Having already fully reviewed the current generation version of FIFA 14 it would seem sensible to just adjust that entry to encompass the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One version.
But here's the thing: FIFA 14 on the next-generation consoles is no mere update with slightly fancier graphics, as most of the other third-party launch titles are, it is a whole new ball game.
A different league
That’s not to say there aren’t many similarities. All of the game modes that have survived the transition are identical, for example. You’ll be unimpressed by the lack of some of extra modes on the current generation consoles, but if you’re coming to this version fresh, you’ll not notice any glaring omissions.
There is a career mode that you can play through as either a player who eventually becomes a manager or start as the team manager from the off.
This includes all cups, league matches and even internationals, where you can double as a part-time manager of a national team, and is the best single-player experience you can have with FIFA. EA Sports, the studio behind the game, has rejigged the way transfers work - in that you have to send scouts out to discover more about prospective buys, but it’s what you’d expect if you’ve ever played a FIFA game before.
Then there is Ultimate Team, EA’s now tried and tested game mode that combines the on-the-field action with a card collecting and management game, and throws in some in-game purchasing options for good measure. On the PlayStation 4, this is similar to previous years or the current generation versions prior to 22 November.
United vs City
Since then however, the Xbox One and Xbox 360 versions have added Ultimate Team Legends to the mix, an exclusive feature for Xbox. This throws in some of the world’s greatest players - and Freddie Ljungberg - as collectable cards, who you can then choose for your Ultimate Team squad. You’ll have to earn them mind, as they only appear in UT packs that contain Gold Rare card slots, so we don’t think PS4 owners (or PS3 come to that) are missing out too much.
While it’s great to have Ruud Gullit weaving his magic as your attacking midfielder, the likelihood of earning him through play alone is rare. And, to be honest, we expect that once the exclusive deal EA has with Xbox wears off, the feature will be added to other formats.
11 man squad
Multiplayer matches are catered for through a number of the modes. You can have online friendlies, create your own entire football club with 10 friends and each take the role of a single player against other human-created clubs, and of course the Ultimate Team mode is once again enhanced greatly when pitting your collected superstars up against another real player online.
There is also the Seasons mode, where you can follow the progress of the real-world football leagues in an online representation. And new to FIFA 14 - and making it onto the next-gen version too - is Co-op Seasons, where you can link up with a friend online to both play in the same team against another pairing.
FIFA has always been at its best when played online, but with the new gameplay on the field, we have to say that the single-player action is very nearly as good.
A casual spectator would be forgiven for thinking that FIFA 14 on PS4 or Xbox One looks identical to the game released a few weeks back for PS3 and Xbox 360 and with a cursory glance it would seem so. While more sharp and better defined, the player models are the same. The players that look just like their real-world counterparts still look just like them and the ones that offer vague representations of what the real footballers look like still do too.
Look to the crowd and you’ll see a massive difference. Replays and cut-aways to incidents too.
The crowd has been majorly enhanced for the next-generation versions of FIFA 14 - it's a step ahead on the next-gen, and this is where both PS4 and Xbox One make their mark.
Thanks to the extra graphical and computational power of both machines, every member of the crowd is a 3D model and the entire unit has an artificial intelligence of its own. This means that it will respond to the ebb and flow of a game that the 2D blocky versions on all other FIFA games of past could not. There’s also a more realistic approach to crowd-seating too, with away fans often crammed into a corner of a ground, much like in real life. When a player from an away team scores at that end, they often run to that crowd - which is suitably going nuts. It’s a nice touch.
Crowd sounds and chanting have also been greatly improved. We were particularly impressed by the Liverpool crowd giving Wayne Rooney stick every time he touched the ball. Real-world loves and hates have been translated perfectly. Sometimes the commentary is a little samey, as before, but on a far less noticeable scale, and there are phrases we hadn’t heard in the Xbox 360 version that specifically relate to the crowd reactions.
But as good as the crowd is, the best parts about the next-gen match day experience involve the play itself. Players are much more responsive. This can actually be a burden initially as you’ll often find that you overstep a tackle or run straight past an opponent who’s bearing down on goal. You do get used to it, but it feels different - in a good way.
The ball physics seem to be even more realistic on next-gen FIFA too. The current generation version added the ability for the ball to bounce and spin as it would in real life, but on PS4 and Xbox One there are times where it does so dramatically. We found that sometimes we would run to get a ball only to leave it behind because it clipped off a heel. And there was more than one incident where there was so much spin on the ball after cannoning off a player it completely changed direction after hitting the ground.
The final major new gameplay alteration that undoubtedly improves some aspects is the ability for the game to now have more than one defender contest an aerial ball. We were actually stunned to find out quite recently that in the vast history of the FIFA gaming franchise, only one defender was ever able to jump for a header against one member of the opposition. The extra power of the new machines has finally made that possible to fix that situation.
Now multiple players can leap for the ball. Not only does it make corners and set-pieces harder to score from, but it can create some highly amusing player pile-ups. And, if you switch on the mode in features, a few penalty opportunities from handballs. It is all superb for those who want more accurate simulation in their kickabouts.
FIFA 14 on the Xbox 360 and PS3 was the most realistic football game we had played, without losing what makes it a fun game to play. A mere two months on and now the next-generation version has taken up that mantle. It's incredible.
There is a lot of gloss to the game, even over the already excellent current-gen versions, but it’s on the pitch where things really come into their own. Some of the new features might sound like minor tweaks, but they do make a difference to the gameplay, ensuring that veteran players can get something truly new out of the game.
It’s a shame that some of the lesser modes are missing, if not a little baffling. But honestly, we didn’t notice beyond the initial "oh". And there is so much compensation elsewhere.
We wholeheartedly recommend FIFA 14 on PS4 and Xbox One and also admit that it’s the first game out of the many we’ve tested so far that we’ve genuinely "shared" video of to social networks, other than doing so for review purposes.
If you're a football fan FIFA 14 is the first must-have game for a new generation.