First and foremost, let me get this out of the way. If you want something new and different, it’s just simply not happening. Come on now, it’s EA, these folks are conservative and they know their audience better than you do yourself. FIFA 15 is fundamentally the same game as last year and the year before that. Most changes are tweaks. It’s all about the graphics and visual details! The players’ faces are now offering up more in the emotional expressive sense, whether it’s grinning or snarling. Indeed, EA claim that there are at least 600 new emotional reactions.
Finally footballers from the two competing teams can foul, push and repeatedly attempt to intimidate each other. You can keep petty competitive tussles going on between two players throughout the game. Assistant referees and referees pull a lot of disgusted faces at the players and vice-versa. Strikers go stark raving bonkers after scoring, sometimes receiving yellow cards from disgusted referees if they dare to strip off their shirts in celebration. Details, to be sure, but they do indeed ratchet up the sense of realism.
And, yes, the designers have been very nitpicky as blades of grass go flying into the air in extreme slow motion when, for example, a dead ball free kick is taken during replays. If it’s on a winter’s night, snow and iced water splinter and fly with the ball under the floodlights. Over a long season of up to around 35-40 games, the pitch develops clear physical signs of wear and tear. Detail. Nice.
The sheer number of fully licensed stadiums for every team in the Premier League has also increased. There’s simply more for the nitpicker-types than ever before. Hammers fans sound almost smoochy and friendly while singing, “I’m forever blowing bubbles!” EA have genuine chanting from every Premier League team. Real recorded fan chants. As a true hater of Liverpool F.C., there’s nothing I love getting wound up by more than to hear the Spion Kop end at Anfield with their mechanized, relentless repetition of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” when they attempt to intimidate my beloved Manchester United. But we’ve got ours right there, too: “Wayne Rooney/Wayne Rooney/He goes by the name of Wayne Rooney!”
Player likenesses are more precise and to scale than before. Yet, there are still more than a few hiccups. Arms still pass through the thoraxes of teammates during scoring or victory undulations and players now and again levitate away from the action. The kind of ‘ghostly’ undulations that would sometimes accompany diving or high-flying net custodians are very convincing for the most part. Saves look natural. Balls that are parried or punched away can give strikers second and third chances. Goalies also set themselves up more naturalistically and utilize their reflexes. Good stuff!
The physics of flight for the ball allow for many different kinds of movement. In previous versions, shooting modes were more simplistic. Now the ball can do arcs, spirals, flatten out, spin, or simply drift up and over like a plastic mortar spiral shell off your player’s boot. As such there is far less actual randomization. Practice will really help you to improve your shooting noticeably.
Things off the field of play matter too. You can save up to three custom team sheets, each with its own unique tactics for formation, strategy and player instructions. Once you’ve earned your laurels enough to get in on EA’s ‘player intelligence’ stakes, it means teams will be able to adjust automatically and experiment with different coaching strategies practiced by, say, Louis Van Gaal against the “one step and pass” attacking policy of an Arsene Wenger or the complex defensive plotting of Jose Mourinho.
Finally, there’s the ‘Ultimate Team’, a football/Top Trumps hybrid in a desperate ploy to add to the ‘American market’. It’s what EA says is the most popular game mode. But I’m dubious. The gameplay is more arcade-like and way quicker, but defenders become error-prone. The game becomes an ugly, high-pressure, route-one style of football, with an over-reliance on the long ball. It may have more action, but it loses its beauty.
FIFA 15: Electronic Arts; PC/PS3/PS4/Xbox 360/Xbox One (version tested)/Wii $59.99