(Image via Electronic Arts)
I play a lot of FIFA 13 with my friends, and most of the games become wide-open, attacking contests, with one player rushing forward on the attack before the other player counters. It's a ton of fun, of course, but at times it feels more like a game of spread-out hockey than it does a soccer match.
But I expect that will change somewhat in FIFA 14.
This year's game has put a new emphasis on both build-up play and defensive intelligence. Your player will be able to turn in any direction while sprinting on the ball—a new feature this year—but the game will also take into account momentum, meaning that quick cut to the left may cause your player to take a heavy touch.
It will at once make attacking defenders one-on-one a more liberating experience and also a tricky one, as you'll need to know if your player is agile enough to make certain cuts or if you'll be taking him out of his comfort zone.
There will also be a new emphasis on shielding the ball for offensive players to counteract the ability of defenders to shield attackers from the ball or jostle for position.
But build-up play is about more than just individual matchups—it's more about the intelligence of players off the ball. As Daniel Krupa of IGN writes, there will be a new emphasis on improving that intelligence across the pitch:
Build-up play is not only being supported by what you can do on the ball but what your teammates are doing all around you. There’s been a drive to make them much smarter. Marking is much tighter with players making more intelligent defensive decisions right across the pitch. Previously, defenders made judgement calls based on single frames of animation, but that wouldn’t always cope so well with players who check their runs or more complex attacking plays. FIFA 14's defenders now make decisions based on multiple frames of gameplay, resulting in more reliable, less impulsive decision making.
Your team will also defend much more cohesively, boxing in players, denying that easy outlet pass. This intelligence is also present when you’re attacking, too—players will now cannily check their runs, turn defenders, run along the defensive line. They’re all handy visual cues, subtly letting you know what options are available. It not only looks closer to the real game with lots of incidents happening across the field, it's hoped that it'll also provide a more intuitive way of conveying information to the player, especially those unfamiliar with the series.
What this should mean is that playing smart soccer, rather than purely aggressive soccer, should be much more fruitful in FIFA 14. Simply running your players ragged up and down the pitch, trying to score after a few passes in a cross won't be as fruitful as slowly building your attack, making smart, one-touch passes and timing runs and through balls to sneak behind defenders.
FIFA 14 will also benefit from the new Ignite Engine.
Everybody plays FIFA differently, of course, but what these changes should mean is that the style you prefer will be easier to pull off in this game. Want to play tiki-taka with Barcelona or Spain, controlling possession and ping-ponging the ball around the center of the pitch?
You should be able to do that, effectively, in this game. Want to pressure high up the pitch and strike quickly on the counter when you recover the ball like Bayern Munich? That too should be a feasible option.
My hope for this game is that it fosters true clashes of styles and adds another layer of strategy to the game play. By improving the mechanics of the build-up and the defensive intelligence to thwart that build-up, it sounds like FIFA is on the right track to do so.