Then came the real test, inviting some mates round for beers and FIFA” – Stan Bowles submits FIFA 14 to some scientific analysis on his new PS4

First a little bit of history. Like most people I was a PES obsessive for years. Even when I was young and had a social life I’d buy PES on release day without fail. I was just like that person who would just buy one CD a year. PES was my Coldplay.

Then around 2007 everything changed, my world was shaken to the core. FIFA, the joke of the football video game world with its reliance on licensing over gameplay actually became the better option. I wasted far too many hours on this forum arguing with PES diehards that they should come over to the darkside. The gameplay was better, and you didn’t have to play at the Trad Brick Stadium in plain kits. And then for a good few years there seemed to be a continual improvements and innovation – Ultimate Team, 11 v 11 online, Online Seasons.

Then last year I seemed to hit a bit of a FIFA funk. Yes it was a slightly better version, but there were no stand out features. I’ll admit it also ran concurrently with QPR being populated by a bunch of mercenary pricks that seriously dented my interest in football, but there was a definite feeling of wanting a bit more. So this year for the first time in well over a decade September came and went without me buying a football game.

Then a few days before the PS4 launched I got a mail from Mr.Thumped asking me if I’d like to review FIFA 14 for my shiny new console. Naturally I jumped at the chance, who wouldn’t? Next generation football!

I initially gave some single player modes a try. First impressions were very favourable, it does look better, the animations are really nice. Look at the detail of the crowd, the players weren’t that detailed in the last PES I bought! The big feature in this next-gen version is the inclusion of the Ignite engine which is meant to improve animations and player reactions, and to my untrained eye it does makes a difference. Replays of fouls are particularly entertaining, crunching tackles sending players sprawling in a realistic way from the point of contact.

Then came the real test, inviting some mates round for beers and FIFA. So my two mates arrived, let’s call them Lefty and Hector to protect their real identities. Hector and I played a number of games before Lefty arrived, tense and low scoring affairs, enjoyable but it’s fair to say it wasn’t a massive amount of fun. Then when Lefty turned up he had the brilliant suggestion of turning legacy defending on. All of a sudden six or seven goals were being scored in each game. A 30 yarder was larruped in by one of them, I can’t remember who now, a number of beers had been drunk. The point being that PS4 version passed the test, fun was had, and that fun was in a higher definition than previously available. And that’s very, very important.

I’ve dipped my toe into a number of different modes – Career, Online Seasons, Ultimate Team. If you’ve played FIFA at any point over the last few years you’ll be familiar with these. They’re all the same as before, all very enjoyable, all very playable, but ultimately all the same. Well apart from a new feature in Ultimate Team, crashing the console. I haven’t heard of this being a widely reported issue, but my only two crashes came in this mode. Online play is still full of dicks who will quit if you go a few goals up, and will use whatever cheap tactic gets the best results. This year – the lofted through ball. I’m so fucking sick of the lofted through ball.

Another new feature is the weekly changing of squads and formations, so if your team played 4-4-2 at the weekend that will be the default setting the following week. But as I’m typing this I’m wondering is this a new feature? And this is the problem for EA, it’s all so familiar and comfortable that I sometimes can’t tell if a feature is new or old. They’ve built a consistently great game that sells in its millions. But it’s got to a stage where I can’t tell what’s new from one year to the next. I am getting on so maybe it’s the early stages of Alzheimer’s, but I don’t think so. I don’t know where they can go next, have they refined the game to such an extent that innovation is impossible? And if they do find a radical improvement do they dare to implement it and upset those millions who hand over €60 for their inoffensive yearly update?

I’m enjoying playing the new version of FIFA, as ever it’s an improvement on the previous year. It’s added the Ignite engine, which makes a definite difference, but not that much of a difference. I’ve played the game consistently since I’ve got it, and I imagine I’ll continue to play it for the next year. But will I cough up for yet another noticeable but insignificant iteration next September? I don’t know if I will.

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