Sports games are usually the best showcase for a shiny new console at launch. NBA 2K impressed at the launch of the Dreamcast and Fight Night Round 3 dropped jaws as the Xbox 360 was released. Being mostly annualized releases, the differences between versions can feel and look minor. But when you compare a game like FIFA 14 on a next-gen console to a current-gen one, the differences could not be any clearer. And yes, FIFA 14 is completely gorgeous on the PS4 but that’s not the biggest improvement. While the game features the best clubs in the world and the best players on the planet, the real star of the next-gen version of FIFA 14 is the Ignite Engine which powers it.
Gameplay in FIFA 14 is smoother than any other version of the series to date. Hundreds of new animations have been added and while they might play out in minor ways, players returning to the series will definitely notice them. There are many new pass animations and there is a profound sense of weight to everything you do on the pitch. Rounding defenders is much more focused on light touches of the ball and shot power varies depending on which part of the foot you use to shoot. The fight for the ball is more physical than ever before and defenders are now able to grab specific limbs of their opponents to get them off of it. Players even brace for impact if they lose their balance and fall. While these new animations are subtle, they add a sense of realism and variety to the overall flow of the game.
The attacking intelligence of the players has also been raised. Players now seem much more aware of what is happening around them. AI players go into their runs much faster and smarter than before without the need to tell them to do so. AI players even seem to anticipate tacklers by shielding the ball or avoid them by jumping over the outstretched legs of would be defenders.
On the defensive side, the Ignite Engine leads to a slower, more deliberate way of defending. Learning how to contain your opponent is more important than ever. Going for an ill-timed tackle can leave you wrong footed in a heartbeat and just like that, you could be down a goal. This also depends greatly on the rating of the player you’re defending. Being left one-on-one to defend a superstar like Lionel Messi has never felt so precarious.
The 2D crowds of current-gen versions have been replaced with full 3D models. The home crowd erupts when a goal is scored and seems panicked when their team is struggling. Dramatic sweeping camera angles help breathe life into the stadium and highlight the crowd. This sense of atmosphere translates to the sidelines as well. Players will routinely interact with the sideline and demand the ball from a ball boy. Goal kicks, corners and free kicks become more intense later in the match. All these small details add up to a more authentic feeling of watching a live broadcast of a match.
One of the only disappointments here is that the Dualshock 4′s touchpad is not used in any meaningful way. Clicking it will change the angle of the presentation and have you take control of the goalkeeper. As someone who never wants to take control of the goalkeeper during the game, it’s a shame that the touchpad is not implemented in a more significant way. Even the Vita version of FIFA last year gave players the option to use the rear touch pad to angle a shot at a specific part of the goal. Hopefully, the team at EA Canada will come up with some interesting ideas on how to use the touchpad for the next iteration.
FIFA 14 on PS4 is fantastic. The added animations, improved player awareness and beautiful graphics add up to the best soccer game available anywhere. With the new Ignite Engine, the future for FIFA on the PS4 looks bright. If you’re a soccer fan and a proud new owner of a PS4, this is a no-brainer purchase.