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FIFA 14 comparison: A generation apart

The difference a generation makes

For years, I put off my growing need to wear spectacles. This was partly due to the fact I resembled a certain infamous wizard when wearing specs, and partly due to my insistence that my eyesight was, in fact, fine. It was only when I started to pose a risk to fellow motorists that I decided to accept that I was blind and needed a pair.

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The difference it made to my life was incredible; everything became clear, not in terms of the meaning of life (I’m still working on that), but visually. This is how I found the transition between FIFA 14 on Xbox 360 and Xbox One.

I should start this by saying that the Xbox 360 version is by no means a bad game. It was another excellent continuation of an already excellent franchise, with new features such as precision movement bringing exciting changes to game-play. Such was the impressive nature of the game that I questioned how much the new-gen console could improve upon.

I was aware that EA had made little effort to hide the fact that they had spent the majority of their time developing FIFA 14 for the new-gen consoles, but still my doubts remained. I was wrong. The Grand Canyon is a mere surface crack compared to the chasm between the game on the 360 and the One.

The precision movement feature on the 360 version had rendered the game slower, something which once mastered, could be appreciated. There were drawbacks however. Whilst the players’ movements were more intrinsic, there were occasions in which they seemed to suffer massive brain farts and fall over one another – hilarious but frustrating. These minor flaws were easily ignored, until the new-gen game came to the party. Only now is it apparent how much ‘little brother’ has suffered.

Thanks to EA’s new Ignite system, FIFA 14 on Xbox One is a jaw dropping masterpiece of visual pyrotechnics and incredibly realistic game-play. It now makes sense why the players occasionally act peculiarly on the 360 version, this precision movement was always intended as the glorious centrepiece around which the Xbox One version was to revolve. FIFA aficionados will note that unlike in previous titles, FIFA 14 requires more care and decision making when choosing what to do with your player. Previously, a pre-meditated action would allow your player to execute an outrageous off-balance turn or incredible burst of speed to evade a marker. Now we have to ensure that our player is in the right position at all times, and only if they are balanced when passing or shooting will you get any joy. On the Xbox 360 version, this at times seemed unnecessarily slow and clunky, but on the One it becomes clear that you are dealing with the most advanced sports sim ever created.

When EA announced they would be using the Ignite Engine on FIFA and other sports sims, they told us it would give players “ten times greater animation fidelity” and “human-like intelligence”. It was a bold claim. EA, I am delighted to announce, were true to their word. Once I had played FIFA 14 on the Xbox One I realised I could no longer play it on my faithful 360. It would be akin to having a steamy one-night-stand with Megan Fox only to return home to Susan Boyle.

This game on the One throws you head first into the cauldron that is a top-flight football match. Visually, it is as close to watching a game on the T.V as humanly possible. The Ignite engine brings the entire environment to life from the moment the teams walk on to the field, to the match itself and right to after the final whistle. At the risk of alienating those who do not yet own an Xbox One, the contrast between this and the 360 game is staggering.

 

FIFA14_cut_sceneYou’ve got to enjoy the little things

The most marked difference comes in the fine details of the game. EA’s strap-line “It just got real” is not only very clever, but also entirely accurate. When a goal is scored, the stadium explodes into life. On the 360 version, sections of the crowd suddenly broke out into a mid 90’s rave dance to show their approval for your efforts. On the Xbox One however, you are rewarded with a gloriously realistic crowd reaction and as your player runs to celebrate with his adoring fans, you get the sense of the drama of this game.

On top of all this come sublime cut scenes when the ball goes out of play. Either the goal-keeper will nip behind the goal to pick up the ball and place it on it’s spot, or you will be shown a replay of a goal and then a close up of the ensuing celebration. All this is given a polish by perfectly timed commentary from the team of Tyler and Smith.

Another clever detail is found using the Kinect system for the Xbox One. If, like me, you are prone to occasional foul-mouthed rant at the T.V when playing FIFA, then you may find yourself in hot water. For example, during a particularly close match the referee awarded my opponent a very soft free-kick to which my response was “F**king Hell referee!” What I wasn’t aware of, however, was that the Kinect spotted the mutinous tone in my voice and, when in the post-game menu, I was greeted by an e-mail from the board of directors warning me that any more touchline histrionics would not be tolerated and my position at the club was in jeopardy.

