FIFA 15 review: Living pitches, emotional intelligence and improved goalkeepers - but has gameplay improved?

£64.99; EA; PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Wii, 3DS, PS Vita

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The Independent Tech

FIFA is a bit like Cristiano Ronaldo - you can pretty much guarantee it's going to hit the back of the net. But is it a stunning screamer from 30 yards or a scrappy finish?

Visually, FIFA 15 has taken another step forward with some ultimately unimportant but oh-so-satisfying tweaks.

For a start, all 20 Premier League stadiums are now available and prior to each match the camera will float overhead, taking in a birds-eye view of the arena. It looks brilliant and really adds to the pre-match build-up.

The little improvements continue once the action gets going too. When a goal goes in for the home team, the camera jiggles ever so slightly, just how it does in real life when the crowd goes wild. Scoring a late winner for United in the Manchester derby now feels like you've genuinely brought joy to 70,000 odd fans packed into Old Trafford.

EA have made a few noises during the build-up to FIFA 15's release about 'Living Pitches', which basically means the grass gets scarred as the match goes on. It's another minor tweak but combined with the others helps make the game just that little bit more like the real thing.

That realism extends to the replays. They look brilliant - slowed down, the grass can be seen coming off the end of a players' boot as they shoot. For fouls, the exact contact that’s been made can be scrutinised. Players now have a far wider range of emotions too, meaning the players appear to react according to the situation they're in, and aren't afraid to get physical with their opponents after a dodgy tackle either. Another touch is goal-line technology being used. It's obviously pointless, a computer knows whether it's in or not, but the authentic angles and visuals are great.

Yet while all these improvements are all very well, most players will find themselves quickly skipping the opening scenes when the teams come out and rushing through the goal celebrations (unless they wish to gloat). What really matters is the gameplay.

The biggest and most immediately noticeable shift is the art of defending - referred to in the game as 'Tactical Defending'. In previous titles, manoeuvring your player into the right positions against an opponent with the ball would see you nick it away. In the same way, running side by side with an opponent would invariably see the defender come away with the ball. Not so any more. Tackling has become much more demanding. The precise timing and positioning of your player must be exactly right if an opponent is to be dispossessed. Also, whereas in the previous title opponents could be tugged back if they were threatening to break through behind the defence or down the wing, the latest title makes that ability almost non-existent.

The change in tackling is likely to frustrate at first, with opponents getting through on goal with perhaps too much regularity. Winning the ball back can also take some time and become a little tiresome. That the referees are only too ready to pounce if a challenge is just a little mistimed, a feature that means a few more stoppages and red cards than would be desirable, is a little irritating too. But it’s a move in favour of offence, and that’s usually a good thing. When playing against a human opponent rather than the computer it also becomes a level playing field and if it results in high scoring games rather than 0-0 draws that’s got to be a good thing too. Possibly in anticipation that the new system might not be to everyone’s taste, EA have made it possible to switch to 'Legacy Defending' which makes the title feel much like previous incarnations.

Elsewhere on the pitch, the changes are more subtle. The passing feels a little quicker, sharper and more precise. The game also seems to support variations in build-up play with more unusual attacks often paying off.

The individual ability of players can play a major role - particularly in terms of strength and pace. A player like Yaya Toure at times feels unplayable with the Manchester City midfielder being incredibly hard to dispossess and beat in the air - so in fact, quite true to real life. As already mentioned, now that tugging players back has been almost entirely eradicated, getting in and then staying behind the defence is a much more successful route to goal - certainly so when using a particularly quick player. A team like Real Madrid with Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo in the side are harder to play against than ever. Again, pretty much true to real life. And that's something that extends to the goalkeepers who have been given a complete makeover and now make more varied saves and react more truly to what's happening in front of them.

Some dead-ball situations have been improved for the better, with the most innovative change the ability to take control of an outfield player at throw-ins, free-kicks and corners and position them as you want before calling for the ball. There are a few more options at corners now and throw-ins have been made generally a little quicker, an improvement that is particularly appreciated when playing against human opposition.

The extremes on the quick in-game tactics have also been extended. It is now possible to go from Ultra-Attack to All Out Attack - a switch that sees your team throw everything at your opponent. In contrast, it is also now possible to 'Park The Bus'.

In terms of the menus, most of it feels exactly the same as previous titles apart from the Team Management. Making substitutions and switching tactics has been given a slight makeover. It takes a tiny getting bit of used to but ultimately seems like another step in the right direction. The usual game-modes are available as well, from the popular Ultimate Team to the standard cups and career mode.

Alan Smith and Martin Tyler are back on commentary duties and do a decent job, even if they do end up fading into the background. It seems that they were paying close attention to the World Cup with a lot of references to how certain players got on in Brazil. Even in these early days it can get a bit wearing. Much more entertaining are the genuine songs from the terraces that have been included - another move bringing the game closer to reality.

As one would expect, FIFA 15 is a winning game. A few minor tweaks have taken it a little closer to complete perfection in terms of a simulation game. They’ve also taken a risk with the switch in defending, but it’s a move that will likely give players more to learn and take time to master - a good thing in the longer run. For those who simply want it to feel like what they’re used to - well, EA included that option too. To compare it to Ronaldo, FIFA 15 just scored a hat-trick.

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