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FIFA – The international governing body of football. When they lend their name and official licence to a video game you know it’s probably a big hitter. Twenty years of FIFA football games from the SNES has led us through multiple console generations all the way till now on the Xbox One with the newest title, FIFA 14.

EA Sports make it their annual mission to release a football or “soccer” (as it’s known by our friends across the pond) game, which in most cases can lead to over saturation of a game series. Each year they seem to pull a rabbit out of a hat to give us enough game play changes and little extras to make it worthwhile trading up each time. As FIFA 14 is their first next generation attempt they almost have to present a game changer to the world to send our minds into a spin wondering what the years to come will offer.

Well I’m going to jump in with both feet and start with the brand new Ignite engine which we are told will enhance the game mechanics and graphical features. Immediately once you’re in a match you can see the crowds look almost like a real set of fans (especially using the brand new default camera view) and the stadiums have atmosphere like never before, even in the lower league stadiums like Crown Lane, but obviously more noticeable in a jam packed Camp Nou. Whilst you’ve been able to recognise players in FIFA games for a few years, some of them now have distinguishable facial features rather than simply just a rough outline of a player.

It’s all fine and dandy having good looks, however it’s what is on the inside that really counts so how does it feel to play? Player movements without the ball only seem a little different in their more realistic running motions, but with it is a whole other world of delight. Whether it’s a smooth cross field pass or cheeky side footer, both have elegance like never before. Shooting relies on a number of variables, most importantly balance because if you’ve done a quick turn or the opposition gives you a tug then your shot may be weaker and less accurate. Weak foot also has a greater effect, having a go from range using Antonio Valencia’s infamous left foot will only end in shame.

Strength seems to be a real factor in both defensive and offensive moves, almost as much as pace, so either will give you an advantage depending on your play style. Defending relies on positioning your players manually before attempting going for clearances on ground or air; mistiming or being too far out of reach will see them fail to connect and be nearly helpless to recover the situation. When they were tinkering with the goalkeepers I think their research must have been mainly on Joe Hart as they can do crazy things like heading the ball clear rather than catching it, then the next minute making a superb save.

There are other changes that you will find during each game, making every single match experience both dynamic and exciting.  FIFA 14 offers a big list of game modes that could nearly sell the game on their own merit, definitely in the case of Ultimate Team. The dream team style creation is still present and you can mould a team of players earnt from buying virtual packs that include players, managers, stadiums, contracts and lots of other stuff. Plenty to do here, online/offline seasons (progressing through leagues from division ten to one) and tournaments aplenty that have coin awards plus a couple of packs to be one.

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Additionally there is a selection of 42 Legends (exclusive to Xbox) to potentially get from packs, I haven’t personally had one due to their extreme rareness but the prospect of having van Nistelrooy in my starting eleven encourages earning more coins to buy more packs. As well as Legends, they’ve brought chemistry styles into the mix and each of these will improve specific stats of a player after a couple of matches. Ultimate Team is the best part of FIFA 14 for solo game time, my only issue I’ve seen so far with matchmaking for tournaments is when bronze rated teams get can matched up with gold rated, so be prepared to put in the performance of a lifetime.

Outside of that there’s a normal Season’s mode and a condense Co-Op Seasons with just five tiers in it; this is brand new to FIFA 14. The thought of you and a friend on Xbox Live playing together on the same team versus other partnerships towards world domination is thrilling. Sadly it’s a rarity when it actually works; more often than not it doesn’t which is very disappointing for a key feature.

Another feature that gains a lot of interest from gamers is Pro Clubs, this is a way to take your own created player (Virtual Pro) into a team with your friends online and improve his stats by doing things in-game to unlock accomplishments. There is a league format and cup knockout (at certain times the cup window will open for a few days) for your team to compete in, I don’t think there is a better way to spend time with your mates than all playing for the same club with up to 11 on each side.  Bad news time AGAIN, this is broke to the point where I haven’t even be able to play a single match, extremely poor.

So what else actually works? The EA Football Club catalogue where you can purchase retro kits, Virtual Pro boots for career and Pro Clubs (it will be useful one day), Ultimate Team mega contracts etc. Kick off for a quick one v one against a mate on the same console or against the A.I. on whatever difficulty suits. Highlights of the Week is a regularly updated set of challenges based on recent games, for example taking control of United to replicate the 5-0 thrashing at Leverkusen to earn coins for the catalogue.

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Last but not least for modes is Career. Whether you want to be in charge as the manager whilst controlling all the team or you’d rather rise through the ranks controlling a sole created character, it caters for both. The only major addition I’ve noticed is in the manager side where you can send scouts out from a Global Transfer Network to find players based on any attribute parameters that you set. It looks really good and works well; apparently there is loads of young talent in Belgium for the scouts to find.

Kinect has a minimal part to play, used only for offline and for making subs or changing formations; it is a little fun until it misinterprets your pronunciation of Subotic as Blaszczykowski. Fans worldwide will be happy to see even more teams added for us to use now that they’ve got the Chilean, Columbian and Argentine leagues.

I have to give credit where it’s due, actually playing a match is the most exhilarating it has ever been, especially when timing is extremely important. However having two of your best features not working properly or at all in most cases is unacceptable. Granted it is a new console but every year there are issues of some kind, might need to work on a strategy for BETA testing in the future. Without the problems I would have given it a five on our rating scale, the only silver lining being that I have been informed they are in the process of fixing what seems to be a global issue. Better late than never?
DRAFT 4 TXH Rating

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