With the release of EA Sports FIFA 14 earlier this week plenty of people will find themselves unwrapping this latest edition of the company's soccer franchise. I suspect many of you will be burning up the hours prior to Sunday's massive match vs New York.
MLS has been publicizing the release of the game with great fanfare as has been the case for the last couple of years (since EA Sports became a league sponsor). It all kicked off around the time of the MLS All Star Game in Kansas City (where rumor has it DeAndre Yedlin had his face scanned for FIFA 15).
I've had the game since last week's early release and have had some time to review most of the popular modes of play including: Head to Head Seasons, Ultimate Team, Career Mode and the Creation Centre.
The first thing you will notice about FIFA 14 might be the title itself.
For the first time EA Sports has dropped the word soccer from the title in its North America edition. Previous editions always had the somewhat cumbersome "FIFA Soccer 13 (or 12, 11, etc)" title.
This is no doubt due to the rise in popularity of the game and the sport itself in the US and Canada. Everyone knows that FIFA is a soccer game by now.
Upon unpacking the game you will find the game disc and a quick guide (I hesitate to call this a manual) to get started with the game's features and basic controls.
A more complete guide and tutorial is inside the game itself as well as skill games for hands on learning. Which is a better way to learn the game as a complete novice in my opinion.
Now lets get straight to the reason you probably are reading this: Seattle Sounders FC (we'll get back to some more general new additions and features later).
Sounders fans will be happy to know that the acquisition of Clint Dempsey, Obafemi Martins and Djimi Traoré as well as our position atop the table this season has been reflected in the team's rating. Seattle is the only 3.5 star MLS team in the game. By comparison LA Galaxy, NY Red Bulls, Real Salt Lake and Sporting Kansas City are all 3 star teams as you can see in the video below:
This has implications if you play online seasons as you will now face slightly better teams more regularly. The match making system seems to match you with teams within a one and a half star rating higher or lower than yours. So don't be surprised if you take on some newly promoted Barclay's Premier League, La Liga, French Ligue 1 or Dutch Eredivise sides with a similar star rating:
Here are the Seattle players overall ratings as of today following the recent squad update:
SEATTLE SOUNDERS FC FIFA 14 PLAYER RATINGS
|Gspurning - 74||Traore - 71||Dempsey - 81||Martins - 77|
|Hahnemann - 69||Hurtado - 66||Alonso -76||Johnson - 73|
|Ford - 58||Scott - 65||Rosales - 73||Estrada - 65|
|Weber - 57||Yedlin - 65||Zakuani - 69||Zavaleta - 60|
|Ianni - 64||Evans - 68||Lund - 55|
|Burch - 63||Neagle - 67||Bates - 52|
|Gonzalez - 62||Caskey - 66|
|Remick - 59||Moffat - 64|
|Gavin - 64|
|Rose - 63|
|Joseph - 63|
You'll notice that DeAndre Yedlin has been given a much needed boost to reflect his skill level and blinding pace. Also you will note that Jhon Kennedy Hurtado's rating at 66 overall (OVR) has been returned to sensible numbers. While he appears to still fall short of his MLS All Star form (when he was a 69 OVR in FIFA 10).
Without the squad update Hurtado was a 63 (which is what his Ultimate Team card still says) but Hurtado probably should be a 69 or 70 based on Sigi's comments about Hurtado returning to his All Star form and improvement in playing with the ball at his feet so his 66 OVR rating splits the difference.
While the boost was needed it still does not seem the Sounders's 2nd best team defense in the league stat is reflected fully by the OVRs of our back line. It seems EA thinks that Gspurning is the sole reason for our low Goals Against Average (GAA) but does not see the good defensive shape the back line and overall team has had this season. Other teams such as RSL have higher rated defenses in the game.
Of note is that Zach Scott is still a 65 OVR and rightly so considering how he has played this season.Time will tell if this changes. Leonardo Gonzalez also seems a little underrated at 62 OVR.
In midfield the biggest changes were that Steve Zakuani has been downgraded to a 69 OVR from a 72 in last year's game due to non-activity and recovery. Rosales has also been downgraded from a 77 to a 73 as well due to a decline in pace mostly. He is still an assist machine but it is a bit harder to get him free to cross. Lamar Neagle got a much needed boost to 67 and is listed as a left midfielder despite playing most of this season as a striker. Brad Evans remains a 68 and Ozzie "the Honey Badger" Alonso remains a 76 though his Ultimate Team card now reflects the reality that he is still cap tied to Cuba (last year he was listed as a US eligible player).
Eddie Johnson is a 73 OVR (up two points from 71 in FIFA 14) reflecting the outstanding and consistent form he's been in.
Obafemi Martins is a 77 OVR (down a point from 78 with Levanté) for unknown reasons.
Clint Dempsey is not only the highest rated Sounder but the highest rated MLS player with an 81 OVR. Same as he was at Tottenham.
On to gameplay….
The game itself feels snappier, or more responsive. It also feels more complete and at least at this stage bug free than FIFA 13 (or 12's) releases were.
The new features such as Pure Shot (shots on goal are more likely to bend, dip or rise making them more realistic attempts), Precision Movement and Protect the Ball (allowing players to better shield the ball or plant their feet when pushing off a pivot) and Team Intelligence are a nice touch which add to the games authenticity. Also strength now has been given an equal weight to pace or speed.
So for instance, thanks to Protect the Ball, Eddie Johnson is now as effective holding off defenders, shielding or holding up the ball or breaking free through defenders on a corner as he is in real life. His goal celebration where he runs to the corner flag and poses like a weight lifter has been included as well. (No word if "Pay Me" will make an appearance though.)
