EA scores a goal with their touchscreen controls
When it comes to gigantic companies like EA making mobile versions of their popular console games, the process is clearly a work in progress. There hasn’t yet been a truly definitive version of Madden for smartphones and tablets, yet the newest foray into soccer, FIFA 14, is a surprisingly great way to play some football – and better yet, it’s mostly free.
One of the best things FIFA 14 has going for it is touch controls that actually work. Passing is especially slick, as a simple tap on a teammate will direct a pass toward him, with the game figuring out what kind of pass is needed based on how far away you are at the moment. You can also pass to space simply by tapping on a specific spot on the pitch, and the whole system is very effective.
Shots, punts by the goalkeeper, and long clearance attempts are pulled off by drawing an arc on the screen with your finger, and if anything, shooting might be a little too easy in some cases. There’s a little less precision on defense, though you can call for your men to pressure the current possessor of the ball with just a tap and go for slide tackles with a well-timed swipe. An option is in place to revert to a virtual thumbstick and buttons, but it’s doubtful you’ll want to go that route once you see what EA has done with touch.
Play modes include quick online matches against live opponents and the ability to play your favorite team’s upcoming real life fixture, but the real meat and potatoes is Ultimate Team, where you slowly build a team of players from leagues all over the world into a powerhouse. Ultimate Team has nearly all the features found in the console versions of FIFA 14, including leagues with relegation and promotion, and an auction house where you can bid the coins earned in matches on individual players to bolster your squad.
That’s a pretty nice way to play for free, and while you can purchase packs of Ultimate Team players for real money, there’s nothing forcing you to do so. Three other gameplay modes can also be unlocked for one price: Kick Off, allowing you to play an instant match between any two teams; Tournament, featuring real competitions with trophies on the line; and Manager Mode, where you attempt to shepherd your favorite club to glory over the course of 15 seasons.
In all of these modes, FIFA 14 takes full advantage of the crazy number of licenses it holds, depicting real players and teams from 40 different leagues that span the globe. The graphics aren’t quite console quality but certainly hold their own in maybe every way but hair styles, and automatic updates mean the rosters and kits stay up to date. On the audio side, the default setting is to hear the game’s excellent soundtrack while you play, but commentary tracks in five different languages can also be downloaded if you so desire.
Really, the only thing that could hinder your mobile soccer enjoyment is the strength of your internet connection. Online games against live opponents have a tendency to hang up in spots if that connection isn’t rock solid, though there is an in-game indicator to help you see if that’s the case. Occasional disconnections from the EA server can lead to some frustrations in Ultimate Team mode as well – there’s nothing more cringe-inducing than when it happens at the end of a match you’ve just won, forcing you to replay the whole thing – though in fairness this is true of the console versions too.
Those aren’t reasons big enough for soccer fans to bypass FIFA 14 though. Assuming you’ve got room on your device for the 1.3 GB download, this is soccer done right, and for a price that can’t be beat. Now if only EA could figure out how to translate the same magic to other sports…