So the story goes that in the late 60’s a hotel bellboy delivered vintage champagne to one of the rooms. As a topless George Best opened the door the bellboy saw the scantily clad current Miss Universe winner lying on a bed surrounded by £20,000 in cash, the evening’s casino winnings. Upon seeing this bellboy famously commented
“So George, where did it all go wrong?”
Fast forward fifty years and EA’s FIFA franchise finds itself drawing parallels with this scenario. FIFA 13 has sold a total of 14.5 million units to date, it is the most profitable sporting series in history, the popular Ultimate Team gaming option has proved to be a license to print money and furthermore Konami’s Professional Evolution Soccer (PES) series seemingly have forgotten how to be competitive in the market.
“So FIFA, where did it all go wrong”
The FIFA 14 trailer release provided all the fancy glitz of a new game that will be a guaranteed seller on the current generation of consoles and as a launch title for both the PS4 and Xbox One. However, history could be set to repeat itself as the improvements become more and more marginal causing gamers and football enthusiasts to become disillusioned with their day one purchase.
It’s 2006 and Pro Evo 6 reigns supreme as the critics’ choice of football simulators over FIFA 2007. This is not something that happened overnight and since the earlier days of Konami’s International Superstar Soccer, FIFA always had a realistic competitor with factions arguing that ISS provided a realistic reproduction of football to FIFA’s speedy yet fun arcade style.
However this generation of consoles saw a complete turnaround in approaches. FIFA slowed down, put more interest into controlling play, beating a man with a range of skills, crafting intricate openings, all of which were additions supported by the online boom, Pro Evo went for the glossier arcade approach and the rest is history.
I do not want this article to be seen as a lambasting of the FIFA games and their current state but as an owner of a FIFA and/or Pro Evo game since FIFA International Soccer in 1993 I do feel a sense of entitlement to comment on where I feel the series has gone and sadly where its heading to.
I am predominantly a Pro Clubs player who has played approximately 1000 online games per iteration of the game since my online cherry was popped in FIFA 2010, I still dabble in Ultimate Team and other offline modes but nothing else captures me like controlling one player in a team. Due to this I feel I’m able to see the smaller changes in the game as I’m constantly concentrating on the movement of my computer controlled teammates and opposition as opposed to just concentrating on what I’m doing with the ball.
Every year there are small introductions made to the game in an effort to remain innovative and fresh, sometimes removing and/or replacing elements that are not broken with a new approach just because it needed something new, such as FIFA 12’s tactical defending.
FIFA 2013 saw the introduction of the player impact engine and first touch control. Sound reasoning behind their introduction, if my player runs into an opposition player there should be a repercussion, some kind of hindrance to his movement. However, what we got was a broken mechanic where players can actively knock opposition players over off the ball with no response from the referee; furthermore, players could often be found shooting around the screen at light speed as the physics were clearly not as refined as they should have been by release. Finally FIFA has no bearing for players weight or stature so due to the player impact engine it is feasible to see a 6’9’’ 220lbs behemoth of a centre back be levelled by a 5’2’’ 114lbs whippet winger due to the fact that he entered his general vicinity. It has taken diving/simulation to a new level.
The first touch control system is an even better and realistic issue to be incorporated…on paper. In reality it can be a complete lottery as to how a players’ touch is going to react when a pass is received. I’m not that naïve to believe that a professional player will never have a bad touch, however, as you play with better players there seems to be no difference in the actual ability of the players to control the ball successfully be it standing still, at a sprint or at 50% using the analogue sprint control. If I was using a League 2 player on a scrappy looking surface I could sympathise, but when I’m using Xavi at the Nou Camp I expect that level of realism to be translated and not just to implement their new toy to get usage out of it.
My biggest issue with FIFA 13 is that it didn’t actually feel like a new game. I know this is not a starting or new revelation but it has started to become a real insult to us fans of the beautiful game. FIFA 13 was, to me, FIFA 11.2. No real feasible additions for the past two iterations, a fancier looking title with upgraded graphics, an up to date player roster and nothing else to compensate for the way the real-life game has changed over the past 5 years.
And now FIFA 14 looks to follow suit.
In an IGN clip with Nick Channon, producer for FIFA 14 he broke down the 5 biggest new gameplay mechanics for the new game.
– Marking – Defenders tracking their men
– Sprint mechanic – Angles of sprint and quicker turning
– Teammate intelligence – Attacking player runs
– Protect the ball – Guarding at differing speeds
– Shooting – Improved ball physics
Sadly this is where I believe, FIFA 14 is due to be FIFA 11.3.
– Defenders currently track their men, to a fault; if I drag a computer controlled player from a set piece he will follow me all the way back to the opposition goal line regardless of offside lines.
– The already is a sprint mechanic in place with analogue sprint where I control my pace and lines by altering the pressure on the sprint button.
– Teammate intelligence has been previously preached where the defence and attack work rates were incorporated, still doesn’t allow for realistic movement of a midfielder to show short for feet or forwards to naturally work into channels.
– Protect the ball is already a mechanic by holding nothing but the RT/R2 button, adept players will learn to protect the ball by turning from trouble naturally.
– Shooting…really…shooting…what major breakthrough could there possibly be that hasn’t already been used in previous games? We have already seen spin, knuckleball dip, Sergio Ramos penalties, near post ridiculousness, where else can it go?
The gameplay trailers do little else to boost my opinion showing the steps players take as a potential major innovation.
It all screams lazy.
What I really want is a clean crisp game that I can pick up and feel that if I am good at it, I will win, if I am bad at it, I will struggle but I will learn what to do to be a better player. I want correct movement from my players, if I know I have a speedster up front I want him testing the offside trap regularly. If I want to play like Stoke/80s Wimbledon route 1 or Barcelona/Spain’s tiki-taka I can set that up easily but the repercussions are evident if I do not try to follow that model in game. I want refs that do not block me off because they run directly through the centre of the pitch rather than in an arc as they should. I want my full back to stop sitting on his own 18 yard box at an opponents’ goal kicks. I want 5’2’’ midgets to get snapped easily if they try to challenge my beast CDM in a 50/50 challenge. I want more options when creating my pro rather than the understanding of ‘he’s 6’1’’ therefore he must be these physical attributes.’ I want more more more.
More than anything though, I want to stop being taken for granted.
This is exactly what happened way back in 2006 when FIFA lost its crown, it grew complacent, relied all too often on the fact that it fancier visuals and real names as opposed to Pro Evo having Ronarid leading the line for Brazil and Oren and Beckman running the show for England. I truly hope that in the next few years Konami can seriously put some pressure back onto EA to force them to become innovative again, to really create something that is not only pushing the boundaries but more so, is polished and worthy of our £54.99 day one purchase.
In conclusion, I want them to go back to their promise of:
“If it’s in the game, it’s in the game”.
Written by guest writer: TheTominie.
If you want to hear more from him then please let him know by commenting below or contacting him on twitter @TheTominie