The biggest football game in the world is back, but is it an improvement on previous versions? John Walshe has the answers.

Fantastic television ads featuring the biggest names in world football? Check. Pitch side advertising at every big game across the continent? Indeed. It can only mean one thing: the behemoth of footie games, FIFA 14, the latest instalment in EA Sports’ soccer series, has landed.

Football games have come a long way from the heady days of International Football on the Commodore 64 or the impossible banana shots that made Sensible Soccer so much fun. Over-the-top game-play has been replaced by simulation as every new generation of footie games aims to get more realistic than its predecessors. FIFA 14 definitely scores on realism, as it’s pretty much as exhilarating, enjoyable, life-affirming and frustrating as its real life counterpart.

For a game that’s released on an annual basis, it’s hard for FIFA to remain fresh every year, as the graphics, sound and playability are already seriously impressive. This edition doesn’t rewrite the blueprint, but rather tweaks FIFA 13 slightly, with impressive results. The game’s AI is much improved, so your computer controlled players will make intelligent runs off the ball rather than floundering behind the play, while computer-controlled defenders will try to box an attacker in instead of giving them space in which to work their magic. What this means for the player is that it’s tougher to score, but the likes of Eamon Dunphy and John Giles will delight in the fact that it rewards patient play, building attacks up from the back with neat, precise passing. That said, your players’ athleticism still counts highly, as speed of foot rather than thought is still a vital ingredient in your success: no point in threading the ball through for a forward who’s about as mobile as an octogenarian in a supermarket aisle.

You also get to use your player’s body to shield the ball this time around, which can make it easier for a lone striker to hold up play until his midfield colleagues arrive. This also means that your bodyweight becomes a factor when setting off on mazy dribbles, so watch your balance!

There’s the usual mix of playing modes, from single games, to online one-v-one, co-op seasons, Ultimate Team (where player chemistry is a vital ingredient) and the mammoth Career Mode, where you get to carve out your own footballing dynasty.

The graphics are top notch, with cracking player likenesses (although Daniel Sturridge’s hair does appear decidedly bowl-like) and perfectly recreated stadia. The sound is pitch perfect, from the commentary team of Alan Smith and Martin Tyler to the ultra-realistic fan chants. But it’s the realism of the action and sheer playability which makes FIFA 14 a scoring success.

Platform: PS3, X360, PC, Wii
Publisher: EA Sports
Cert: 3
Score: 4/5

John Walshe