This article began life as a traditional standoff between video game’s football powerhouses: FIFA 14 and Pro Evolution Soccer 2014 for current-gen systems (PS3, Xbox 360, PC.) The first couple of games came with the usual “new game struggles” but, once I adapted, goals came through and I gained a better understanding for FIFA and PES’s understanding of the beautiful game. Then some worrying trends became so apparent they couldn’t go ignored.
Soccer games stand as the last frontier for any form of competition. Every other sport in gaming enjoys exclusivity like Madden or utter domination as seen in NBA 2K or MLB The Show. The also-rans in NBA Live and MLB 2K annually fall well short so they’re barely worth mentioning.
FIFA’s popularity trumps PES’s worldwide. Although, this year, the fight’s closer than it’s been for some time on the pitch. PES premieres the new FOX Engine, set to power the next Metal Gear Solid release, and it’s influence shows with the best animation the series outside of funky looking tackles. Each game also slows down the action to better resemble the ebbs and flows of games on match day. The tempo change on both sides is definitely welcome offline and has been long overdue. Then things go out the window online as emphasis on sprint speed and strength equates to more unrealistic, box-to-box football: especially in Ultimate Team’s high scoring, gold-team matches. PES suffers from some terrible lag in 1 on 1 games as well.
Matters more frustrating from there. FIFA 14 feels like a cakewalk until you play on World Class. You have to coax the A.I. with tedious ping pong passing to lose their shape. The computer’s predictive stops, cut backs, deflections and tackles remain so, just like the old FIFAs, it oftentimes unfairly reacts to your inputs.
Ridiculous goals in the 45th and 90th minute under suspicious circumstances haven’t faded, either. Defenders usually commit brainfarts, wondershots magically dip into the net or the otherwise super-human goalies let one breeze by to raise the “drama” factor of the game.
However, thanks to the internet, you can circumvent much of this frustation by practicing this offline cheese tactic. Watch at your own risk below.
Gamers can beast FIFA’s higher difficulties by sprinting at the right angles, baiting the defense with dummy runs and timing a couple skill moves just right. These tricks take time to master but work best with quick players. Nothing necessitates players to play like this. However the computer, as previously mentioned, get so “perfect” while you play “the right way” that these methods come in a pinch when you need a goal.
Defense requires some semblance real-world strategy via playing/preventing passing lanes and maintaining shape. The computer rarely exposes the ball for tackles outside of bad first touches so playing keep away all game gets frustrating. The same holds true more or less on PES although the opposition has a habit of playing a high line. This can free up open play with a killer pass: making open play a more frequent option than in FIFA.
Now it’s time to highlight PES’s grossest design flaw…which also happens in FIFA 14. Common knowledge states athletes run slower while dribbling the ball. Conversely, there are more than a few fullbacks, midfielders and attackers who can burn defenders if they create even less than a yard of space. The latter phenomenon doesn’t always follow in PES and FIFA.
It’s especially annoying since both games feature refs who “let players play.” You can anticipate seeing your attackers crumple under shoulder barges and other contact from behind with nary a whistle blown outside the penalty box. Plus both games enforce an unnatural, magnetic sensation when athletes collide in these situations.
Patches clean up a number of FIFA and PES’s launch woes and deserve commendation. Some problems linger such as PES’s notoriously bad goalies committing shockers and bullet dodge easy saves. Slowdown lingers in custscenes and replays but at least it doesn’t majorly affect action mid-game anymore. Moreover, crosses and corner kicks still feel way too reliable in FIFA as they’re needlessly difficult to defend. You can create and concede a high number of goals via decent ball inside unlike the past few FIFA games.
These stupid design choices bluntly remind you of each product’s video game-y values. We really should be past the point of unimaginative constructs like those seen above to keep matches close. Yet, here we are, entertaining the same song and dance.
We haven’t even gotten into periphery issues like presentation, UI and UX. FIFA, long story short, wins by default thanks to PES’s lack of licenses and, well, care. FIFA’s disorganized interface and menu lag only look good next to PES’s ridiculous load times and similarly disheveled layout. The game only lets you sim one game at a time during Football Life modes as well: adding more lethargy to campaigns with extremely slow progression.
FIFA’s Career Mode moves at a much faster rate but suffers from inconsistent logic. FIFA’s new global transfer market revamps how e-managers build their clubs but falls apart. Let’s say you become the boss of a Premier League club. You’d expect to scout players under the radar within your league and across the globe. You instead have to waste money on a top scout to slowly uncover stats and market values on known figures like Leighton Baines, Danny Welbeck and Romelu Lukaku: regular opposition any manager should already know. The same holds for names who’ve made waves elshewhere like David Alaba and Paul Pogba.
This likely shouldn’t bother people new to the sport. However, to people who follow matches every weekend, the system’s incompetence drives you to look up high potential players on Google, manually search for them in-game, and accordingly make bids. Players’ attributes won’t fall unless they’re old or out of form so you can refer to the online community’s hive mind in confidence for gems.
Lopsided transfers persist in FIFA on World Class difficulty. I’ve signed Schalke 04’s wunderkid Julian Draxler, a potential €30+ million prospect, for $17 million and Tomas Rosicky. Manchester City’s €15 million, young center back Matija Nastasic got nabbed for $5.5 million and an out-of-form Thomas Vermalaen…with his expiring contract. These deals have next to no chance of occurring in the real world.
Maybe I’m going insane from anticipating football games every season. Or, more accurately, my appreciation for the sport makes me persevere through FIFA 14‘s and PES 2014‘s faults. It still feels like these simulations fix leaks only to create new punctures elsewhere. The cycle repeats every season. Yet the developers rarely get called out because video game soccer is just too awesome to critics and the buying public.
Graphics can improve, new skill moves enter the fray and AI teammates get “smarter” with every edition. All that doesn’t matter much if gameplay gets held back by these flaws year in and out. FIFA 14 and PES 2014 still yield some fun, especially with friends. Additionally, I’d be lying if I didn’t want to keep playing Career mode for a little while longer or play the occasional exhibition match on PES. Nevertheless, they’re evidently resting on their laurels this time around.