They are little touches, but they make a world of difference.

It is with great satisfaction that I can report to you that FIFA 14 on the Xbox One is not merely a ported version from the previous console, but rather a ground breaking triumph of next generation game play. Games such as Call Of Duty: Ghosts have received criticism for not exploiting the power of these next-gen consoles, instead simply being a ported version of the same game. FIFA 14 is the shining example of next-gen gaming. If you have not yet sampled it, I implore you to do so. You will never look back.

 

 

 

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Hamilton and Button

F1 2013 Classic Edition

I am a massive fan of F1I’ve been hooked on it since 1994 when, as no more than a wee lad of 6 years old, I turned on the telebox to be presented with these loud, fast, colourful machines hauling ass round a strip of asphalt. F1 isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but for those of us who love it, this time of year is a turning point. The F1 season has come to an end, a German has more than likely won the Drivers Championship and our attention turns to Christmas and the January testing of next year’s cars.

However, not all is lost. We can still get our fix of F1 and this year it’s courtesy of Codemasters and F1 2013. Codemasters has been producing F1 games since 2009 after announcing a deal in May 2008, securing the rights to F1 when Sony’s deal expired. Now into its 5th generation, F1 2013 is here to give us F1 fans that little pick-me-up we need during the off-season.

Codemasters were kind enough to send me a Steam key for F1 2013 on PC last week. I’ll admit, I was ecstatic! F1 2013 is a game I have to have, and I’ve got it. Having gone through the trials and tribulations of the last 5 years since the inaugural version in 2009, I always look forward to getting a new version of F1. The 2009 – 2011 version were, shall we say, difficult’ to play. The cars snapped so violently on the loss of traction that it was nigh on impossible to catch resulting in numerous spins per session. 2011’s iteration was vastly improved. An element of ‘drift’ was now in the game allowing for those hasty stamping of throttle moments to beat a fellow competitor out of a slow corner. No longer did I find myself pointing the wrong way and ultimately, at the back of the pack. I’ll admit, I didn’t play a lot of F1 2012. I was on holiday when it was released and by the time I got back, it was all about Call of Duty: Black Ops II so, I never actually played it past the young driver test. However, I could glean a good impression of the game and F1 2012 was a lot more ‘understeery’ then previous titles. It felt as if  the front tyres were made of plastic, much like you’d find on the model cars!

Anyway, this is about F1 2013, not the history of the F1 series. Perhaps I should do a comparison  of the last 5 titles, look into the evolution of the F1 series? Leave a comment if you’d like to see that.

F12013 wet weather racingSo, finally, we’re here…onto what I think about F1 2013. Well….it’s not what I expected. It’s very very different. F1 2013 is vastly improved on any and all previous iterations. Playing on PC, and being a console gamer as well, I initially had to use the keyboard to drive with. Just don’t…whatever you think, you can’t. Having a choice of all or nothing for throttle and brake, it really doesn’t work. So, got an Xbox controller wireless receiver, using a proper controller, it opens the game up to what it really is. That is, the best F1 game so far.

Why, I hear you ask. Ignoring the Classic Edition elements for now, let’s look at the bulk of the game that is ‘Career Mode‘. It’s very familiar. Loading up F1 2013 you’r met with that cheeky chappy David ‘Crofty’ Croft, introducing F1 2013. It’s a nice touch. The interface is all pretty much the same which is nice. Serial games shouldn’t change massively year to year. I should be able to jump straight into the game knowing what I know about the now redundant version, I was playing the day previously. There is some weird ass bug though. For some reason, and I don’t what it is that causes it, sometimes the game loads in windowed mode and 800 x 600 resolution. And it is a big deal because you have to quit the game, go to My Documents -> My Games -> F1 2013 and find the hardware config file, open it in an editor, find where it says fullscreen= and change false to true. It’s a total ballache!!! Hopefully it’ll be fixed soon.

