Surprisingly, if you’re about to show off your new Xbox One to a group of curious friends, booting up FIFA 14 is one of the best places to start. The game looks nice, no question – even though it’s essentially a souped-up respray of the Xbox 360 version – but it’s the way that Kinect has been implemented that perfectly illustrates just how well your new console works. You’ve been able to use Kinect in FIFA on Xbox 360 since last year’s FIFA 13, but it was never perfect: here it’s so close to perfect that it’s very likely to cause multiple jaws to drop.
Rather than using simplified phrases like “Sub One” as you did last year, here you’re using the player’s actual names, and Kinect recognises them with astonishing swiftness. The system looks a heck of a lot nicer too, with a rolling ticker tape display at the bottom of the screen that includes small pictures of each player; a satisfying blue light throbbing behind the image of the selected man as soon as you yell his name out. You can also change formations, tactics and your team’s overall mentality, and it almost always works like a dream. If you need convincing that Microsoft was right to continue on its quest to get Kinect into as many living rooms as humanly possible, FIFA 14 is (at present) definitely the game that’s best equipped to do it.
Kinect aside, the visuals have been touched up in fine style, and there are far more unique player animations than there were before: you’ll notice them mostly when you’re shielding the ball from an aggressive opponent or just simply tapping it between your back four. Overall the visuals just seem to glide, especially during slow-motion replays that are so ridiculously smooth that they occasionally look like high-def broadcast television.
The crowd are now rendered in three dimensions so it no longer looks like you’re being watched by a few thousand cardboard cut-outs, and the audio is much improved as well: you can occasionally make out random chants starting, and hearing noisy crowd fanfare escalate as you sprint towards the goal only makes a naturally exciting game even more thrilling. In short, the on-the-pitch stuff is downright marvellous, and if you’re playing competitively online or against a friend on local co-op, you may come to the conclusion that this is easily the best FIFA yet. There are a few unfortunate problems, however.
The most troubling of which is the fact that some of FIFA’s most popular modes have been unceremoniously culled. There’s no Tournament mode, and no Be A Pro mode outside of career, but if you’re thinking of upgrading to this version from the Xbox 360 one the move is highly recommended nevertheless. It’s definitely infuriating that (in particular) Be A Pro is now gone, as that has recently blossomed into one of FIFA’s most refined and enjoyable diversions, but it’s tough to get too upset when you’re left with the polished and often hilarious likes of Co-Op Seasons mode, as well as the extensive and staggeringly addictive might of Ultimate Team.
Speaking of Ultimate Team, when you open up a Gold Rare pack it’s now possible that you’ll come across a Legendary Player, all of whom are exclusive to the Xbox 360 and Xbox One versions of the game. Players like Ruud Gullit, Gianfranco Zola, Dennis Bergkamp and Gary Lineker are among the forty-plus legends who are just waiting to be discovered, and once you’ve gotten one (or more) of them on your team the game brings out updated match commentary to accommodate. And if you’re feeling really brave, you can also take part in an Ultimate Team Legend’s Challenge, which pits your own ragtag bunch of reprobates against a team that’s comprised exclusively of some of the best footballers who’ve ever walked the earth. Good luck with that.
Perhaps the best news though is that corners have been upgraded, and that the Xbox 360 version’s most maddening problem has now been resolved. On 360, not only would most defenders occasionally ignore the fact that a penalty was even being taken, but shorter attacking players like Carlos Tevez were magically able to leap above defenders twice their size. There was nothing quite like losing a game in the dying seconds after conceding a headed goal that all of your defenders seemed to be actively ignoring, but now that feeling has been resigned to the dustbin of FIFA history.
Lofted through balls are still a tad too accurate – making attacks up the wing far too easy to set up – but on balance, pound for pound, this might just be the best version of any FIFA currently available on any format. It’s fast, polished and deeply compelling in both multiplayer and Ultimate Team, and with new Legendary players available every week and some World Cup DLC rumoured to be in the offing, this is more than enough to keep you going until FIFA 15 rolls around.