FIFA 14 for iPhone/iPad – 1 step forward, 2 steps back? [Review]

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There are certain stereotypes that hold true for me. I’m British and I’m male. That means I love drinking tea, and I love football. (Soccer to the Americans among you.) As a kid, I loved football so much that if I wasn’t playing it in my back garden (field) I was popping off to my friend’s house a couple of minutes’ walk away to play FIFA 97 on his PC.

Since those days, I’ve played almost every version of FIFA that’s been released, including the last three iOS versions. FIFA 2013 was fantastic on the iPad. Graphically and in its gameplay, it was a big improvement on its predecessor, so I was hoping for more of the same when FIFA 2014 was released a few weeks ago. In many ways, it is an improvement, in other ways it’s incredibly frustrating.

Before I focus too much on its downsides, there are many positives to mention. But the one I really have to stress is performance. Loading times and responsiveness of the newly designed game are so noticeable. Switching between menus and scenes is zippy, loading matches doesn’t take as long as it used to, and graphical smoothness within the game all make for a generally pleasing experience. Even on my iPad mini I didn’t notice any lag whatsoever.

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One aspect of the game EA’s really trying to push is the Ultimate Team play mode. The app download is free, and the first thing it does is get you started with an Ultimate Team game, which essentially assigns you a squad full of low-average players. As you progress and win games, you get new players and you build up your team. On the home page, along with Ultimate Team are Online Quick Match and Games of the Week. The latter is a preselected group of clashes with individual set challenges.

Where it takes one step back is in the hiding away of career mode options. When I say “hide away”, what I mean to say is that Manager Mode and Tournament Mode aren’t even on the Home screen. In fact, they’re not even included in the original download. What EA has chosen to do is take the Freemium model and apply it in the absolute worst way possible to the die-hard FIFA fan. We love Manager Mode. In fact, it’s the only game mode I ever bother with. I love starting from scratch with a team and building up my reputation as a virtual manager, winning trophies, signing players etc. But, if you want the privilege of doing that, you need to pay. An in-app purchase of $4.99 is required to unlock “Premium Mode”. When Premium = the standard app experience of previous versions, I’m not a happy bunny. As is to be expected, there’s also a plethora of other in-app purchase options to boost credits and all sorts. Those I don’t mind as much. They’re not necessary, and they don’t enhance the game or provide you with the key experience you expect.

The other step back – which many may disagree with with – is the new touch gesture controls. Instead of having on screen buttons for controlling players, now you touch players to pass or run. Dragging the player around makes him run and shooting is achieved by swiping the ball in the direction of the goal. In theory, it’s a fantastic system. In practice, I found it nothing short of annoying. Soccer needs to be a fast paced game, and passing quickly between players isn’t really that possible (not for me at least). Anyone with dreams of making their team play like Spain or Barcelona should forget about using the new gesture system.

I struggled getting it to recognize swipes to shoot, and on occasion, I’d not tap and hold a player long enough to move him and it thought I wanted to pass it to no-one, in the middle of nowhere. Needless to say, after a few days, I switched back to the classic onscreen controls. As unintuitive as it is, it certainly beat the frustration of having players not responding to my gestures.

After the detour through my frustrations, I have to bring it back round to an all-round positive feeling. Once I’d switched to the classic controls, and paid the $4.99 to get “premium”, what I’m left with is a game which has more game play options than the previous version, a new control system (for those who might like it), better graphics and better performance as well as more official stadiums and the option to select from a huge number of officially licensed balls for each game. Even player movement is noticeably smoother and more realistic.

As much as I’d have preferred the game to cost $5 initially, and not sneak away my favorite game mode behind an in-app paywall, I can’t criticize the game too much. It is, in almost every aspect, better than last year’s game.

FIFA 14 is available to download for free from the App Store and is compatible with an iOS device running iOS 5.0 or later. App Store download link.

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