When you start a career, well, you can’t because you have to complete the ‘Young Driver Test’ first at Abu Dhabi. But, once done and depending on how well you do, teams for your first drive are unlocked. I was good enough to get Torro Rosso. Not too bad, mid-field team, better than the crappy Caterham I drove in F1 2011 for my first season. Skipping past the, somewhat, chore that is the ‘Young Driver Test’, I get to go out in a proper full blown session. Practice at Albert Park, Melbourne. This is where I find that what I’m playing is nothing like F1 2011 or F1 2012. Turn 2 at Albert Park is immediately preceded by Turn 1. A 90 – 100mph right hander taken in 3rd or 4th, I use 4th, and leads into the long left that is Turn 2. With this quick direction change, the car is unsettled and adding power is just asking for trouble. However, I’m blown away when my mighty Torro Rosso pitches into a beautifully controlled drift. Rather than finding myself jumping on and off throttle to get it in a straight line and slowing to a pedestrian pace, I’m full chat, tyres smoking, leaving huge black lines through Turn 2. It’s epic! Finally, I can chew up my rear tyres in 4 laps without spinning. This becomes even more apparent at Shanghai International Circuit, China where we’ve got that monstrous parabolic Turn 13. You know the one, tight left hairpin and then the never ending right hander before the runway of a back straight. Ok, so I’m a setup genius and the car was perfect but, I can go through there maxed out controlling  the slide and entering the back straight at a sensible speed. And no, I don’t use traction control before you sceptics start to discredit my awesome car control!

What is seriously refreshing, is I’m finding that my opposition now act like they’re the best in the world, not just there for the experience. I’m having proper ding dongs with the AI. In former F1 games, the key to success was take the lead on the first lap  and it’d be a cake walk from there to the finish. The AI that were in front of you were quicker than you, the ones behind were as quick or slower. It was too predictable. The AI are now fun to race against. They don’t crash into you, they do spin off and make mistakes. I  took the lead off Raikkonen through the tricky Turn 14 at the Sepang International Raceway,  when he ran wide and ended up in the gravel. Boy did he fight back though, and it wasn’t till he turned his motor down was I able  to build a second or two gap that saw me home.

F1 2013 has really worked hard at improving  the general gaming experience with improvements to the key areas that make the game realistic. It is a racing  sim after all. Tyre wear now matters. Before, you could change tyres and there wasn’t that noticeable difference, the AI never seemed to slow  down no matter what tyres they were on and it just generally wasn’t a big part of the game. Punctures…let’s not forget those. I got one at the Young Driver Test. Totally inexplicable, Paul Hembery! It’s nice to have these things happen no matter how frustrating they may be, I want the chance of engine failure, tyre blowouts, gearboxes melting…it’s all part of the experience. I don’t want to find a difficulty setting where I’m not getting raped every race and can compete to find that I’m winning every race. It gets tedious. Things need to be taken out of our control and mean we need to fight for the championship.

I mentioned I was a setup wizard earlier and I do believe that there is more emphasis on a good setup now. If you get it just right, man you fly…in places, but are compromised in others. It’s great blitzing the competition in Sector 2, matching them in Sector 3 to struggle  and have to defend hard in Sector  1. I love it! Setup options and menus haven’t changed a jot but then there’s no need for a redesign really. It may just be me but an annoying bug is that, when it comes to saving my setup, I can’t. I think it’s because I’ve got the Xbox controller hooked up and in full screen mode, it’s disabled the keyboard. Windowed mode, fine no problem. But, if I ALT + TAB out to be able to type, there’s no way to get back to fullscreen mode. Did I mention there’s no option for full screen in the graphics settings? Absolute madness!

