It has been 15 years since I first played FIFA. On my raggedy old Windows desktop, the beautiful game sprang to life. FIFA 98 was a landmark, recognised as one of the finest video games ever made.
In coming years, we might look back at FIFA 14 for Android as being the same kind of benchmark for mobile gaming. Electronic Arts has finally got the formula right, along with the pricing: FIFA 14 is free!
The Beautiful Game
It’s a huge 1.35GB download, but the graphics are worth it. I had skipped FIFA 13, but there is a noticeable upgrade between FIFA 12 and FIFA 14. The stadiums are well made, the character movements are fluid and the general look of the players is refined. Don’t buy into the hype, it’s not console-quality. But hey, as long as you can recognise Messi or Ronaldo without having to look at their jersey, that’s a good level of detail for a mobile game.
One of the things I have always loved about FIFA games has been the soundtrack and FIFA 14 lives up to expectations. Whether it’s the menu screen or during a match, you can have an adrenaline-pumping song playing in the background that revs you up. FIFA 14 also comes with commentary in five different languages, but this hasn’t been implemented so well. It’s a set number of lines that you will hear over and over, and they don’t even always fit the situation. It’s disappointing, but honestly, I’d much rather have a song playing than commentary anyway.
The biggest new addition is the introduction of touch controls, a new input system. I had never understood why I couldn’t just tap or swipe on the screen with a game like FIFA, and apparently EA has been secretly spying on my thoughts. When you’re in possession of the ball, tap on any of your players to pass to him or anywhere else on the field to kick the ball there. You can hold and drag your player to direct his movement, and hold anywhere else on the screen to sprint. To shoot, swipe in the direction you want, with your flick determining how the ball is going to travel. When defending, you can tap on an opposition player to have your guys attack the ball at this feet, or swipe towards that player to slide and tackle him. It’s all easy and intuitive. And you know what’s better than using your finger for this? A stylus! I have always loved to play FIFA with a gamepad, but I never thought I would have more fun playing it with a stylus. It actually gives you more precision control than ever before.
And don’t worry, the classic controls — virtual analog stick on the left, four buttons on the right — are still in place if you are more comfortable with that. These do offer more choices for your gameplay, including skill moves — I couldn’t figure out how to pull those off with the touch controls. Even the simple tricks are easier with this, like swiping down on ‘Shoot’ to fake a shot and get past a defender.
In a way, the controls deliver a good experience for both the casual gamer and the football nut. The touch controls are easy to pick up for someone who is new to the game and just wants to have a bit of a kick around, while the classic controls give the serious gamer the power to do just about anything. In fact, if you have a gamepad hooked up to your Android device, you are going to love this.
A Little Reality, A Little Fantasy
The advantage of being an official licensed game is that you get 33 of the real-world leagues, over 600 teams and more than 16,000 players, playing matches across 34 stadiums. And EA has finally made another move I have long wished to see in the world of sports games: playing alongside the exploits of your team in the real world. For example, this week’s games included the Manchester derby, Bayern Munich vs FC Schalke, PSV Eindhoven vs Ajax, among others. You can pick any of those teams and play the match. FIFA 14 even takes into account real-world injuries, suspensions and team form into the game, to make it that much more exciting. If you are a playing a modern game that’s a representation of reality, this should be something you get to do — and I can only hope other video games follow suit.
But it’s not all about the reality either. FIFA 14 lets you indulge your fantasies to create a dream team, where you can buy and sell or earn and trade players by playing and winning matches in tournaments. Each win earns you coins that can be used to get better players. Team synergy is an important factor, so you have to try and get players who play well with each other. For example, getting fellow countrymen as your LM and LB will mean they have better chemistry on field, indicated by a green line connecting the two in your team roster. It’s a smart implementation to draw a little more realism into even the fantasy aspect of the game. You can customize your team’s playing style, formations, kits and more.
Apart from the the fantasy team and playing in step with the real world, you can also go in for a quick match or start a tournament in any one of the world’s major leagues.
The One Sore Point
FIFA 14 also has a penalty shootout mode, where you and your opponents get 5 shots each at the goalpost. For me, this was the letdown of the game. We have other mobile games like Flick Shoot that have honed the ‘flick to kick’ mechanism so perfectly to make it a fun game, but FIFA 14 doesn’t manage that. The flicks aren’t precise, nor can you add the same kind of curves and swing as other games. This is also a problem in regular free kicks and I badly wish EA had fixed this to make it a better system. And stopping the kicks as a goalkeeper is a nightmare. It’s entirely about anticipation and as far as I could tell, there aren’t any cues from the kicker that you can watch out for. This is a video game, EA, there is no way for me to figure out what the artificial intelligence is thinking!
My Game Of The Year
But the penalty kicks notwithstanding, FIFA 14 is a fantastic game for both the casual player as well as serious gamers. The new touch controls are intuitive, the graphics are wonderful for a mobile game, and the gameplay is as mesmerizing and involved as ever. Considering that you don’t have to pay even a cent for it, this easily makes it as the Game of the Year for me so far.