• November 24, 2014

Game On: Cheers for 'FIFA 14'; 'Pro Evolution Soccer 2014' not as good

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Posted: Thursday, October 3, 2013 4:30 am | Updated: 10:01 am, Thu Oct 10, 2013.

''FIFA 14"

Platforms: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360

Genre: Sports

Publisher: EA Sports

ESRB Rating: E, for Everyone

Grade: 3.5 stars (out of 5)

I've used this space to lampoon EA for not making substantive changes to its NFL- and NHL-related properties. Now I get to celebrate EA for not making any real alterations to one of its core sports franchises, as "FIFA 14" only makes the slightest of tweaks to an already fantastic brand of soccer simulation.

Most of the dramatic improvements to "FIFA" occurred in the 2012 edition, from the 360-degree ball-handling to improved body positioning and tackling. "FIFA 14" doesn't rest necessarily on those laurels, instead taking a more measured approach to refine and improve what already stands out as stellar.

The way you shield the ball, engage in contact with defenders and better direct passes to streaking players combine to make the game fluid -- and insert a sense of pace into the matches. You can't just dribble willy-nilly through a maze of midfielders and defenders and slam the ball into the net. Building up your attack from the middle, stringing passes together and finding your wingers and strikers in the best positions possible, now becomes absolutely critical. Sure, people who knock soccer for being a low-scoring sport will laugh at this game for making scoring even harder. But for soccer fans, "FIFA 14" now feels like the game they love so much.

Some updates to the menus make getting onto the pitch faster and remove a lot of the clutter, which in 2013 makes you a successful game alone just for that. The online modes continue to shine, and while diverse in the offerings, it would behoove EA to invest resources into improving the single-player modes for those times when you just want a unique experience without having to join leagues and wait to meet up with others.

The drop in quality for "Pro Evolution" means that EA now has a stranglehold on the soccer genre. I hope the company doesn't get lackadaisical, but instead continues refining and improving what is now the best video-game representation of the beautiful sport.

''Pro Evolution Soccer 2014"

Platforms: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360

Genre: Sports

Publisher: Konami

ESRB Rating: E, for Everyone

Grade: 2 stars (out of 5)

I haven't settled on what disappoints me most about "PES 2014"-- the seemingly overt desire to look and play just like the alternative soccer franchise from EA Sports; or the way in which the implementation was so shoddily done that it ruins a once-great soccer property.

I can understand the desire to move your franchise toward the likes of EA's. The arcade-style swiftness of previous "PES" games feels dated as more sports properties look to provide as realistic an experience as possible. But in doing so, "PES" becomes less of an alternative option to the EA juggernaut and more like a halfhearted wannabe.

''PES" always felt like it had a stronger following outside of the U.S. market, and I hate to see it just trying to be too similar to a competitor for the sake of perhaps selling more units.

This edition falls flat on the most important part of the game: the action on the pitch. Sure, snappier passing and more strategic buildup help the game's realism, but your AI teammates often overrun their position (or don't run at all), leaving your strategy often stuck. The new gaming engine allows for more impressive graphics, so at least the game you are playing looks like it took place within the last three years. Then again, with recycled commentary like the stuff spewed here, you may just want to opt for listening to the radio rather than hear the same in-game opinions nonstop.

Longtime fans who have stuck with "PES" for this long don't have to jump ship right away. This may merely be a year of transition for the franchise as it finds new legs, but steadier footing must be found because nothing breeds better gaming than healthy competition.

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