I’ll briefly touch on the Classic Edition additions to F1 2013. There’s not really much to talk about. There’s limited cars; just Ferrari, Lotus and Williams as manufacturers. Perhaps 12 cars  to drive in total from the ’80s and ’90s. 4 tracks isn’t exactly mind boggling either. You’v got Jerez, Brands Hatch, Imola and Estoril. It would be nice if Codemasters could build on this and we could see a standalone game in a few years called Classic F1 or something, that harks back to the champions of the Moss and Fangio era. The Classic Edition cars  do all handle uniquely which is great, just want more of them!F1 2013 - Estoril

Last thing really worth talking about are the graphics in F1 2013. They’re not mind blowing, there are glitches but they’re certainly not shoddy. I run everything on ultra ultra maximum plus boost setting at a resolution of  1920 x 1080. Full system stats will be at the bottom of the article. It’s very smooth, the sound is good and crisp and overall, while it’s not next-gen quality, it’s as good as current gen gets. Referring to consoles there. This is fine because F1 2013 is designed for PC, Xbox 360 and PS3. There is no Xbox One or PS4 versions of the game and nor will there be.

Overall, F1 2013 is really very good. It’s got to a point where it now just needs to be refined. If they develop something totally different for 2014, I’m going to be pissed!

F1 2014 is going to be super exciting. If Codemasters stick with the formula they’ve got here (no pun intended,  well maybe a little one), for how the cars handle, refine the AI further and are then able to work with the next-gen graphics capabilities, I think we’re going to be blown away with F1 2014. Especially as we’ve got the massive shake up that is the 2014 regs change. Turbo, full time KERS, new chassis and aero packages…it’s going to be an  epic year for Formula 1, Codemasters, you, me and F1 2014.

 

 

System Spec: 

  • CPU – AMD FX6350 overclocked to 5.00Ghz
  • Motherboard – ASUS Crosshair V
  • RAM – 16GB Corsair Dominator
  • GPU – EVGA GTX780
  • Sound – ASUS Xonar Phoebus
  • Cooling – CPU & GPU cooled with  custom XSPC loop
  • Monitor – ASUS 24 inch 1080p
  • Keyboard – Logitech G510
  • Mouse – Logitech M570
  • Controller – Xbox 360 controller

 

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FIFA 14 Xbox 360 Review & Xbox One preview

I love this time of year. Summer is drifting into the early throws of Autumn. There is a slight chill in the air.  This, laddies and gentlewomen, can mean only one thing; the football season has begun after an obscenely long absence, and your team is already well on the way to glory (or relegation-insert as appropriate). Then, with the new season under way, EA’s annual football masterpiece rears its beautiful head. FIFA 14 is here.

So, has it been worth the wait? Err yes, yes it has. The first thing I enjoyed was that my preferences were saved from FIFA 13, so with just a couple of button presses, I was all set up. I am aware that this is hardly groundbreaking stuff, but I appreciated it, so you’re reading about it. The main menu is stylish and easy to navigate, with all the usual features present and accounted for. I launched straight into “Career Mode”, and was treated to the dulcet tones of Sky Sports veteran football commentator Martin Tyler, offering me a tutorial on how to use the “Global Transfer Network”, a brand new addition for career mode. Simply put, this is an advanced scouting system, allowing you to unearth players from Colchester to Cambodia. You inherit a staff of scouts, and you can dispatch them to find players. There is a list of specific criteria for the scout to identify in a player, from box-to-box midfielder to lightning quick. Once the scout has given you a list of players to choose from, you can then ask them to scout each player to a greater level of detail. This is a great touch (pun very much intended) and it brings a splendid level of authenticity to proceedings.

