EA takes one of its premium console titles into freemium territory. Hang on… EA? Freemium game? How can this end well?
FIFA 2014 iOS: On the plus side
When I reviewed Pro Evolution Soccer 2014, I commented that I hadn’t played a lot of soccer games recently.
It appears that the gods of football must have been listening, because as I was putting the finishing notes on that review, EA released FIFA 2014 for all sorts of consoles… and for iOS and Android devices.
Mobile versions of “big” console titles are nothing new, but they’re often a quick path into disappointment once you get past the splash screen. I can recall reviewing a truly terrible Splinter Cell game for feature phones many, many years ago that would probably have made Ubisoft a fair bit of cash — but very few fans of the series actually happy.
To add to the possibility of a train wreck, EA’s released FIFA 2014 as a freemium title with IAP purchases.
The last couple of times I’ve reviewed EA freemium mobile titles — Plants Vs Zombies 2 and Tetris Blitz I was, to put it politely, not impressed.
Buying out PopCap wasn’t cheap, and the Tetris rights wouldn’t have been cheap either, but they’d pale into insignificance next to the FIFA rights. EA makes a lot of that back on the console versions, but this is EA, and they love money, right?
That’s why I was so pleasantly surprised by the fact that the freemium bits of FIFA 2014 are genuinely quite good. You get the whole FIFA licence in there, which means you can select exactly the team you want to. For me, that’d be Leyton Orient. Blame my upbringing, and, for that matter, Norman Stanley Fletcher. There’s some undeniable enjoyment in being able to select genuine teams.
You are limited in what you can play — largely online via an Origin account or a selection of “Games of the Week” unless you pay (currently $5.49) to unlock the regular game modes you’d associate with regular FIFA games.
It’s a taster of the full game, but there’s quite a lot of fun to be had here with the onscreen joystick controls giving you quite a wide range of motion. It’s not flawless, and there’s still a rather obvious gulf between what’s on display here and a “full” console title — but it’s impressive nonetheless, and the $5.49 asking price is quite fair for the full game unlock if you want exhibitions, leagues and the usual FIFA fare.
FIFA 2014 iOS: On the minus side
There are still flaws. Beginner difficulty is remarkably stupid, and really only good for getting to grips with how the controls work. Beyond that, you’re looking at scores more in common with AFL games than with soccer games.
FIFA 2014 also boasts “touch” controls that allow you to use a series of taps and flicks rather than an onscreen joystick, meaning (in theory) that you shouldn’t obscure the action. The issue here is while they do work, they’re a very large layer of abstraction beyond a joystick that means you’re no longer “in the game”, as EA might put it.
Instead, you’re making tactical decisions and hoping for the most part that the team plays intelligently, which it doesn’t always do. Every once in a while you’ll have a slide move mistaken for a tap (or vice versa), killing a great breakaway run, or opening up the lines to let the opposition in. They’re an interesting experiment, but ultimately the onscreen “classic” joystick controls are much better.
FIFA 2014 features the “Ultimate Team” mode that’s been part of FIFA titles for a while now, and that includes grab-bags of player “cards” that you’re meant to buy, swap and create your super-team with. This is the IAP hook for FIFA 2014 that EA pretty clearly hopes will make it lots of cash, and one that I’m not terribly fond of.
That’s OK, though; my understanding is that plenty of FIFA fans lap this kind of thing up. It’s there, knock yourselves out, but don’t complain to me when you go broke buying virtual cards that exist on EA’s whim right up until FIFA 2015 comes out. If you can’t tell, I don’t see the appeal and haven’t dabbled, so this is only a partial minus; if you loved this previously, you probably still will.
It’s also not exactly a small title; the base install runs to 1.1GB, and with constant roster updates, optional commentary tracks and online play, it can quickly become a real data hog.
FIFA 2014 iOS: Pricing
FIFA 2014 for mobiles is free to download, with optional unlock IAP costed at $5.49, and FIFA points ranging from 99c (100 points) up to $41.99 (4000 points). You could spend a lot on this game, in other words.
FIFA 2014 iOS: Fat Duck verdict
The nice thing is that you don’t particularly have to, depending on how you want to play. This is freemium done right, and proof that EA can get this kind of thing correct.
You’re not massively pushed into an IAP corner as you are in Tetris Blitz or Plants Versus Zombies 2; you’re instead presented with a genuinely good mobile soccer game with plenty of depth for free and optional paid avenues to explore if you actually want more.