In fact Eddie Johnson is a highly sought after silver quality player in FIFA's most popular mode (FIFA Ultimate Team or FUT for short). Which brings us to.....
Ultimate Team this year doesn't feature much new other than new stadia. MLS now has more gold level player cards than Liga MX reflecting the rise of the designated players. Though Liga MX has far more high quality silver quality player cards reflecting the depth of talent in that league.
Navigation in FUT is much cleaner and more logical now however the new menus as a whole take a bit getting used to. Or at least did for me. After about a week I know where everything is.
There are still no US manager cards in FUT which is baffling as there are Mexican manager cards. Could we not get Sigi Schmid, Bruce Arena and Jason Kreis cards? Guess not.
Though EA Sports added a number of new stadiums, there still are no US MLS stadia in the game.
BC Place in Vancouver is still in the game but one has to wonder why CenturyLink Field can't make an appearance since all EA would have to do is port it over from Madden?
If space on the disc was an issue in adding new stadiums on the XBOX 360 and PS 3 versions, no such issue should exist on the much larger next generation platforms of XBOX One and PS 4. No more excuses for EA not to add a couple US stadia. Perhaps some might appear on the next gen versions? I would not hold my breath.
Oh well, the generic stadium assigned to the Sounders looks somewhat similar to CenturyLink Field but having C-Link in the game would have thrilled a lot of us.
On to more general new stuff….
Other than Clint Dempsey who has his real face the Sounders still have generic faces though as mentioned DeAndre Yedlin likely had his face scanned as a member of the MLS All Star team in Kansas City. Eddie Johnson's hair is still blonde but over all they did a decent job on the likeness to the real Sounders faces, though Rosales's hair could be a bit longer.
FIFA as good as it was always had the air of being Eurocentric in that there were plethora of leagues in Europe and only the Brazilian, Mexican and MLS in the Americas. Plenty of people had been asking for the Argentina Primera Division and Colombia's Liga Postobon as well as others for years.
The Chilean, Colombian and Argentine top divisions are now fully in the game. The Argentine and Brazilian second divisions are also in the game. And unlike the generic names given to some of the Brazilian teams in the past the whole Brazilian league is now fully licensed.
The addition of these South American leagues have great effect on Career Mode as you have far more realistic player transfers into MLS. In 2014 for example I revamped the Sounders back line with a very good Colombian left back and replaced Mauro Rosales with a 21 year old playmaker from Argentina who looks to be his heir apparent. A nice touch would have been adding two more CONCACAF leagues such has the Honduran, Panamanian and Costa Rican leagues for a pseudo-CONCACAF Champions League in Career Mode but perhaps that's on the "To Do List" for FIFA 15 or beyond.
Career Mode is different this year. Vastly different.
In terms of scouting, the system has been totally revamped. No longer do you know everything about players in other leagues or on other teams. You must now scout those players with your army of scouts (you can have up to 6 in addition to 3 youth academy scouts).
You can scout a whole country or just a particular player. This allows you to gain valuable information including what the player may cost you. You can send out your scouts to a particular country looking for a particular kind of player, their position and the attributes you look for in them and once they report back with some promising players you must scout the individual players further to fill in question marks regarding their numbers. Also you won't know their OVR rating until you sign them.
Much more realistic.
Creation Centre is much the same. I've downloaded the NASL and USL Pro Leagues. The big difference now is when switching between teams the logos no longer take 2 seconds to load. They are instantaneous like the teams actually in the game. Big improvement.
However there is still no 24 team tournament nor are there a wealth of new kits or boots, just updates to the existing ones. Nor can you create a league system (which would be very fun to create promotion and relegation between downloaded leagues for career mode) and the much asked for "Create a Stadium" idea still has not made an appearance. Creation Centre in FIFA 14 is the same as FIFA 13 but with new stadiums and licensed players.
If you use Custom Chants it looks like that feature HAS changed, but for the worst. It seems like EA have changed the way your custom chants are played this year. For those unfamiliar with this clever feature, Custom Chants allow you to hear the ECS in their full voice while playing the game. You can assign chants for various things like "Rival Chants" (Useful for the "Build A Bonfire" song) which only will play in a game vs your rivals or my favorite "Unpopular Referee Decision Chant".
In previous editions this worked perfectly and chants played at a decent volume when set on 10. They also sounded like they were playing in the stadium (no doubt through the use of a convolution reverb effect which simulated stadium acoustics). They faded in and out naturally as you hear in this FIFA 13 video from last year:
However in this years edition if you listen to the Seattle vs New York video's audio the chants are at times entirely too loud (even though the "User Chants" volume was reduced to 4 in settings). At other times the chants are too quiet. They also have abrupt starts and stops rather than the natural fadeouts we'd grown accustomed to and their playback itself seems glitchy in that they start playing and then have a dropout in the audio entirely before starting up again (sort of like an old LP record skipping).
This is a bit disappointing and I can only hope someone at EA Sports knows about this and is working on a bug fix for this often less talked about, lesser known feature of the game.
It is a glaring wart for some people who enjoy this feature on an otherwise nearly perfect release to the game.
All in all FIFA 14 is well worth the money. If you are Sounders fan who enjoys playing with our team you are now in very good company. I have been a FIFA player since FIFA 10 and the growth in the amount of people who play with t Seattle has grown exponentially since then and they inhabit some surprising places like, Brazil, Mexico, England, and Germany among other.
Also, if you are upgrading to XBOX One or PS 4 GameStop has an offer that when you buy those systems all you have to do is turn in your XBOX 360 or PS3 version of FIFA 14 and you get a copy of FIFA 14 for XBOX One or PS 4 for only $10. This cuts down the price of upgrading your console and its games substantially.
Do you have FIFA 14? What are your impressions so far?