With the memories of this summer’s soccer spectacle in Brazil beginning to fade just a bit (except maybe in Germany), football fans around the world are looking forward to the next big event: the release of the latest game in EA’s annual FIFA series. While most of the world will see FC Barcelona’s Lionel Messi on the cover, copies of FIFA 15 in the US and Canada will feature US Men’s National Team captain and Seattle Sounders forward Clint Dempsey. The FIFA development team has been hard at work building on last year’s strong effort, so we were understandably excited to check the game out last week during the FIFA 15 FanFest event (where fans had the chance to both play FIFA 15 and meet Mr. Dempsey himself) at Seattle’s CenturyLink field, home of Dempsey’s Sounders.
Will Tuttle, Editor in Chief of Xbox Wire: Before we get into the game itself (and to lessen the impact of my poor head-to-head showing), let’s break down our footy resumes. I consider myself a casual fan who appreciates watching games and gets caught up in the excitement of both men’s and women’s World Cup and Olympic tournaments. You, on the other hand, are what most Americans would call a “soccer maniac” who has a favorite English Premier League team, a favorite MLS team, and the ability to explain different field formations to me before beating me in both games of FIFA 15 we played.
Jeff Rubenstein, Senior Xbox Evangelist: Now that we’ve suitably lowered expectations for your performance, Will, let’s get to the game itself. As we played a surprisingly tight opening match, several details jumped out at me as being new to FIFA 15 – more naturally fitting kits (or jerseys, if you prefer), an excellently-animated hooking slide tackle, the way the goal frame rocked as I caromed both a close-range header and a follow-up shot off the woodwork. More than once, my frustration with missing clear chances was echoed by the players on-screen, part of what EA is referring to as “emotional intelligence.” They were right – it really should’ve been more of a blowout.
Will: The new emphasis on the ebb and flow of emotion in a match is pretty striking. It was one thing to hear about it from a producer; it was another to really see it in action once the game was under way. It wasn’t as noticeable in our first match, which really was pretty even in stats like time of possession and shots, but it became clear from their body language early in our second game that my players knew they were outclassed. But hey, at least your constant barrage of point-blank shots gave us the chance to check out the impressive new goalkeeper AI. My virtual goalie was positively Howardian in stopping 15 of your 16 shots and visibly adjusted naturally when my porous defense broke down. His emotional intelligence definitely involved berating his inadequate teammates.
Jeff: When teams are evenly matched (such as your Bayern Munich selection to my Borussia Dortmund side), I do believe it’s customary to blame the manager. FIFA 15 is, rest assured, FIFA as we know it – deservedly the most popular soccer sim available, with new tweaks and enhancements that longtime players are sure to notice. Producer Santiago Jaramillo told me that one of the team’s goals is for the casual observer to mistake FIFA gameplay for an actual televised match. From what we’ve seen, that bar is well within reach.
Will: I can totally see that happening. At one point during the demo before our hands-on, Jaramillo showed off the interplay between crowd and players, as the home supporters in Liverpool’s Anfield stadium serenaded its team with a rousing rendition of “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” I looked up from my notes and, as my goosebumps rose, forgot that I wasn’t watching a real game for a moment. Talk about emotion.
Jeff: Whether it’s the fully-voiced chants from crowd in England or the frantic hopping of South American audiences, those in the stands are a huge part of the flavor of professional football. So no surprise that EA saw fit to more accurately model crowd behavior. Let’s agree to a rematch in hopes that next time you’ll give your virtual fans more to cheer for.
Will: Ouch. Are there red cards given for taunting?
Now, while we weren’t treated to everything that surrounds on the pitch gameplay, we do know that Ultimate Team Legends will once again be exclusive to Xbox. We’ll share more details as they become available. FIFA 15 ships for Xbox One and Xbox 360 on September 23.