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Wednesday, 10 December 2014

FIFA 15 Review


FIFA 15. Another year, another game. The march of technology marked with fresh animations and mechanics. Progress.
Except this year the back of FIFA 15’s box is conspicuously lacking the one-line marketing punches and gaming features typically used to anchor each FIFA’s newness and purchasability in our minds. Last year we had Pure Shot, Precision Movement, and - who could forget? - Protect The Ball. This year there’s just “Feel the game”, a directive that’s not only superfluous to anyone holding the box at the time, but a nebulous step away from the confident promises made by mechanical sloganeering.
This in itself isn’t a bad thing - these promises are driven by FIFA’s need to organise annual improvements under absorbable headlines, and they’re usually empty. In fact they’re reminiscent of Mitchell and Webb’s satirical evisceration of the hyperbole deployed by Sky Sports and the Premier League (both prominent licensing partners of FIFA 15) in an attempt to make something that happens with deadening regularity seem unmissably momentous (“...a match that will go down in history as one of the many games of football happening this weekend!”) But these promises are also evidence of the will to make improvements, to tinker with and change the fundamentals of gameplay. FIFA 15’s biggest changes are cosmetic, and that will is absent. FIFA 15 plays, more than any other recent FIFA sequel, largely the same.
This is a very important point for two reasons: firstly, because it’s the short, brutal answer to the central question of whether FIFA 15 is any good. “Have you played FIFA 14? It is largely the same.” Secondly, and admittedly less importantly, it has saved me from the dread expectation of writing at length, using strings of increasingly meaningless adjectives, about whether the headers are better this time, or the kinaesthetic pleasures unlocked by



kicking the ball to other men this year, as contrasted with the kinaesthetic pleasures unlocked by kicking the ball to other men last year. It is largely the same.
Aside from the philosophical issue of whether “largely the same” will fly as the basis of a fresh £50 purchase (largely unlikely), the lack of big gameplay changes might reflect an uncomfortable truth about a genre that’s now over two decades old. It’s beyond argument that time and technology have made football games better, giving us lavish broadcast-style presentation, minutely detailed physical representations of players, and a complex causal physics environment which accurately recreates not just the sport of football but, by extension and existential implication, the fundamentals of our entire universe. And yet, awkwardly enough for the guy whose job it was to program that universe, it’s difficult to argue that this advancement has translated into more fun.
Did we really enjoy 2004’s Pro Evolution Soccer, or even 1994’s Sensible Soccer, any less than modern FIFA? No, despite the fact that FIFA 15 is obviously, demonstrably better. We’re either experiencing some kind of pleasure inflation, expecting more and more each year in order to return the same quantity of joy, or all that added sophistication simply isn’t making for a better game.
Perhaps, then, EA has reached the same realisation: that, in their own way, the enthusiastic blobs of Sensi and the eight-way running of PES 3 captured something integral about the idea of football that modern FIFA, with its momentum modelling and exquisite skills system, can’t improve upon. Honestly, that seems unlikely - it’s more feasible that EA doesn’t feel an urgent need to improve its interpretation of football, because of a lack of competition from old rival Pro Evo, and because of the dominance of and financial success of its Ultimate Team mode. This would explain why the bulk of FIFA 15’s improvements are

 concerned with presentation and atmosphere. Feel the game - through crowd chants, commentaries, vast stadiums, a range of emotional expressions unknowable to the blank miniatures of Sensible Soccer. It is binding us to an idea. It is selling us something.
Not that FIFA hasn’t always been about money. EA has never made FIFA from a sense of duty or sporting spiritualism. But now it has devised a machine capable of monetising the adulation of role-models with a precision that overshadows how the game imitates and celebrates the sport itself. Ultimate Team is brilliantly designed and compelling, but it’s also the Premier League-ification of FIFA - it represents a different joy, a different compulsion. It’s not an attempt to simulate football and all its pleasures - at least, not football the Platonic notion of figures on a field exploring shape and movement with a ball. It is football the industry, the marketing machinery. It is an uncanny representation of the capitalist framework that has constructed itself around the sport, a framework that turns skilled young men into commodities and trades them accordingly.
Which, on the whole, is a bleaker outlook than “the free kicks are better this year, recommended.” But if Mitchell and Webb have taught us anything - and this is almost certainly not the lesson they were trying to impart - it’s that the game will prevail: “it will never be finally decided who has won the football.” In other words, there’s always next year.
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