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FIFA 14 review: The best in sports games gets better

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FIFA 14 (iOS|Android) is this year's upgrade to what I think is the best sports game on iOS devices, and this latest version does not disappoint. Now with even more licensed teams, more leagues, more players, and refined controls, this game just seems to keep getting better.

FIFA 14
8.8

FIFA 14

The Good

<b>FIFA 14</b> improves on the previous version, with excellent graphics, even more content, and improved skill move controls.

The Bad

You can only use swipe controls in certain situations. You need to pay to unlock the extra game modes for each of your devices.

The Bottom Line

This is easily the best sports game on mobile devices, bringing realistic soccer to your touch screen and a ton of content and game modes to explore.

Having played many of the previous versions of the franchise on consoles and all of the various soccer games on mobile, the FIFA franchise continues to be the best soccer game on iOS, adding even more content than last year's installment, with 600 fully licensed teams to play, over 16,000 players, 33 leagues, and 34 different stadiums. You can play as your favorite teams, pass to your favorite players with realistic attributes, and use an improved skill move system to get free and go for the goal.

Still the best graphics in a mobile sports game (pictures)

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Better than the last and freemium?
There are more and more games switching over to a freemium model, and as I pointed out in my Where's My Water 2 review, it's often not a good thing. When a game prevents you from playing with wait times, it takes away from the whole experience and can make the game almost unplayable. Fortunately, FIFA (and EA) didn't go in this direction.

This is the first time that a FIFA game has gone free to play, letting you play online matchmaking, penalty shootouts, and Ultimate Team mode to your heart's content if you don't want to pay. But where there are definitely freemium models that annoy and let you pay to be the best, with FIFA 14, the pay wall is pretty straightforward. You can either play the three game modes for free or pay $4.99 to unlock Tournaments, Manager Mode, and Kick Off, the single-game exhibition mode. FIFA 13 (last year's version) is currently $6.99, so I definitely recommend paying the $4.99 for the full experience of FIFA 14. There is one catch, however. While the app is iOS universal, you'll need to spend $4.99 for each of your devices. So if you pay to unlock the game modes on your iPad, you'll still need to pay again to unlock them on your iPhone, which is pretty annoying.

FIFA 14
Like its predecessor, FIFA 14 has excellent graphics and animations. Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

The best soccer on iOS
What you get for your cash is an excellent "football" game. FIFA 14, like its predecessor, has beautiful graphics with high frame rates, crowds that cheer you on with chants and soccer songs, and excellent animations and physics as you work your way to the goal. It's also got tons of customization, letting you tweak the controls, change camera views, and adjust just about every setting within the game itself. Play long or short matches, toggle offsides calls and injuries, and choose from five difficulty levels.

Even within a single game there's room to choose various jerseys for every team and pick from tons of different ball styles for the exact look you want.

Choose your controls
Once you're on the pitch, you have one more decision to make and it's an important one: controls. The game defaults to a touch-screen control system that, while mostly effective, will be a little strange for people used to playing with controllers. With these controls, your players move mostly on their own, and you touch teammates to pass to them and use other swipes to control your players and take shots on the goal. I found the touch screen mode to be limiting, so I switched back to classic mode with an onscreen gamepad and buttons and it is definitely my preferred way to play. You may prefer the more hands-off approach, but I think you get a lot more control with the classic layout.

FIFA 14
You can choose from 33 different leagues and 600 licensed teams. Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

Game modes aplenty
The free version lets you play in Ultimate Team, penalty kicks, and online matches. The Ultimate Team mode has you choose from four popular team captains, then puts together a team of stars that you'll be able to customize as you earn money while playing. But once you pay for FIFA 14, you'll be able to play in tournaments where you can pick your favorite team and climb to the top by working your way through the tournament tree. You also can play a manager mode where you'll shape the team, manage the team budget, make trades, and either simulate or play in each game. FIFA 14 has a surprising amount of content for a mobile game, making it almost on par with console versions.

One small problem
This was also in true in FIFA 13, but it's still an annoyance in the latest version. For specific types of situations, you can only use swipe controls to kick the ball. Corner, goal, and penalty kicks require that you aim your player then swipe to kick the ball. The problem is that the swipe isn't nearly as precise as using the regular kick controls and you'll end up making bad kicks as a result. I dug through all the settings to see if I could get rid of the swipe controls completely, but there doesn't seem to be an option. To make precise passes, you can touch the player who you want to receive the ball, but I really wish I had the option to power-up my own shot or pass for more control in these situations.

FIFA 14
For a quick game, try the Penalty Kick mode and choose your players for a standard penalty shootout. Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

Even with the one control issue, FIFA 14 is another fantastic game in the franchise with enough new features (and already great gameplay) to make it worth your money. If you've never played the game before, the freemium option gives you a chance to try it out, but I recommend that any soccer fan pay the $4.99 to have all the features of this excellent soccer game.

FIFA 14
8.8

FIFA 14

Score Breakdown

Setup 10Features 9Interface 8Performance 10