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FIFA 14: EA becomes the great tinkerer

First look: Latest update bolsters attacking strategies and aims to 'capture the emotion of scoring great goals'

Like last year's edition, it's difficult to describe the significance of FIFA 14's new features without a forensic side-by-side comparison.

'Pro Shot', 'Teammate Intelligence' and 'Variable Dribble Touches' are marketing buzz-words for a collective of (relatively) less significant features planned for this year's edition. Nevertheless, EA hopes that together they'll represent a meaningful and significant update to FIFA's most successful instalment to date.

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"Key to FIFA this year is to feel the exhilaration of scoring great goals, and not just the nature of the shot itself, but the build up to the shot and finding opportunities," producer Nick Channon tells CVG.

"In previous games, at times there was so much space to run at defenders that it became very much backwards and forwards, which lead to quite repetitive, cheap goals. That's something that we want to change," he adds.

Key to FIFA 14's tweaks is the way sprinting works, with last year's First Touch Control now extended to each footballer's dribble ability.

"EA has placed an emphasis on playing through the midfield, rather than the end-to-end scramble"

With the ball no longer automatically glued to feet during a run, more emphasis is placed on the individual skills of your players. Messi and Bale types will touch and control the ball with exhilarating ease, while lesser players are hampered by fewer perfect touches which, in turn, creates opportunities for defenders to win back possession.

Along with this, the game includes 'Sprint Dribble Turns', which break free from last year's carthorse turning and allow players to manoeuvre at speed in any direction. With these features combined, EA has placed an emphasis on playing through the midfield, rather than the end-to-end scramble that could often occur in previous games.

"You really now have to think about when you use dribble, where as before it could be quite powerful to use constantly and run down the line," says Channon.

"Now when you start that dribble you push the ball out as players naturally do, which creates and opportunity for the defender. It makes you really think about when you use dribbling."

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The most intriguing, and likely divisive element of the new sprinting system is the introduction of Protect The Ball, which as the name suggests allows players to block defenders from the ball using the left trigger (skill moves are now activated entirely with the right stick).

Protect can be used at any speed, allowing dribblers to fend off contesting opponents before continuing their run. It looks to introduce strategy to parts of the game that have previously gone lacking, and combined with Variable Dribble Touches should add both demands and benefits to winger players.

FIFA 14's producer compares the feature to the mechanics of a driving game: "In a driving game right trigger is accelerate and left trigger is break. In our game right trigger is sprint - or accelerate - and left trigger is protect the ball - or break."

Midfield Battle

With FIFA 13, EA introduced Attacking Intelligence, a significant step forward to the way offensive AI players behave and assist on the pitch. For 14, EA is aiming to make similar improvements to the way computer team-mates defend.

Just like how the attacking system compelled players to make smarter runs and ghost into space, Teammate Intelligence promises to make defenders recognise opportunities to provide support, track opponents' runs and mark more efficiently.

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Visiting EA's offices in Guildford, CVG is shown a Gary Neville-esque dissection how FIFA 13 defenders gave their opponents acres of space, along with examples of fullbacks being foolishly pulled out of position, allowing attackers to run unchecked and exploit space.

Channon promises that such naive AI defending will now be a thing of the past: "Teammate Intelligence dramatically changes the way the game feels," he claims.

"In FIFA 13, the way defenders marked their men was pretty loose. There was a big gap between the attackers, the midfield and defenders. We're going to tighten that up, get defenders closer to the men they're marking, which means you'll now get lots more midfield battles - you need to move the ball around and switch play."

He insists that the system doesn't make the game harder, just more fun. "You have to be more varied and that for me is what really stands out about the new game."

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