At this point i’m assuming you wish to know how the game actually plays. Well, in short, it plays beautifully. All the delights of previous FIFA games are there, players are scarily life-like, stadiums look fantastic and the crowd noise is an absolute joy to behold. There is a real sense of match day fever and FIFA 14’s stand out feature, the all new player movement, is truly spectacular. There were whispers that the players would move and adjust their bodies to best control the ball, something that really peaked my interest, and thankfully the whispers transpired. In previous FIFA games, it was fairly easy for a player to perfectly control the ball with their weaker foot and bomb on without breaking stride. No such luxuries in FIFA 14. Players will take the touch that will best protect the football and thus, the emphasis is much more on building play with good passing and tactical awareness. Only if a speed demon is given ample space will he truly be able to stretch his legs and leave markers for dead. I love this feature. It is ever so satisfying when you create chances through neat passing and movement (I actually clapped myself upon finishing off a slick move). There is however, a slight drawback with this intuitive player movement. On the current gen Xbox the way players move in order to get the right body shape, is ever so slightly clunky. It is by no means a blot on FIFA 14’s copybook, but it is noticeable at times. I was very eager to see how the game played on the next gen console, and my wish was granted at Eurogamer Expo. I had a bash on FIFA 14 on Xbox One, and it is frighteningly good and markedly different to the 360 iteration. The player movement is so fluid and intuitive that it’s honestly like watching a live game.  As well as gameplay being close to perfection, the visuals are fabulous. The level of detail is such that players shirts will crease up depending on which way their body moves. It’s the little details like this that highlight the chasmic power  improvement of the next gen, and it makes the game so immersive and real, it is taken video gaming to a whole new level. The term revolutionary, sits right at home here! The spectators are now in 3D which brings them far more into the game than on current gen consoles. You really get a sense of the match-day atmosphere. I gleaned this from playing only a few minutes on the demo, and when the game is released on next gen consoles later this year, we will be looking at an 11 out of 10 game.

FIFA Ultimate Team has all the ingredients for you fanatics to cook up an unstoppable squad. The layout is smart and user friendly, so those of you who are new to FIFA will have little trouble accessing all of the features that make this such an enjoyable game mode.  Players can enter auctions on every football related item they can think of; players, tactics, stadiums and medical help are just a few of the options available. These can all be purchased with XP and with such a depth of options, you will be forever tinkering with your line up. A particularly exciting feature new to Ultimate Team in FIFA 14 is Ultimate Team Legends. This will be exclusive to Xbox and promises to be a brilliantly fun feature. You will now be able to populate your squad with footballing legends of days of old. Think combining “Messi” with “Pele”. Hell yes, a partnership with talent of biblical proportions. Once on the virtual pitch, I had no trouble finding games with good a connection, and am pleased to report no rage-quitting.

The skill games are nicely varied and the introduction of ball machines feeding you footballs for some of the drills is a small but classy touch. They are difficult enough so that you have to really perfect your grasp of the controls in order to complete them, and this will give you plenty of ways in which to unlock even the most stubborn of defences. You can improve all aspects of your game using these drills; short and long passing, shooting, free-kicks, crossing and dribbling are just a few, and there are enjoyable extras within the drills such as landing the ball in a bin or dislodging water containers.

The creation zone is as fun as ever, with so many different levels of detail available. I even managed to create myself to a staggering level of accuracy (admittedly I was generous with general football ability and weight). You can customise a player from everything to the position and thickness of his eyebrows, to the colour and manufacturer of his boots. Hours can be spent fine tuning your ultimate virtual footballer, and seeing your creation take the field for your favourite team is a pleasing sight indeed.

FIFA remains the gold standard of football sims, and with the launch of the next gen consoles imminent, the mind truly boggles as to just how good this game will be. I, for one, can’t wait.

 

 

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Rugby Challenge 2

A challenge indeed. I don’t know what disappointed me more, the endless wait for this title, or the game itself when it did finally arrive. The release coincided with the recent British and Irish Lions tour to Australia, a time when the world was in the midst of rugby fever.

Unfortunately, rugby fever was not enough to hide Rugby Challenge 2’s flaws, which are plentiful and render the game nothing more than a fun couple of hour romp. There are some nice touches. The audio is much improved, the crowd noise is in tune with the match action, and the on-field noises are realistic and satisfying. The commentary, however, is disjointed and wholly irritating. Observations from the commentary team occur sometimes 15 seconds after the event.

The game-play is too frenetic, impossibly hard one second and then laughably easy the next. Of course, we have been spoilt by EA’s major sporting titles such as FIFA and Madden, and to expect Rugby Challenge 2 to have the same slickness and fluidity is unfair. But, the gap between these games is at present, a chasm. Hard-core rugby fans will enjoy the game modes, player customization and all the statistical aspects to the players and teams. They will also what is the games’ shining light in terms of game-play, the rucking and counter rucking. This feels very real and enables you to switch from defense to attack with good effect.

