You may have noticed there’s a little football tournament going on at the moment. It has been pretty interesting, thanks to the unpredictable efforts of teams like Costa Rica and Chile. The World Cup has shown that football isn't all about the star teams showboating their way to glory; sport can be gloriously unexpected.
So it’s a bit of a shame that Fifa 15 – the newest in EA Sports' eternal series – isn’t yet ready. The officially licensed World Cup game can charitably be described as a travesty, a current-gen-only release that crams in all the eligible teams, but feels more like an add-on than a full release. From the E3 demo, however, it seems Fifa 15 will be worth the wait.
That’s mainly because it’s the first version of the franchise which is a proper next-gen game. Good though Fifa 14 was, like a lot of cross-generational titles, it felt rather transitional. Fifa 15 takes much better advantage of the PS4 and Xbox One’s number-crunching power, while finally ditching the legacy code from old consoles which could still be found in creaking away within Fifa 14's innards.
As a result, Fifa 15 contains a wealth of cute touches and intricate attention to detail. For example, the development has worked on replicating the emotion that real players show on the pitch – so they might be euphoric after scoring, then sink to their knees in despair when they realise they were offside (as in the real game, Fifa 15’s virtual refs will delay things like offside decisions).
One new system in the game dictates that all the players on the pitch will have changing attitudes towards their team-mates, according to whether those team-mates have performed well or not. They may clap each other along to maintain team spirit, or shake their heads when someone is clearly under-performing. As for their attitudes to opponents, a scrappy foul may be overlooked, but two or three few more and you'll have a fight on your hands.
Meanwhile, environmental realism has been stepped up. Every step made by every player will be logged, and the resulting divots will accumulate through the course of a match. In the background, major teams will have contextual celebrations – like Manchester City's borrowed Poznan routine.
Such changes contribute to a startlingly realistic and believable general atmosphere, but there are also more tangible alterations. EA Sports has reworked both player animations and the physics system – fundamental building blocks of a football game. So now, for example, when you make a 360-degree turn with a player, he won’t jerk through three separate animations, but will execute the move smoothly. When dribbling, every touch of the ball, with the inside or outside of the foot, is modelled accurately (an issue that was previously fudged), and the game takes into account players’ favoured feet. So Gareth Bale, say, will dribble predominantly with his left foot, and shorten or lengthen his stride according to where the ball goes after each touch.
The added rigour in the physics engine is perhaps the one factor which is most noticeable when you play the game – the ball really does go where you would expect it to after each touch (rather than along one of the usual eight directional pathways), which ramps up the sense of realism massively, along with the sense of feel and control.
It does require an initial adjustment period, but the end result is impressive. On top of this, the turning circle of the players has been tweaked along with their general agility; they can cope better while boxed in by defenders. Oh and some of the super-powered kinks of yesteryear – the unstoppable headers, the volleys from the corner of the box – have been ironed out, apparently.
The artificial intelligence engine has been junked and replaced, too. Whereas previously, computer players only reacted to what was taking place at any given moment in a match (so tended to play conservatively), now they have medium and long-term goals, so will, for example, start lumping long balls up to their forwards if they reach the latter stages of a match and are losing. Just like real footballers.
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