FIFA 14 Career Mode Preview

After a surprise early look at FIFA 14’s Career Mode redesign back in May, things then went awfully quiet on EA’s management simulation mode. So it was with great excitement that we headed to EA Guildford to spend the day with this year’s Career Mode offering.

Console – Xbox 360 | Build – Preview | Team Used – Man Utd

Info – Not all leagues were included in this build.

Career Mode User Interface

When EA released the first screens of Career Modes swish new look, the response from the community was one of unanimous joy. Compared to the tired greyscale of the last three years, the lighter, metro style UI was a breath of fresh air. I’m pleased to inform you then, that it navigates just as nicely as it looks.

Those of you that are familiar with FUT 13 will know all about EA’s new tiled structure but due to the plethora of options in Career Mode, it shines best here. There are just five main navigation bar items, Central, Squad, Transfers, Office and Season and under these headings everything you need to access is just a flick of the analogue stick away. Compared to the sub-menu, upon sub-menu, upon sub-menu that we’re used to in FIFA 13, the Career Mode redesign is pretty spectacular.

One area in particular that has benefited from the redesign is the email notification screen. As it’s affectively the heartbeat of the mode for your club, lasts year’s repetitive open/close routine irritated constantly. Now though, the left side of the screen shows your emails and the right is a reading pane. You just scroll downwards and the emails open and display automatically. You can delete unwanted spam and archive off important information too.           

Everything is just that little bit easier to do now and with the game no longer persistently interrupting your “Advance” through the weeks with trivial information, your unimportant emails simply queue up ready for you to peruse at your leisure. Simplicity is bliss.

Career Mode Options

Not much has changed with regards to FIFA 14 Career Mode’s pre-launch options, Manager and Player options are still there, transfer leniency and Europe First Season too. But a feature much requested by the community has been added “Disable First Summer Transfer Window”. For the hard-core Career Mode fans this is a huge addition because you can finally maintain the integrity of real world squads up until the January transfer window.

Obviously for the purposes of our preview we wanted to explore transfers straight away, but come September, we’ll be using this option for sure.

Global Transfer Network

By far FIFA 14 Career Mode’s biggest change is the introduction of the Global Transfer Network and EA’s blanket masking of the player OVR value (unless at your club) from the mode. The crutch that we all used to use to pluck the best young players is now gone, finally forcing research and scouting in to the Career Mode landscape.

With your three already hired scouts, you then setup your Scout Instructions of which you have six slots to customise. First you choose the position, then the age range and finally the number of years left on their contract (between 0-5). Once the basic requirements are set, you then choose up to six traits which best describe the type of player you want - box to box, dribbler, playmaker, etc. Your scouts will then use this data to begin searching the countries you’ve assigned them to.

I found that I needed to be a little bit careful when picking the traits though because the more options you pick the narrower your market becomes. Missing out on a great young player because the years left on their contract didn't match my criteria was something I really wanted to avoid, but with six Scout Instruction slots, you can afford to mix the specific with the more general. Finally being able to find players with just a year left on their contract is a godsend as well. 

The best thing about this system is that all scouts will search based on all the scout instructions you’ve setup and you can update them on the fly. So if you don’t find any players that meet your criteria in any given country, you simply adjust the instructions and the scouts will look again when you next advance the game. You can recall and relocate your scouts too, so it’s very easy to move them on should they end up in a scouting dead end.

What you’ll then get is some feedback. On the Career Mode Central page a tile is dedicated to the Global Transfer Network. As you advance, this tile updates in real time as new players are scouted. You then remove any players you’re not interested in or choose to do an in-depth scout on the ones you are. This is where the removal of the OVR is key, because until you scout a player you can’t see any of their stats, it’s a complete mystery.

Even the transfer value is hidden at this stage so you’ll either need to scout or enquire about the player, before making an offer. Of course you could choose to take a wild stab in the dark if you wish, but even the Chief Exec Comments on the transfer offer screen won’t help you unless you’ve done some form of groundwork first.

If you don’t want to use scouting the old Player Search option still exists as well, but all stat based search options have been removed. When you do search for players you only see their age now, nothing else. It’s a step change for Career Mode which has been so reliant on the OVR for decision making in the past, but it’s a welcome one and the mode has become much more interesting and engaging because of it.

Youth Academy

When EA announced the new Global Transfer Network, a lot of people asked how it would affect the Youth Scouting system. The good news is that youth scouting is still there and it’s still a separate entity. You can have three individual youth scouts just like before and the monthly reports come through in addition to anything the Global Transfer Network provides.

The big change to youth scouting is that it now costs you money from your transfer budget each time you do it, approximately 200k for three months. Previously of course, you could just spam the youth scouting system, hoovering up the best talent at will. But if you’re at a club with a small budget, you’ll now have to think more carefully about how and when you build your youth academy.

