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Why FIFA 15 Is Definitely Worth Your $60

Each week (or so), The18's Mike Smith takes a look at how football is portrayed and covered in the media and popular culture. This week, we review the latest version of FIFA by EA Sports. 

With each of the major European leagues well under way, it is also the time of year when EA Sports unleashes its yearly threat to relationships and overall productivity: the FIFA video game franchise. This year’s version, FIFA 15, hit shelves back in September and after a solid month-plus with the product, there are a few things that stick out in this iteration.

Photo: @GeniusFootball | Twitter

When I first started following soccer back in 2006, I got the latest version of FIFA (then for the Playstation quaint!) in order to help me learn about the teams and players in the Premier League, as well as learn the intricacies of the rules of the game (I could NOT understand the offsides rule) and all of the various competitions in England. Back then, you could not just start a career with any team, as you had to “build up” your managerial resume before getting a job with one of the top clubs. As a result, instead of starting with my beloved Chelsea, I had a magical run through the Premier League with Newcastle United, creating an eternal bond with that club that lingers even to this day.

FIFA has greatly improved in a variety of ways over the years, both in terms of the playing experience (graphics, sound, etc.) and the main gameplay options. Unlike other sports video games, scoring goals on FIFA is still special each time you do it and I have yet to find another video game that conjures as much joy in me as when I put together a beautiful set of passes and fire the ball into the back of the net. I’m not saying that I do full-on knee slide celebrations in my apartment when I score...though I am often tempted.

FIFA 15 allows users to upload their best goals online. I am incapable of replicating any of these.

As is typical with EA Sports games, there is not a ton of difference from last year’s FIFA and the new release. The graphics are a hair better (I have the Xbox 360, the graphics on the Xbox One/Playstation 4 are on another level entirely as the images here indicate), they added an “emotion” feature, where your players will grow frustrated if one player consistently shoots instead of passing and fails to score, etc. The main benefit is the updated rosters (current through most of the summer transfers) and a slightly more realistic gameplay, as EA Sports does its best to recreate the passion of the stadium experience. 

The main problem I have with the FIFA franchise is that it appears as though my skill set, which tragically has not noticeably improved over the years, falls between two of the difficulty settings. The easiest difficulty level is amateur, which is followed by semi-professional, professional, all the way up to world-class. The last few years, I seem to be caught between semi-professional and professional, as semi-pro is just a touch too easy and professional is just beyond my capabilities. I did a full season on last year’s FIFA as manager of Bayern Munich on the professional difficulty level, finished 6th in the Bundesliga...and was promptly fired by the Board of Directors. Though I appreciated the realism of the consequences of my David Moyes-esque campaign, it nevertheless was a low point in my life and the conversation I was forced to have with my fiancé about how I’d lost my job and we might have to relocate was one of the toughest of my life...

Everybody loves FIFA. Photo: @BarcAddicts | Twitter

One of my friends has managed to develop his skill set to the point that he does campaigns on the highest difficulty level (world class) and wins trophies. I’m not sure what it says about me as a 32-year-old man, but I regarded him with a similar level of respect as the actual players that take the pitch.

Perhaps part of the reason for the difficulty in the game is that the average FIFA player plays for just under an hour every day. Knowing that I’m lucky to get an hour of playing in over the course of a given week makes me feel a bit better about struggling to beat the game on the medium difficulty level. 

Without a doubt, the most popular feature of the FIFA franchise is the “Ultimate Team” mode. Though I typically stay in the straight-forward “career” mode with one of my favorite clubs, “Ultimate Team” mode flips the script and allows players to assemble their dream squads like they are playing fantasy football. Upon starting “Ultimate Team” mode, players select their superstar and then must use a specified amount of funds to fill in the rest of the players. Thereafter, players can obtain “coins” via trades, playing matches, or even purchasing them online, which allows them to upgrade their squad. Perhaps this mode would be better suit my skill-set. Only time will tell.

Photo: @FootballFanCast | Twitter

Since its release, there have been a lot of complaints from dedicated FIFA-players about the number of "bugs" that are in the game, specifically problems with online play that cause glitches and the game to freeze. I have yet to experience any of these issues so far, so hopefully the frequent game updates that are available to download online via Xbox Live and the Playstation Network have fixed the majority of the problems. 

There also have been complaints about the gameplay itself, notably the defensive artificial intelligence (the goalies are too stupid) and that it is too difficult to score. While such complaints make me feel better about my own general inadequacies playing the game, overall, I don't think they hold water. Sure, occasionally the goalkeepers will not come out for balls that they clearly would in real-life and there are far more "breakaways" than your typical football match. But the difficulty of the game is what makes it rewarding when you score and win the match. If it was easy to defeat Barcelona 8-0 with Queens Park Rangers, you'd grow bored almost immediately. It is a game that can be played almost immediately with no prior experience, but it takes a long time to master. I saw one posting online in a FIFA forum full of folks complaining about how many problems the games has that I think sums it up perfectly: "All the complaints come from people that aren't good at the game."

Overall, FIFA is a phenomenal game and, for those individuals that are still into video games (32 is not too old people!), it is simply a must-buy. With a match taking no more than 20 minutes, it is very easy to get your $60 worth because you will get hooked. Between going through a season with your beloved team, taking on an international squad and making a run at the World Cup, and plunging into the transfer market to assemble your dream team, this game is a rabbit hole that one can easily and happily fall down. In fact, I'm closing my laptop and firing it up right now...

Follow Mike Smith on Twitter @thefootiegent

Share your stories of FIFA triumphs and despair.

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