Player likeness is virtually non-existent. All players seem to have spent too long in an Essex tanning salon, and their ratings are not reflective of their real-life counterparts. For the not so inconsiderable sum of £50, I expect better in every department. Rugby Challenge 2 feels amateur and rushed, ironic given the 12 years they have spent developing it.

For all the promise, Rugby Challenge 2 has not delivered. It is a crying shame, as some elements could be built upon to create an enjoyable franchise, but the flaws far outweigh the positives. As a rugby fan, I would love EA to pick up the mantle and create a rugby game that does the sport justice in time for the World Cup in 2015, when the market will swell with new rugby fans.

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FIFA 13

          Picture this; you build up play slowly from defense, switch the ball to the flanks, cut inside and feed the creative ‘number 10’ player who slides a perfectly weighted pass into the path of your lightning-quick striker. The opposition ‘keeper rushes out, and you dink the ball over him and watch as it rolls into the net. The crowd erupts. Perfection. Fifa 13.

The beautiful game just keeps getting better. Fifa 13 takes the way we play football to new heights. Simply put, the game feels real. The quality of a player’s first touch is dependant on their skill level. If you slightly under-hit a pass it will be intercepted, over-hit a pass and the ball will evade its intended recipient, who will then remonstrate with the passer. Amazing. It is now extremely difficult to dribble around entire defenses and smash one in the top corner. You have to earn it. A new ‘attacking intelligence’ feature means your players will work as a team when attacking, and then it is up to you to pick the right pass or cross. Opposition defenders read the game well, and will happily pick off any sloppy attempts. The new defensive system that was implemented in Fifa 12 has been retained and refined, meaning you will have to work equally as hard in defense as in attack. At first this is a lot to master, but my word it is satisfying when you do master it. This is the closest a football game as ever got to the real thing.

Take my first match; I launched straight into Career mode and the media opinion was that I needed a win in my first match to silence the doubters. No worries I thought. What transpired was a comprehensive 3-0 defeat to some Italian minnows, where I failed to record a single meaningful effort on goal, and was mercilessly taken apart on the counter attack. I miss controlled balls, failed to find my target with numerous passes and gave away dozens of free kicks. ‘This is s**t’, I said to myself. But it isn’t, not at all. What it is, is an absolute masterpiece. What EA have managed to create is the perfect blend of fun and hard work.

With the Fifa games, I have taken the incredible level of detail in player likenesses, stadiums, kits and commentary for granted. These are all present in Fifa 13, and they have all been tweaked to make it an even more immersive experience. The commentary has great depth, and observations are fluid and instant. Even the immeasurably dull tones of co-commentator Alan Smith are tolerable. The crowd noise is spine-tinglingly good. Various teams’ fans have new chants, and they are particularly audible when your team are in the ascendancy.

Career mode offers you the chance to be a manager, dealing with all aspects of your chosen team, such as transfers, budget negotiations, scouting and media duties. The transfer system is much more realistic than in previous titles, no longer will Wayne Rooney inexplicably join West Ham United. The inclusion of transfer deadline day is a lovely touch. You can create a player to join a team and work your way up from starlet to superstar, eventually going on to manage the team. Ultimate Team is back and better than ever, with numerous items available to create your dream team. If you grow frustrated with the new game-play, you can always rely on playing online against an opponent who pays little attention to tactical defending.

My fear was always that Fifa 13 would be a mere continuation of the franchise. I’m delighted to say that those fears were swiftly put to rest. I tip my proverbial hat to the games’ creators. It goes without saying that the game looks fantastic. The way the game plays, however, has been revolutionised to such a scale that the mind boggles as to how they can improve on this latest instalment. Whilst I was playing this game, a friend walked into the room, glanced at the telly and said, ‘I didn’t know there was a game on, who’s playing?’ That, ladies and gents, says just about all there is to say.

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