FIFA 15: Get Good or Blame The Camera

So after lamenting the sometimes-broken play of FIFA 13, I decided to pick up 15 for $20 on Origin. EA Sports titles that are on annual cycles can have surprisingly high variance year-to-year, even when they obviously share some (or a lot of) code. I played it most of the weekend and it’s mostly good with a few head-scratching changes in there as well.

Places where 15 is better than 13

The ball behaves more like a ball would, and less like a magnet. The ball physics and illustration of spin are significantly improved. In 13, the odds of getting a successful tackle in were extremely slim. The ball would stick to the foot of the opposition like it was on a string, but you would usually not have the same good fortune, even if you are covering the ball. Now the occasional reckless touch will put the ball a little too far in front, leaving you or your team a chance at poking it away cleanly or, failing that, sliding in and actually having a chance at catching the ball before the player.

Speaking of slides, they’re viable again, and the physics are somewhat improved. I almost said “much improved”, but there’s some good and some bad. To the good, they behave largely as expected, and are very dependent on timing, as they are in real life. Also, players have a chance to jump over the slide, or keep their footing and get the advantage from the referee. To the bad, the slow-motion replays will show all the wonkiness this game engine generates with falling players. It’s not uncommon to see a player tumble over a sliding defender, and right before they land on their back, they gain altitude in mid-air, rotate another 180 degrees, and land on their chest. It looks ridiculous.

But at least players are willing to tackle this year, and in doing so the game feels much more human and organic. There’s some emotion involved in getting put on your ass from a questionable tackle. And now players will get into little arguments and shoving matches before the ref intervenes.

The commentary is improved, as to be expected as every year they add more lines. I also like the reimagined half-time and full-time highlights, in fact most of the replay system treats the game more like broadcast TV, and it’s a more polished experience in that regard.

Teams have at least some difference between each other, sometimes seemingly making a concious effort to get the ball to their best forward, sometimes having an overall style that’s a bit more or less aggressive. It’s not a true-to-life simulation, and for years and years people have lamented that even teams like QPR are struck with the ability to play beautiful, Barcelona-esque football. That’s still a valid complaint, but EA knows what it’s doing. They have never set out to capture the slog of a 1-0 victory. The fact that they still happen occasionally is good enough for them. I would certainly welcome more variance in team styles, but this is the first time I’ve actually noticed a difference (I’ve played 08, 10, 11, 13, and now 15).

And as a minor quality-of-life improvement, the UI has been reworked a little big to eliminate some useless confirmation boxes and generally allow for faster navigation of everything.

Places where 13 was better than 15

I don’t know what they’ve done to the camera, but it’s managed to get worse in 15. Apparently, there are some truly awful camera bugs tied to running the game without a frame cap, most notably when you’re in pro career mode. If you’re attacking, and you get in close, the camera changes its position to a lower, closer one. If you don’t score, and the ball goes outside the zoomed area, the camera doesn’t always reset to show you where the ball actually is. I’ve had to wait for 5-10 seconds for the camera to fix itself, and this is while an attack is trying to build up again. I’m essentially blind when it does this. That bug is fixed by capping the frame rate to 60 fps, for some reason. It’s not the only camera bug, though. In about 1/3 to 1/2 of the throw-ins where I am doing the throwing, the camera will be directly above my player. Uh, I can’t see where I’m throwing! Good luck, my team! Finally, the camera swings around and moves around far too much, a problem when the directional controls are relative to the camera. Truth be told, I think I’d be fine with the camera in a fixed location behind me. I wish it were an option. Few things irritate me quicker than “player vs. camera” or “player vs. controls” gameplay. The controls stay out of the way here for the most part, the camera does not.

On the start of the game and after goals, it’s not unusual for the man receiving the ball to rocket upfield, 1 vs. 11. It’s boneheaded, it’s bewildering, and it’s surprisingly effective. But I don’t want it. I always ask for the ball back and pass it back to the mids.

And…that’s it, really. If they had managed to fix the camera (these bugs are still present in 16 apparently), 15 would represent an across-the-board improvement.

Things that are just different

For things that aren’t necessarily better or worse, just different, the penalty rate is quite high. It’s a byproduct of much, much more slide tackling. There are 3-5 yellow cards in any given game, and a red card will be seen occasionally for slide tackles from behind or other exceedingly dangerous tackles in the box, probably 1 game in 10.

The through ball is a game-breaking strategy in 15, particularly if it comes in from overhead, and it’s far more defensible in real life than in the game. In 13 it was the shot from 20 yards that was game-breaking, in 10 it was the chip over the keeper. There always seems to be one.

The emotion system that they added in 15 results in some realistic plays and some bone-headed ones. The keeper will rush out to the ball to meet an attacker, only to think better of it and retreat into more defensible ground. That’s realistic. But I have seen the keeper get caught out chasing down a ball he had no business bothering with. That’s more bone-headed than realistic, but still conceivable as a fluke. It’s a wash, it doesn’t really affect gameplay most of the time.

All in all, for $20 FIFA 15 is a more enjoyable experience than 13, slightly marred by a buggy camera and silly forwards. Well worth the price of admission for someone that hasn’t played a soccer sim in a while.

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