Over the last few years the FIFA franchise has been continually fine-tuning the gaming experience, offering what may seem like tweaks, but are actually fundamental evolutions of the series. New physics continue to push the series in a more realistic direction, which in turn offers a new and more polished game. You might not immediately notice the changes on the surface, but as soon as you start to play the game you can tell that there are differences separating the annual iterations. So those that are fans and have already played FIFA 13 are going to notice a few setbacks.
Player Impact Engine, tactical defending, and precision dribbling are lacking some of the fine-tuning found in the Xbox 360 and PS3 version, something EA Sports has been up front about for a while now. The development of FIFA 13 for the Wii U was consuming and it took a great deal of time – time that the teams working on the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions used to fine tune what became the finished product. The Wii U team didn’t have that luxury. This is fairly common for ports of games on new hardware, and EA Sports has constantly been a victim of this – or perpetrator, depending on your point of view. Regardless, the new additions were a good step forward for the series, and while they aren’t gone, they aren’t the same either.
The addictive Ultimate Team card game is also absent. EA Sports claims this is primarily because the Wii U’s online infrastructure is still in its infancy, but regardless its absence is unfortunate.
In general, the game is closer to FIFA 12 than FIFA 13 in many ways. The graphics are on par with the PS3/Xbox 360 versions for the most part, and the animations flow smoothly with the 60 fps. The effects like sun light and shadow are better than before, but it doesn’t come close to touching the full potential of the Wii U.
But while the game does sacrifice a few things in the name of making a launch window release, the time that wasn’t spent on fine tuning some of the background mechanics and finding a way to make the Ultimate Team mode work was well spent on the inclusion of the GamePad. The tablet-like controller uses every inch of the smaller display, cramming all the information you could possibly need onto the touchscreen.
Formations can be realigned on the fly, and you can mark men by touching their names. You can use the radar to find where your chosen player is, then send them up or down field. Substitutions are a matter of tapping the players you want to come in for those heading out, fatigue and individual statuses of players can be shown by selecting them on the touchscreen, and tactics can be changed with a button press.
This also creates a low impact managerial gameplay mode, similar to the previous manger modes but easier to use. There is an option to take a hands-off approach and not play the game at all, but rather act as the manager and treat it all like one tactical exercise, making the changes necessary and managing the teams without once dribbling the ball yourself. It is a mode that should appeal to the hardcore fans that love their tactical battles, as well as those that may be just learning the franchise and aren’t prepared to play quite yet.
If you prefer, you can also play the full game on the GamePad. Doing this offers you a few other options like touching the player you want to pass the ball to and shooting by hitting the right thumb stick, which brings up a net on the GamePad that you can touch where you’d like the kick to go. It is an intriguing idea, but feels a bit gimmicky. You can also shake the GamePad to bring up the net visual, but it seems somewhat ridiculous to shake an expensive new piece of hardware, and it is distracting anyway. Sprinting at the goal, then suddenly shaking the GamePad doesn’t feel natural – or at least not nearly as natural as just hitting the shoot button. It is an entirely optional feature though.
Given another year or two with the hardware, EA Sports has the potential to do some impressive things with this series. Once the developers can synch up the development cycle for the Wii U with those of the PS3 and Xbox 360, the Wii U version will actually be superior to its cousins, even though they are mostly the same.
In all other ways, the game is pure FIFA. The GamePad controller is comfortable, and the gameplay is responsive. Five players can also join at once.
It all comes back to the GamePad inclusion. The Wii U development forced a few sacrifices, which is not surprising for new hardware, but the additions are good for now and intriguing for the future. Still, you would expect a little more of the more powerful hardware, and fans will notice the things that are missing.
It really is a trade off. You lose an addictive game mode and some of the improvements to the physics for a chance to micro-manage the game in a way that hasn’t been possible before. The options have been available, but it hasn’t been practical to use them as much as you can now. It all highlights the potential of the series, which is huge.
Score: 8.5 out of 10
(This game was reviewed on the Wii U using a copy provided by the publisher)