Then, I want to say, FIFA 15 has done remarkably well, but FIFA has come an awful long way. A New Year, will we finally see a ‘New’ FIFA?
First and foremost FIFA’s gameplay development team have worked absolute wonders over the last eight years, taking the truly woeful FIFA 06/07 all the way through to the living, breathing football interpretation we say today. FIFA 15 is not without fault of course, but FIFA has come an awful long way since those dark times and before I proceed, it’s well worth remembering that.
But during that period of rapid evolutionary gameplay development, and technical advancement something got lost. Whatever FIFA stands for, whatever EA’s ‘vision’ for what FIFA is, has slowly been eroded by the sheer weight of feature additions over that time. Pro Passing, 360 Dribble, Elite Technique, The Impact Engine, Pure Shot, First Touch Control, Attacking Intelligence, Complete Dribbling to name just a few of the countless buzz words, which have made both large and small changes to what happens when we cross the digital white line.
EA’s change control around code will no doubt be extremely well established, but even they won’t truly understand how they got from FIFA 09, to FIFA 15 because those worlds are now poles apart. And it’s those forgotten journeys and lessons learnt between old FIFA’s which I feel are starting to impact today’s game. FIFA has grown exponentially, faster than anyone could have ever anticipated, and the game feels like it’s starting to creak under its own weight.
FIFA 15′s metacritic was 82, FIFA 14′s was 87, FIFA 13′s was 88, FIFA 12′s was 90, FIFA 11′s 89 and FIFA 10′s a record 91. That’s a fairly sharp dip this year and personally I feel it’s a bit of a wake-up call for EA to actually say “stop”. It’s an incredibly difficult thing to do in an industry as pressurised as this, but sometimes just stopping the bandwagon is the best thing you can do. Especially when your game is on an annual release cycle, because you only really get 9 months of unhindered development time, and that gets eaten up faster than FIFA sells.
What I think EA need to do is take FIFA back to basics. Really crystallising what makes football as a sport, and FIFA as a game tick, stripping everything else away and only adding back in what truly matters. For me the fundamentals of enjoyable football gameplay boil down to three things, biomechanics, passing and positioning. If those three things aren’t right, then little else works when it comes to football gaming. Oddly enough, FIFA has gotten by without adequate positioning logic for as long as I can remember, but it’s underdevelopment is undoubtedly at the heart of many of the games issues.
This is not me suggesting, that FIFA needs to be scrapped (far from it) because many of its systems like ball physics for example are first rate, and would happily grace any sports simulation. But beneath that, the fundamental layers of the game need a new perspective. FIFA (as I’ve already written) can learn a number of key lessons from the recent PES 2015, and there’s certainly no shame in that. EA have always seemed reluctant to reduce FIFA’s speed of motion because it might detract from ‘mass appeal’ but every FIFA YouTuber under the sun, has credited PES for its more methodical approach. They’re normally held up (incorrectly) as the stereotypical ‘arcade’ FIFA fans, and even they liked something more rooted in realism. A false assumption if ever there was one.
We all throw our own needs and wants at EA every year, and some of it is fully valid, and absolutely needed. But there’s a critical balance to be struck here, which actually requires EA to minimise outside influence (to a degree) and just make the football game they want to make. Without worrying about upsetting the mass market (which for the most part doesn’t know what it wants anyway) and just make the best football game they can sticking to a core vision similar to the one that was set out all those years ago, at the turning of the tide around FIFA 08. Creative control and single vision is so important within the arts (and gaming is an art) and it’s that singular direction which I feel has been missing the last few years.
Most things move in cycles, and FIFA for me feels like it’s coming to the end of a long and monumentally successful one right now. And as series fans we can only hope that FIFA 16 marks the beginning of something new, because another year of the same with a rejuvenated rival chasing hard, may represent the franchises most difficult year to date. Whatever went on strategically around the time of FIFA 08 and EA’s preparation for what was then ‘the next generation of consoles’ needs to be the blueprint for FIFA on next-gen consoles now, and it needs to happen fast, because only then will we see a truly new FIFA.