FIFA 15 Demo Impressions: Thoughts On The Much-Improved Gameplay And Team Management

The FIFA 15 demo is very impressive. Though I’m always wary of the changes (or lack thereof) between sports titles from one year to the next, the core gameplay is very clearly improved this time around compared to the last iteration of EA’s series.

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My expectations admittedly were not too high given the lackluster changes from FIFA 13 to FIFA 14–I happen to think the game mechanics got worse last year. First touches and player control were poor, and the overall pace of the game felt off. I was curious what FIFA 15 would be like on PlayStation 4 going into the demo, but not expecting major changes and was pleasantly surprised.

The players’ general control of the ball is much improved over FIFA 14, and the ball itself feels much better at your feet. It’s hard to fully appreciate the difference without playing it yourself (I recommend downloading the demo if you can), but it’s certainly more natural and the weight of the ball is spot on. You can watch a particularly slick highlight I pulled off on World Class difficulty in the video below.

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What’s more, the tackling and passing both benefit from the new system. If a player is not in a perfect position to pull off the pass as you command, they’ll still flick the ball realistically with any part of their foot while intelligently trying to put it between opposing players. FIFA 14 players too often passed it away to the opposition in situations where a real professional footballer never would, and the new organic style emulates the real game much more closely. Trying to win the ball off the other team echoes these mechanics, as players will get a toe in to pick the ball off an opponent any way possible, or use their bodies to shield the ball in ways you simply did not see in the past games.

The goalkeepers–lauded by EA Sports as completely redesigned and more intelligent–certainly play more like real keepers, though I will say I’ve seen a couple of fluke goals. Low shots at the post seem particularly difficult for the AI to cope with, but the same could be said for reality. Placing shots allows more finesse than before, which makes it all the more difficult for the keepers to come up with a save.
It also seems that players look and behave more like their real-life counterparts, particularly the way they dribble. Diego Costa and Andre Schurrle dribble in their clumsy-looking-yet-effective manners, and virtual David Luiz steps forward into a tackle just like the real thing. His curly locks, it must be said, also bob around with frightening realism. I’m willing to admit the play styles and behaviors could possibly be me seeing what I expect out of these players, but I genuinely think it’s at least closer than in the past.

Gameplay mechanics aside, the demo still shows off a number of improvements despite being very limited in scope. The graphics aren’t improved too greatly, but the vaunted player faces do look more like the real thing, and the damaged pitch feature is a nice touch. Sliding and running will make marks in the surface, and the individual blades of grass are noticeable and fold under players’ feet.

The best non-gameplay upgrade is probably to the team management and tactics screen, which is a godsend compared to the menus in the past. You no longer have to scroll through a stacked list of names, but can instead just flick through your formation in any direction. Additionally, pressing one button on a player brings up a list of the appropriate subs, so you can make a choice quickly. You can also drag a player around the pitch diagram to adjust his placement in the formation without diving into multiple submenus and having to save that tactics profile.

There’s plenty in FIFA 15 that cannot be addressed in the demo, unfortunately, but what is there is very promising. To me, it’s the largest leap in presentation, ease-of-use, and core gameplay mechanics all at once in years, and I have no problem saying I enjoy playing the demo quite a bit. Playing the matches, even with no long-term stakes and offline only, is simply a lot of fun. I did not go into the experience expecting it to play that differently from last year’s game, but it seems the developers have paid attention to small but important details–I’m hopeful the full game is as pleasantly surprising.

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