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Note: This review only applies to the PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions of FIFA 15. Due to the nature of the development for both last and current gen hardware we can not apply our experiences with this version to those available on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. This review also does not apply to the Wii, Vita and 3DS versions as these are the Legacy editions of the game.

FIFA_HEADER_STORYFor the past few years EA and EA Sports have been consistent in delivering one of the highest-quality soccer experiences available in the genre, but does FIFA 15 offer anything new, or does it simply improve upon past mechanics and offer a sizeable roster-update?

One of the first things to think about here is the fact that in a genre likes this you’ll obviously be limited when it comes to offering new experiences, but what the FIFA franchise has been doing consistently well for the past few years is improving upon its core mechanics, and due to its scope and popularity the franchise has been almost single-handedly carrying the soccer-genre on its shoulders in the past few years.

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Sports simulators are traditionally covered by two player-bases: the hardcore soccer fans and the casual players who will spend time with their mates playing the game. But when it comes to offering a game like FIFA 15, the game has to make its content accessible for both hardcore and casual players alike, and luckily FIFA 15 handles this as well as the franchise usually does. But is FIFA 15 an improved package overall over its predecessors?

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As we head into our second year of the current generation of hardware players have been accustomed to the higher fidelity and detail that newer games have been offering, and FIFA 15 holds its own when it comes to this department. The stadiums look as vivid and lifelike as ever, and the new and improved crowds make every match more exhilarating than the franchise has ever been. Certain locations/stadiums may even have your fans reacting in a certain fashion or performing certain actions, which the commentators will even pick up on and react to. This adds a lot of dimension to the virtual world of FIFA 15. When it comes to the stadiums the most impressive improvement is the fact that the pitch will actually get dirtier as time progresses throughout the match. The same goes for the players, who will seem more exhausted visually as the match goes on.

Player models seem to be diverse when it comes to improvements over the previous iteration, and whilst most of the players look to be more detailed, the rest seems to be either at the same level or worse. This isn’t necessarily a test of detail, but more of likenesses. The modeling of the hairstyles of the players seems to be well done, though the modeling and physics of longer hairstyles leave something to be desired, even if it’s a massive improvement over FIFA 14.

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When it comes to the players the animations have never been more lifelike. Dribbling, passing, every single movement is as fluidly animated as ever and adds a lot to the realism of the game as a whole. Of course glitches in these animations are to be expected, and whilst I didn’t experience them constantly, they’re still as present as ever.  Even though these glitches are present, FIFA 15’s animations are some of the most impressive that I’ve seen in the sporting genre so far, and I have to commend EA Sports on their astounding work on this front.

The lighting engine has also been improved significantly, and compliments the new player and stadium models to an extent where things such as the grass texture simply look lifelike. Player models are also nicely complimented by the new lighting and shaders, though there are a few lighting situations where players won’t look that nicely up close, though these moments seemed to be rare during my sessions. The colour palette of the game is incredibly vivid, and the grass and player clothing really pop when it comes to the visuals.

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During both gameplay and replays I did notice a few instances where the game had some aliasing issues, resulting in some jagged edges on player and environment models. These issues didn’t occur often, but they were definitely clearly visible when they did. The game runs in 1080p with 60 frames per second on both PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, and during my sessions I encountered no noticeable frame drops, resulting in clear and fluid gameplay as is to be expected with the FIFA franchise. Of course performance on PC may vary by the setup of your rig.

FIFA 15’s user interface should be easily recognisable for returning players, as for the most part it’s a simple reskin of last year’s user interface, albeit with some changes to conform to FIFA 15’s current feature set. Cloaked in a darker color scheme the user interface is still as visually appealing and functional as it has been last year. Navigation to features and settings seemed to be very fluid and easy-of-use, making the UI a nice finish on a very polished product. Team management has undergone a huge overhaul making the process a much more visual one.

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Many of FIFA 15’s biggest changes may not be visible at first glance, but ultimately they create drastic changes in the gameplay department. Some for the better, some for the worse, and some for both. First up is FIFA 15’s “Living Pitch” feature, which not only wears down the pitch visually as the match progresses, but can also offer drastic effects on player footing due to the wear and tear on it. The performance on your team can be heavily influenced by wear and tear of the pitch, and whilst you may not even notice it at first, these changes can effectively affect the outcome of the match.

Second is the new “Emotional Intelligence” of the AI. Your team will be affected by both their positive and negative decisions, affecting their performance throughout the match, and even their performance working together with other team members. Pressure will have a heavy effect on player performance, and whilst this feature sounds incredibly interesting it simply doesn’t function the way it should. Rather than just having the AI making more mistakes the feature effectively dumbs the AI down significantly to the point where some of their actions are simply frustrating to the player.

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Goalkeepers are most heavily affected by these issues, and whilst their AI has been well refined, certain situations will leave them in a constant state of panic where their decisions and actions are less than ideal for the game as a whole. When the AI of the goalkeeper is functioning properly their effectiveness and realism is impressive, though sometimes these glitches tend to mask what is otherwise a good example of great programming. Luckily these glitches aren’t that frequent, and FIFA 15’s Ai is incredibly impressive when you experience it at its best. The newly improved intelligence of the players also adds a new level of challenge for the player, where breaking the defensive line can be harder than it was in the previous iterations of the franchise.

Structure-wise most of the gameplay modes of FIFA 15 are pretty similar to FIFA 14’s offerings. Technical improvements on the visual and gameplay front make playing through a match a more intense experience than the franchise has ever been. Most of the mechanics of the game have the same functionality and structure, and for returning and new players FIFA 15 should have enough to offer for every player. You’ll have the option to start a career, a single match, an Ultimate Team career or contend in one of the skill games that the game has to offer, which are both fun and good for practicing your techniques.

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Ultimate Team remains largely the same, though there are some additions which further flesh out this well thought-out gameplay mode.First up are friendly seasons, which let you challenge a friend for a 1v1 version of the season gameplay. You now also have the ability to loan players, which could give your team a boost for the next few matches. These loans can be incredibly expensive though, but they do offer you a sampler of the player you could possibly acquire in the future. In the end these funds may be better off saved for the actual transfer, as a loan will take a significant chunk of your digital wallet. Concept squads are also available, which gives you the ability to create squads from players out of the Ultimate Team catalogue, which allows you to create a roadmap of future transfers and/or loans to flesh out your strategy for the rest of the season(s). Only downside to Ultimate Team is that the economy is obviously heavily influenced by micro-transactions, and whilst these aren’t required, many avid players will probably make use of this system, which may give them an edge in certain situations when it comes to the player selection and player auctions.

Online play is still as enjoyable as ever, and you’ll have the ability to challenge your friends to a 1v1 match, challenge their clubs while they’re away or put yourself into a pro club with your friends, allowing you to compete in 11v11 matches, which really is an exhilarating experience. From a technical standpoint online gameplay in FIFA 15 is very stable, though sometimes connection issues may create some aggravating situations. Disconnections before or at the end of the match may still result in losses, which is pretty frustrating wether you’re winning or not.

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