FIFA 14, at least on current-gen consoles, is not the next big step for the EA Canada developed soccer franchise. Rather, it seems like almost like the studio polished the already innovative features they introduced with its predecessors: new physics in FIFA 12 and First Touch Control in FIFA 13. While I personally feel you'll notice the big changes in the next-gen version of the game, FIFA 14 on current-gen still remains a solid soccer sim — and one of the best options for fans of the sport.
As I mentioned, there's no big marquee feature in this year's installment. But it is more than a mere roster update. The biggest noticeable change is the speed of the game — it feels much slower. Improvements to both player movement and shooting have indeed created a much more realistic feel to the game as the continuous tweaks to the game's physics have dramatically altered how you approach a situation. FIFA 14 has become a much more methodical game as your team's progressions take longer to develop. Passing lanes are tighter and defenders play much more aggressively.
Offense can seem a little overwhelming at first, but as with all gameplay tweaks, it just takes a little getting used to. Precision movement, as EA is calling its revamped animation system, is much more dynamic and liberating. A new left trigger feature allows you to shield the ball from defenders — but slows your player down considerably — and wait for your teammates to better position themselves for the pass.
Shooting has also seen improvements, as pulling the trigger now offers a variety of different shots. Again, a bit overwhelming at first, but ultimately a change that's for the better in terms of gameplay depth. The "Pure Shot" feature coupled with improved ball mechanics and player physics has created an all-new experience.
But while overall gameplay has seen tweaks for the better, computer AI can be a bit frustrating at times. Defenders are undoubtedly smarter and more aggressive, forcing you to think more tactically — with a slower approach. Your CPU teammates, however, are hit and miss. Sometimes they'll find the right space and demand, but other times they'll be less than useful in helping you move the ball.
As for other changes this year, FIFA 14's Ultimate Team — easily the most popular mode for the game — has seen a number of improvements, including changes to team chemistry. Introduced in FIFA 13, players would perform better if their given club, nationality, or league matched with those of the other players on their team. FIFA 14 takes it one step further by introducing Chemistry Styles: loyalty and player style bonuses (player skill boosts for your team) that can be assigned to a new card from a freshly opened pack. Players start off as "basic" and can be upgraded with a specific boost. For example, "Artist" accentuates a player's passing and drilling, while "Sentinel" enhances defending and heading. Mixing and matching player skills on your team allows for much more strategy when building your ultimate team.
FIFA 14 is much more than a roster update, but it's also not the innovation we're used to seeing from EA's groundbreaking franchise. The lack of signature changes reminds us that a next-generation of gaming experiences is just a few months away. Remember, FIFA 14 on next-gen will use EA's new Ignite Engine, but until then the current-gen version remains an excellent option for soccer fans.