The most realistic sporting experience in the virtual world has gotten a facelift in this year, improving upon an already solid annual foundation that sets the standard for EA's sports line-up.
There are enough customizable features in FIFA 15 that FIFA 16 will probably be out before a player can get through them all. But there are other key features that mark this iteration as the premiere soccer game. The stadium atmosphere has been completely remodeled for this year. Each venue is now completely tailored to mirror its real-world counterpart. The crowd belts out chants that have been passed down through the generations of football fans, and those crowds also act differently from location to location. Meanwhile, game commentators will point out specific fan behavior as the game plays out. When time is tight, the ball boy will quickly throw a ball onto the field to avoid excess time being wasted. This is all part of what FIFA is calling the “Dynamic Match Presentation,” and it works to bring the game to life.
A crop of changes pack the pitch densely with surprises. FIFA 15 has implemented a “Living Pitch” into the game, creating a more realistic field than past iterations. As the match goes on and players slide and quickly change direction, the marks left on the grass don’t fade away as they do in games past. If you lay down a mark, it stays for the full 90 minutes. On a rainy day, if a chunk of grass flies up from a slide tackle, the debris remains. The groundbreaking flourish adds an element of realism that truly couldn't have been done on past generations.
Foul me once, shame on you
The players on the field are sharper than ever before. Say, for instance, you are dribbling with Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo and you get hit with a hard slide from Barcelona defenseman Gerard Pique. At first there might not be much of a reaction after the whistle, but a repeated offense by Pique later in the game may trigger a confrontation where Ronaldo gets up from the ground and gets in Pique face, who fouled him hard twice. Players retaining memory of game events is nothing short of revolutionary. This intelligence is not limited to the players involved. If Pique fouls Ronaldo for the second time, other players on Real Madrid will also react negatively to the endangerment of their best player. The game claims to have over 600 unique emotional reactions that are applicable to any situation you may encounter on the playing field, and while I can't vouch for that number, I saw enough unique animations that the claim seems to hold true.
Not your grandfather’s goalies
Good luck getting the ball past the new and improved goalies this year. The developer, EA Canada, apparently listened to the outcry from players for better goalkeeping. Keepers have been completely revamped to mirror playing styles of their real-world players, and this turns out to be the most improved aspect of this year's release. In previous games, goalies moved with the grace of zombie robots, blindly following the ball across the box in hopes of getting in the way of a shot. These smarter goalies are no longer a wandering mass of digital goop. These goalies recognize in-game situations, like crosses into a crowded box, and position themselves based on the flow of the game. Even on breakaways, it often takes a well placed and perfectly powered shot to find the back of the net. Scoring on these remodeled stoppers will take some repetition to get used to, but like the other new additions, it adds to the feeling of dynamic realism.
If you fail to prepare, prepare to fail
The ability to customize team sheets in advance streamlines the FIFA experience. In previous games, hardcore players had to adjust their teams before games kicked off to exploit the opposing team’s weaknesses. While that's not necessarily anything major to complain about, the time it took to cover all of your bases before kickoff could be a bit excessive. So much so, that I got often got into arguments with friends over how much time they took to set up. Now you can customize team sheets with up to 6 different playing styles, making it easy to apply game plans based on the strengths and shortcomings of opponents.
I tried my best to uncover some weaknesses with the game, but outside of some minor ghosting when player close-ups are shown, and a glitch with AI controlled defenders clearing the ball out of bounds (they tend to panic when chased and kick the ball out of play), there's not a lot complain about.
Despite the wealth of new options, I am left wanting for a few more features. I wish there was a World Cup mode, instead of having to wait for the official FIFA World Cup game to come out every four years. Some more tournaments and enhanced League customization options to promote unique world competitions wouldn't hurt either, and I would have liked to see a few more online options for filtering teams or types of players when choosing opponents.
Players can expect all of the user-friendly game modes and mini games from FIFA’s past, along with new features and vast improvements to some historical weak spots. Ultimately, FIFA 15 succeeds in creating the ultimate experience for fans. Whether you want to manage a club to a Champions League Title, or have a 10 year career with a custom player, FIFA’s got it. FIFA 15 sets a high bar for sports games, and FIFA 16 will need to work twice as hard to clear it next year.
Final Score: 9 out of 10
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version provided by the publisher. FIFA 15 is available now on Xbox One, Xbox 360, PS4, PS3, and PC for $59.99. The game is rated E.