Don’t be surprised if this is one of the best-selling FIFA iterations yet. Not because of anything it does, mind you, but simply because in the twelve months since the last entry, football fever has swept the nation. The 2014 World Cup saw record viewership amongst yanks, many clamoring to be involved with the sport like never before. Sure, many of the “fair-weather fans” have likely dropped off since the other football started last month, but there’s undoubtedly a legion of new soccer (which we’ll start referring to it as “soccer” to not confuse our readers more inclined to Madden) fans champing at the bit to get their hands on a video game featuring the best and brightest stars they witnessed in the World Cup. Perfect timing, then, that this also marks the first game in the franchise built from the ground up on current-gen consoles. With practically everything going for it, all FIFA 15 has to accomplish to be a success in our neck of the woods is a solid game of soccer and a retention of the modes that’s made the franchise a winner.
FIFA 15 is all about intelligence. For the first time ever, the emotions of all twenty-two players on the pitch have been modeled, allowing them to recognize situations that trigger an emotional response and react naturally. Situations include decisions, missed chances, goals, bad tackles, injuries and more. There are over six hundred potential emotional reactions that could play out over the course of the game. The emotional intelligence is fairly groundbreaking in that there hasn’t been a sports game that has displayed this level of emotion before. As anybody who’s ever watched a soccer match knows, it’s arguably the most emotional game. If anything, players routinely exaggerate, so seeing a near nervous-breakdown after missing a goal is commonplace. As such, a soccer game devoid of any realistic emotion instantly seems unnatural, so FIFA 15 pushing the boundaries of what’s possible on the field adds a whole new layer of believably to the proceedings.
Lending more realism is the dynamic match presentation, which adds region-specific behaviors to arenas, allowing crowds to cheer with specified chants and act unique to their region. Fans of Leeds United at Elland Road will act and look unique to fans at Anfield in Liverpool, for instance, and the commentators will even comment on it. Unfortunately, the Manchester United theme song is not included. Adding more stadium realism are new bench reactions, ball boy animations and ten player goal celebrations.
Back to intelligence, goalkeepers have been rewritten to look, move and think more like their real world counterparts, now better anticipating shots and passes. There are still occasions of funky behavior from keepers, so they don’t yet feel perfect, but there’s noticeable improvements — primarily in responsiveness — that can be seen on both sides of the ball. Another neat addition is that of improved team tactics. Instead of players focusing on simply running up the score, they will now adjust their tactics depending on the situation. For example, if an opposing team is beating you with minutes left to go, one of their players might decide to sit back with the ball and burn down the clock. You’ll see more conservative plays like this when a team is winning and more risks when team is playing from behind.
Thankfully, all of the modes featured in FIFA 14 return this year including FIFA Ultimate Team, Career Mode, Pro Club Seasons, EA Sports Football Club, Skill Games, Match Play, Online Play, Co-op Seasons, Practice Arena and more. Unfortunately, besides some minor tweaks and redone interfaces, they remain practically the same in functionality as FIFA 14. This is because the developers focused their time building and optimizing the game on current-gen consoles, however, and the fact that they weren’t removed à la NHL 15 is cause for praise.
Unlike its American football counterpart, FIFA 15 has consistently featured fantastic soundtracks and this year is no different. Perhaps it’s because it’s a series that appears to a world audience which appreciates more indie-leaning music, but there’s always been a fantastic mix of emerging artists — some of which have been featured in the game before reaching indie circles (for instance, Jungle and Broods have just weeks ago begun to garner attention and I have yet to hear FMLYBND outside of Soundcloud). FIFA 15’s soundtrack is jam-packed with great artists, including Magic Man, Vance Joy, Tune-Yards, Tensnake, Kasabian and many more. There’s a great interface including album cover art to show the full 40+ song soundtrack, allowing players to turn songs off they aren’t partial to.
After a serious misstep with NHL 15, FIFA 15 is a leap in the right direction for EA Sports. Shrewdly taking advantage of current-gen’s capabilities with added emotional intelligence and improved animations, this is easily the prettiest EA Sports title this year. Unfortunately, game modes remain relatively unchanged, but if optimizing for current-gen currently means choosing between re-skinning them or omitting them entirely, we’ll gladly take the former. The expansive soundtrack is again of the best licensed ones of the year, crowds are more dynamic than ever and general production values are impressively polished. Thanks to the sport’s sudden increased popularity in the United States, we have a feeling this will be the introduction to the series for many gamers, and it represents it well.
Version Reviewed: PlayStation 4