Price: £50 / $60
Release: Out now
Developer: EA Sports
Multiplayer: Online, co-op and competitive
By Jon Denton
How fitting that on the day I review FIFA 15, I am retweeted by my eight-year-old self's footballing hero, Gary Lineker. His exploits in the 1990 World Cup (defecating himself on the pitch notwithstanding) kickstarted a life-long love affair with football, and his own game Gary Lineker's Hot Shot on the Amiga began a search for my own perfect football game, a search that continues nearly a quarter of a century later.
If I'd told that eight-year-old kid that one day he'd be playing FIFA 15, with its world-class physics engine, unmatched audio, countless leagues, nets that bulge and even lift off the ground, and its own bloody collectible card game, he'd look at me in amazement. And not just the kind that comes from seeing a bearded version of himself from the future. And if I then told him that I was going to pick holes in this game, he'd be well within his rights to slap me in the face.
Yet that is what I must do, but before I break down where FIFA 15 breaks down, it's definitely worth mentioning that this, finally, is the version of FIFA PC gamers deserve. Unlike the knock-off versions we've had over the years, this is the proper, Ignite Engine-fuelled, 'next-gen' iteration of FIFA 15, with every bell and referee's whistle you'll find on PS4 or Xbox One. It runs very well on an upper mid-range rig, and despite the relative lack of graphics options, immediately feels like a console game running on the PC, which in this rare case is probably what you want.
EA's mantra this year is 'Feel The Game', which is a marketer's way of saying they've captured the emotional and dramatic side of the sport, along with all the kicking and running. This is tantamount to cutscenes showing players dropping to their knees at a missed chance, shouting at each other when mistakes are made, pushing opponents after a bad tackle, but it does breathe life into a series that has always felt a little robotic.
If all this adds character to proceedings, it's the goalkeepers who provide the muscle. EA's calling them 'next-gen keepers', which doesn't really mean anything, but they're noticeably better than they ever have been, That doesn't just mean they're harder to beat either - they also make more believable mistakes. It's infinitely more gratifying to score five on-on-ones that see the goalkeeper react in different ways than it is to score the exact same goal five times, even if the end result is the same.
FIFA 15 is probably EA's most convincing and varied effort, then, but it still struggles in some key areas. It might look like football, but it rarely flows like football. Matches - especially online - are almost always played on the counterattack, with quick reverse passes to the strikers far too easy to pull off. Matches, then, take place in constant transition, far more like basketball than the gradual shifts in momentum that 'real' football typically enjoys. This is less of an issue when playing against the AI, but this raises its own problems. Computer controlled players seem hell bent on proving that FIFA 15's dribbling game is stronger than last year's, and consistently attempt ridiculous runs that more often than not result in them getting tackled.
You can dive into the menus and tweak almost every aspect of the game, from the speed to the amount of control you have in passing, even through to the AI tendencies of other players, and it is possible to strike a better balance. While customisation should never be sniffed at, do you really want to be responsible for creating the game that you've paid for? It's like going to those restaurants where you cook your own steak on a hot bit of stone. No, I'm paying you to do that mate. Nice chips though (yes, that is a football pun).
Off the pitch, FIFA 15 is an incredible package. YouTube favourite, Ultimate Team, returns with the ability to loan star players, and is as life-consuming as you want it to be, while the online Seasons mode (and its coop brother) are as captivating as ever. It should be said that online FIFA is a subtly different game - the latency is imperceptible, but in such a physics-driven simulation, even tiny delays in input can effect how you dribble and shoot. As such it tends to focus more on pace and high-through balls in favour of tactical build up.
The strongest FIFA yet, then? Yes, especially for PC-only players who are sick of being stuck with an inferior effort, but as much as FIFA 15 captures the emotional side of the game, it still hasn't quite found its beating heart. And as such, my Lineker-inspired journey continues.