, the ability to set personalised targets or agree them with the board. It's somewhat jarring when being told to "Win the Cup" but not have the specific cup identified, and it's also bizarre that the board would prefer to win a less prestigious trophy when controlling a big team.

For Be a Pro the whole thing could do with a facelift and the addition of more features - the chance to request captaincy or to elect to train individual attributes with a specialist outside of the accomplishments framework. The ability to have an agent who might work with a selected club to broker a transfer bid or even contract negotiations with the original club signed for. There's far too little going on here; this mode has so much untapped potential - sponsorship, the chance for some controversy via a 'family life' (think David Beckham and Ferguson's massive fallout over his marriage), and so on. It may be fluff details but it is details. A development team could have a field day with this mode, but it is lacking in a bit of love.

The interactions with the game world are limited to just continuing through the game. In League Two, for the purposes of this review, playing for Accrington Stanley, scoring a record busting 53 league goals and 60 in all competitions, not one team put in a bid, despite the news reports musing how fantastic this new player was. No offer of a new contract, no suggestion that moving to a bigger team would be ideal for career furthering. The game just plods on, ambivalent to any progress made and it's both a shame and a great let down.

Screenshot for FIFA 15 on PlayStation 4

Graphically, everything has been spruced up quite well. There's a variety of improvements added, including the pitch getting scuffed over time. The weather effects are wonderful, kicking the ball in the rain brings up huge splashes of water as expected. The licensing is also quite comprehensive - the new Premier League license allows for all its teams to have their own stadiums, all individually crafted and absolutely stunning. Even the referees have been licensed! The presentation, as always, is 100% amazing. Matches start with the teams walking out, the formations and line ups shown on-screen, the commentators nattering away getting the rules of the game wrong as always! The fans, all 3D models, respond in kind to all the individual announcements and to the on-pitch action.

The emotion engine augments the crowd as well, with this new feature now having the player reacting to each event that occurs. For example, hit the bar with a shot from range and team mates will applaud, as will the fans. Miss an open goal in the 80th minute and they will absolutely having a go at whoever is at fault, with fans also heckling them for mucking about. It makes for an interesting reaction when popping up with the 93rd minute equaliser via a header, leading to the fans going mad and the player in question grabbing the ball and running back, his face showing some annoyance at how they were harassing him only five minutes ago.

This sort of thing occurs throughout the game and it is brilliant. Tackles will cause players to push and shove as a reaction, extreme tackles might have a player run over to the referee to show the stud marks on his leg, and so on. Defenders slap each other on the back when they block a dangerous shot or mob the keeper when he saves a penalty. It's all rather good, but there's a lack of animations done here, it's almost as if EA is testing the water, not going all out - after the six or seventh tackle follows up with the SAME pushing/shoving animation, there is a great desire for some variance.

Otherwise, the emotions engine does what it says on the tin and is a fantastic addition to what is already a master-class of presentation in FIFA. However, given that this area of the game is so damn good in the first place and that the majority of players are going to be spamming the 'X' button to skip everything, it has to be wondered why resources are not allocated away from this area and onto those more important, such as the gameplay.

On the sound front, crowds now sing their partisan songs. Visit Anfield and hear a rendition of "You'll never walk alone," for example. The atmosphere and songs sung by teams in the English leagues are markedly different from the ones across the continent and it adds some variance and atmosphere to European games and Internationals.

All of this, though, is far too little to counteract the five steps taken backwards with the gameplay; FIFA fans should be able to play it for hundreds of hours. It's an endless game really; the fun is most likely to be in co-operative or online modes with friends. The AI, though, is so bad that it's not likely to be that much fun. Seeking a proper football game? Then this is NOT the game to buy. However, for an arcade slap about then go ahead and pick it up and it will do the job for a while. Thinking of picking this up for a bit of multiplayer then enjoy as it is good fun with friends. On the whole, FIFA 15 is a master-class in glitz and glamour, but at its core it fails to provide the entertaining football experience for the classic football player.

Screenshot for FIFA 15 on PlayStation 4

Cubed3 Rating

6/10
Rated 6 out of 10

Good

Maybe its complacency in the face of the decline of its rival series, but FIFA 15 took its eyes completely off the ball. As ever, it is a glorious, box office glitz and showbiz affair - all flash and fancy. However, under the bonnet it is a shallow representation of football, a horrendous car crash of a mix of poor design decisions and inherently flawed AI. To say that FIFA 15 is basketball played on a football pitch isn't that far from the truth, and it is something EA might want to, and should consider for its next annual release.

Developer

EA Sports

Publisher

EA

Genre

Sport

Players

4

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  6/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

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