With FIFA 15 now only a matter of days from release, EA Sports have made a demo of the title available for download across home consoles and PC. Although restricted to exhibition matches with a limited number of teams to choose from, we’ve still had time for plenty of kickabouts over the past 48 hours, and think we have a pretty good feel for how the full game should perform come September 23.
Over the last few months, EA have expended a lot of their promotional efforts in touting the introduction of their Emotion & Intensity engine, designed to bring a more true-to-life, involved experience to FIFA players. Indeed, one of the first things we noticed when playing a match on the demo was how players naturally responded to in-game events. Whether it’s pushing an opponent following a badly-timed tackle or cursing a team-mate when they squander a last-minute chance, over 600 emotional reactions have been implemented in FIFA 15; with facial expressions and body language letting players know the emotions of each of the 22 players on the pitch.
Similarly, the reactions of crowds, commentators and pitch-side substitutes have all been tweaked, designed to keep players immersed in the FIFA game experience. Add to this a much-polished visual presentation – which is now closer to a real-life Sky Sports broadcast than we previously thought possible – EA seem to have hit the back of the net on this front. Fully licensed stadiums for each of the 20 teams in the Barclays Premier League, goal-line technology and contextual commentary all play a part in contributing towards FIFA 15’s improved match-day.
The improved on-field presentation also carries through to FIFA’s pre-match menus, with the somewhat tired squad/formations view of yesteryear being replaced with a more intuitive, visual view of the player’s squad in which tactical changes and substitutes can be made effortlessly.
Emotional intelligence and aesthetics aside, developers EA Canada have made a number of other tweaks to FIFA 15’s gameplay. Up to six preset team sheets – each with their own line-up and strategy – can be saved per club, allowing players to select the most appropriate squad to face their next opponent without having to continually make wholesale adjustments between games. Additionally, greater depth has been added to player-specific tactics; up to five attacking and defending instructions can now be applied to each outfield player. These range from managing forward runs to selecting the defensive positions players should take up when required.
Strategic improvements seem the order of the day, with new team tactics including the infamous Park the Bus, popularised by Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea (or so detractors would claim), and All Out Attack being added to the more conventional sliders ranging from Ultra Defensive to Ultra Attacking. Teammates and opponents now recognise what’s happening in a match and adjust their play style accordingly; gone are the days of AI teams lackadaisically passing the ball around their own half when they need a goal to avoid losing with two minutes remaining.
More accessible preset corner tactics, accessed by a simple press of the D-pad, as well as the ability to use the right thumbstick to switch to the receiver for set-pieces, also allow for more creative and exciting attacking opportunities.
Possibly the most significant improvement to the core gameplay of FIFA this year is a complete overhaul of the goalkeeping system. Infamous for their inconsistency and often downright incompetence, goalkeepers in recent offerings have struggled to keep up with the adjustments made to outfield play. Thankfully, from what we’ve seen so far, EA seem to have finally brought the game’s goalkeeping up to scratch, with the addition of over 50 new save animations, improved reactions and more intelligent decision-making.
Keepers are now able to adjust their movement mid-flight to make last ditch saves rather than continuing on ignorantly in a predetermined pattern. Gone are the days (hopefully) of shots trickling into the goal at 0.1mph following only the slightest of opposition deflections, with the goalie completely stranded. It’s worth noting, however, that on some of the demo’s lower difficulty settings (including the newly-included Beginner, which sits below Amateur), AI goalies did seem to be somewhat lacking; making a decent save only to palm the ball into the path of an oncoming attacker time and time again. Hopefully this niggle will be ironed out in time for release.
Outside of the major improvements outlined above, FIFA 15’s engine has been finely tuned throughout, which has led us to having more entertaining, dramatic matches over the past couple of days than ever before. While not being particularly impressive in their own right, small tweaks like improved ball physics, more fluid passing and better off-the-ball runs fit together nicely to enhance the overall experience of the game.
With a number of new game modes and features yet to be announced by EA, we can’t wait to get our hands on the full game come the end of the month. Until then, we’ll be enjoying playing the hell out of the demo. At least if we’re winning.