I also noticed a much larger proportion of youth players being snapped up by other clubs too. So if you are going to use youth scouting this year, you’re going to have to be more decisive as well. This means youth scouting is going to be more hit and miss overall but that’s a good thing as far as I’m concerned. Now when you do find a hidden gem, it’s going to feel special.

Transfers

On to transfers which now have a dedicated hub from the main Career Mode navigation bar. Many of the options within the Transfer Offer screens are the same as in FIFA 13 but one welcome new addition has made its way in - “Reject all offers/disallow future offers”. Choosing this means no more repeated offers will come in for players who you are not prepared to sell at any price. A simple addition, but yet another huge annoyance from FIFA 13 eradicated.

The transfer hub itself with the new UI is great for showing all the latest rumours and right at the start of Career Mode a number of real world transfers, Tevez to Juve, Cavani to PSG, etc are all listed as big stories. It’s an appreciated nod to the real world game and it gives those opening days of Career Mode a welcome dose of realism.

What we saw of transfers in general was much more stable in terms of the flow of big moves and all the major deals we did see were within the right price brackets and with the right clubs. A few examples we saw were Diego to Liverpool (14mil), Rooney to Real Madrid (38mil), Fabregas to Man Utd (36mil) and Ozil to Man City (43mil).

Player Growth

One of the major criticisms from Career Mode in FIFA 13 centred on player growth. Old players deteriorated far too quickly and too many average young players became world beaters, seeing huge gains in just a small number of matches. We got as far as the end of the January Transfer Window in our Career Mode Preview at which point we reviewed the player growth of our Man Utd squad.

Rio Ferdinand, Ryan Giggs and Patrice Evra our older players had all dropped by just -1 OVR. Danny Welbeck, Wilfred Zaha and Tom Cleverly were all up +1 OVR and the biggest jump we saw was a +2 for Adnan Janujaz. As you can see the gains and losses appear to be much more subtle in FIFA 14's Career Mode, although we’d obviously need to spend more time to see how this works out long term. All the same, it’s an encouraging sign.

Audio

EA made huge strides in the audio department in FIFA 13’s Career Mode and all the score updates, results rundowns and injury updates are back again. What EA have done with FIFA 14 Career Mode, especially in-game, is add yet another layer of depth to the discussions between Smith and Tyler.

In FIFA 13 the commentary team would regularly talk about recent games you’d won or lost, but it was very generic and because of that it always felt like smoke and mirrors. Now though, Smith and Tyler will reference results and events directly like “a great 3-1 win against Swansea last week” for example. And in the next game when I played Chelsea they talked at length about how Juan Mata had recently put in a transfer request and was looking to leave. At which point I leapt in to the transfer market, only to find he’d signed with Barcelona.

Another neat commentary tie-in came up with Leighton Baines (a 9mil signing) who’d been receiving a lot of praise in the press for his performances since joining Man Utd. When we came up against Fulham in November, Baines strode forward and powered a left foot drive in to the bottom right corner, to which Tyler mused “and that is a great goal from Leighton Baines, who is in wonderful form this season”.

It’s all subtle, but it’s incredibly immersive and FIFA 14's Career Mode is jam packed with these wonderful little audio snippets which we hope will reverberate around any club you decide to manage this year.

Conclusion

After last year’s sweeping changes, FIFA 14’s Career Mode is perhaps somewhat modest in its improvements this time around. But, it’s incredibly important not to underplay things like the user interface revamp which is a whole lot more than just cosmetic. Career Mode flows now like never before and instead of being constantly interrupted by bad design, I was able to just sit back and soak up all the stories and decisions the mode threw at me.

People have wanted a proper scouting system for years and the Global Transfer Network is certainly the answer. It also finally bridges the boredom gap between transfer windows because you actually have something to analyse and pursue in these previously dull game weeks. And because player ratings and form are forever changing, your scouts will always come up with one or two new players for you to assess. The one thing that’s missing is the ability to setup pre-transfer window agreements, which feels like a huge missed opportunity.

Many of Career Mode’s underlying fundamentals like player growth, fatigue, transfer realism and player stories have all been refined and now combine to make probably the most realistic version of the mode we’ve ever seen. These evolved elements and EA’s brave move to mask the OVR have edged Career Mode ever closer to the hardened management simulation we all want to see it become. There’s still a hint of fantasy in there as well, but it’s bound closely by EA’s new found management principles.

I had an absolute blast in the six or so hours I spent with Career Mode and even though it's list of marketing tagline features is relatively short, under the hood much has changed. This feels like a version of Career Mode, designed for Career mode fans and because of that, and EA's continued pursuit of management realism, I can't wait to start for real in September.

If you have any questions, hit the comments. 

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