In addition, Real Life Ball-Bobble Physics™ or whatever EA Sports is calling it this week means that the ball no longer feels like it’s on a short piece of string to your player’s boot. While dribbling, it’s liable to get away from you. A recent patch has toned this down a notch, but prior to that update the phrase “his first touch is a pass” could apply to pretty much anybody in the game at any given moment.

These alterations mean that more finesse shots are being taken from outside the box, and more chances seem to be created by finding space down the wings and firing in a cross for a quick header. Oddly enough, the most recent patch has toned down both of these things after complaints from the community about their over-effectiveness. Finesse shooting did seem overpowered, but I wonder if its usefulness was in part down to the new engine changes forcing more people into trying that type of effort. The same goes for headers; though FIFA 14 does suffer from the same affliction of all games in the series that any attempt to switch players while a cross or corner is heading into your box has already messed you up. It always seems easier to stick with the player you’re given and just try to race him into the path of the ball.

Incongruous moments of play still occur too. I’ve already got a bit tired of seeing league one carthorse defenders making flawless overhead bicycle kick clearances while under pressure. As already mentioned earlier, the problem with AI defenders finding a magic burst of speed to shut down your striker (another series staple) seems to have been amplified by FIFA 14‘s tweaks to gameplay.

It’s easy to over-react to the changes made, but it is true that they dictate that the flow of play runs differently to FIFA 13. Whether people prefer one or the other will be down to personal preference, largely dependant on how much you enjoy build-up play. It now takes more effort (and potential frustration) to work a goal-scoring opportunity, and several avenues of passing seem to have been closed down. But the consequence can be a more rewarding feeling when you do find the net. The high-pressure pressing game from the AI and the new player momentum have neither broken the game nor elevated it to amazing new levels, they’ve simply changed the dynamics of play.

A quick word about the commentary, which is vaguely entertaining for a handful of matches until you get tired of hearing exactly the same anecdotes about a club and whether a somewhat aging player in the opposing team might be considering retiring this year. Alan Smith, I do not want to ever hear you utter the phrase “maybe he’s feeling his body” ever again. The team now has some halfway-decent callbacks to recent matches and makes comments relevant to the current form of the two sides, but there’s a pretty good chance you’ll be turning FIFA 14 into an excuse to catch up with podcasts or music of your own.

It’s either that or rely on the in-game soundtrack, which is not so much an exercise in listening to music as it is an early window into future smartphone ads. Ahh, remember when FIFA was a showcase for Gay Dad? Well, you shouldn’t. Stop thinking about that. It’s bad for you.

EA’s cash cow FIFA Ultimate Team is presented front and center in the game’s bizarre cascading menu layout (good luck finding the marginalised ‘Be a Pro’ mode about two layers deep,) but everything else that’s been added over the past couple of entries is present somewhere. Pro Clubs, Seasons, weird contemporary challenges (like “do better than Inter managed against Roma”) that give you in-game experience points for spending in an even stranger in-game ‘store’ and your basic friendlies (multiplayer or otherwise.)

God, sorry, I’ve drifted into features list territory again. See how easy that is?

Judged as an isolated title, FIFA 14 is a confident and accomplished version of virtual football. Pick it up with no prior knowledge of any previous title and there’s little doubt you’d be hugely impressed (albeit probably somewhat confused and overwhelmed by all of the different modes of play available.) But videogames don’t exist in a vacuum, and concurrent FIFA titles should really be held up against the rest of the series. Viewed through that lense, this latest entry is different, but not exactly revelatory. It plays a different game to FIFA 13, but it’s debatable whether that game is superior.

I’ve little doubt that I’ll be playing it for many, many (many) hours, but this is a series entry that exists because it’s possible to earn huge sums of money by releasing a full-priced version of FIFA (rather than a cheap squad update) every year. It’s a strong game by virtue of the fact that the EA Sports team has honed their football craft, but the changes, for the most part, really only take it sideways. That’s what this version of FIFA 14 is. A safe, sensible sideways pass at the end of a technological generation.

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