The lights are on
A certain predictability surrounds some of the club leagues
around the world. Rich teams like Real Madrid, Juventus, and Manchester
United drain drama from their respective leagues, where top honors are
really only contested amongst a few clubs. While the FIFA franchise
itself has turned into a predictable top-of-the-table juggernaut for EA
Sports, that monotony masks some of the hard work that goes into the
title and that which still needs to be done.
The changes in FIFA 14 can be felt throughout the game, and
many of them add extra layers to the experience. Players’ actions in
relation to the ball feel more free and unpredictable, leading to less
reliance on canned animations. The fact that you have to be more careful
with your first touch – lest you lose control of the ball – is a good
change, and led me to be more thoughtful with my actions. This also
dovetails nicely into another added aspect of FIFA 14’s gameplay – body
shielding with the left trigger helped me keep possession, even if my
careless first touches slowed down my attacks and got me into
predicaments in the first place.
Some of the new features expand areas of the game, but
don’t always make it a deeper experience. Look under the surface of the
gameplay and despite its improvements, it falls into the same ruts.
Canned sequences mean that tackles still magically send the ball
straight to the feet of an opponent, true battles for 50-50 balls are
rare, and players still fall down after routine shots or insignificant
contact. Although my defensive AI showed less confusion in their own
box, the defensive help button wasn’t extremely useful since my players
often wouldn’t engage the opponent player when called. On the other
hand, AI attackers still mess around with the ball too much and can
blunt their own counter-attack with questionable decisions.
Elsewhere, Ultimate Team adds new ways to build chemistry
via Chemistry Styles. While it makes it harder (and possibly more
expensive) to build that perfect team, I like the flexibility to change
players’ styles and attributes. If I want a certain player on my roster
but my play style isn’t suited to his skills, now I have a way to make
him more useful. I also like the way managers are more important thanks
to the manager chemistry variable (as opposed to formations) and the
fact that players have loyalty-based chemistry with your team. This is
higher if you buy that player in a pack (vs. winning them, for example),
which is a slight attempt to bring the fun back in buying packs instead
of always hitting the transfer market for individual cards. Moreover,
it seems like I was getting more coins while playing, which could also
be another incentive to buy packs.
FIFA 14 also expands its breadth with the addition of co-op
play to the Seasons format, and a new scouting mechanic for the Career
mode. The latter tasks you with setting up scouting network (separate
from the one for youth players) to do your due diligence for transfer
signings. While it’s just a more convoluted way to get you to the same
end result as last year, good scouts cost you money and it adds drama to
the transfer windows. Different scouts can offer up different players,
and the accuracy and speed at which you get their evaluations of players
depends on the scout’s skills. Be sure to tweak your instructions to
scouts, as this changes who they find. It’s frustrating when they come
up empty – especially since there are only select countries they can
visit – but you can also use the old search method if you’re looking for
a specific player that doesn’t appear in your scouts’ Transfer Network.
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