The football season is upon us and as sure as night follows day, FIFA 15 has hit the shelves. For me, like so many, the annual purchase of the latest FIFA game comes around like Christmas and my loyalty spans almost two decades (dating back to the SEGA Mega Drive days). Barring the odd year where for whatever reason I didn’t buy it, this has cost me roughly £600. So why do we all keep coming back and does this incarnation make the annual expense a justified investment?
Seeing as they have held the FIFA licence since 1993’s FIFA International Soccer, Electronic Arts has had a few years to develop the game. As you can imagine, FIFA 15 is a polished affair from the get go. The initial menu screens follow a similar format and look as FIFA 14 and allow you to trawl through the many options with relative ease. Whilst the amount of gameplay options might baffle a FIFA newbie, to seasoned gamers it will pose no issues.
The gameplay options available also follow suit from the previous incarnation of the game, with career mode being the main pull for many players. Here you can choose to manage and/or play as your favourite team, or you may decide to take control of a single player to develop as the season progresses. Other choices include quick match and Ultimate Team mode.
Within manager mode you can choose a team from all the main European and international leagues and fettle the squad, formations and tactics. The menu screens have been improved, so it’s easier to quickly make the changes you want without endless taps buttons presses. You can lock out pre-season transfers, so the teams you choose are more or less the ones in real life, or you can allow transfers meaning you have to deal with endless attempts to lure away your star striker. You can now also set up team sheets so you can quickly rotate players for European matches or cup games quickly.
FIFA 14 was already a good game and the developments for FIFA 15 are subtle and aimed at increasing the realism of the experience. This will be the first time that all 20 premiership grounds have been accurately modelled and they look very nice. Crowd details are also improved with fans for certain teams acting out actual celebrations, which although scripted is a nice touch. Pitches now cut up a bit and kits show the result of muddy slide tackles, which means after 90 minutes your players no longer look pristine. Player modelling and movement utilises the next gen’s ability to add realism, although the PS3 versions also have these enhancements. Players will now react more if they are chopped down with a bad foul or miss a sitter, it has a fancy name but essentially it is trying to show a more human side to them. These are all small details but overall it adds up to a fantastic, immersive experience. It is like the premier league in a way, always moving forward, always improving, however small these changes are.
Besides these visual changes, the gameplay itself has stepped up a gear and is closer to the beautiful game. Mistakes from opponents are now more regular and teams will react differently to situations, making more tactical decisions such as playing out time by the corner flag. When you are controlling players, no longer does every ball have close to pinpoint accuracy and you really have to work and adapt your play style to get the most from them.
It does still feel a little clumsy in a way when the game wants to stop you from winning ten-nil as this is not realistic, but to do this it will turn the goal keeper into an octopus on speed who stops everything coming his way; last night I had a 1-1 draw with 26 shots on target compared to my opponents 1. Now before you respond and say I am rubbish, I am not the first to comment on this and a more even difficulty needs to be deployed for future versions. Some players may look identical to their real life selves but can differ somewhat in their style of play, Adebayor for example is a bit lumbering in real life but in the game he would give Ussain Bolt a run for his money.
Online mode is present and remains pretty much unchanged from FIFA 14, with online seasons, tournaments and coop modes. The EA servers are again proving they find it a little difficult to remain stable in the early days, with a few connection issues and dropped games.
FIFA 15’s Ultimate Team mode, or FUT15 as it’s known, is pretty similar to FUT14 but with some added features such as concept squads and friendly seasons. It again has had a sprinkling of improvements, but still remains loyal to the original concept. It is essentially a mode where you can build up a team of players and compete in matches and tournaments on and offline. You can trade players to create your team and with over 12 million players, it seems to be very popular. You can spend a lot of money creating your team, but bragging rights amongst friends is obviously important to some. If this is for you then it adds a well-designed mode to the main game.
Getting back to my original question, is it worth the investment? I think yes, FIFA games are a bit like a journey that runs alongside the real world. Football as a whole seems to only get more popular; the last World Cup was a good indication of this. With more money being spent on TV production of matches, this in turn improves the experience for the viewer and gamers want to see this replicated on their consoles. They also want to be playing as their team’s new star striker and not last year’s has-beens, so there will always be that desire to spend the money on the latest game.
It is probably the game I play for the longest period offline; games like BF4 always have a long life in multiplayer mode, but the story will only last a couple of months at best. With FIFA 14 I only stopped playing it in August, which works out to be around 10 months of gaming for about £4 a month. I spend more on crisps, so if you look at it that way, it’s real value for money.
A review copy of FIFA 15 for PlayStation 4 was provided by the EA PR team.