Consider the Gillette razor. It's not so much marketed as it is rationed. One year: 9-Blade Technology. The next: Serrated Power Edges. This prime piece of mengineering bears a striking similarity to EA's FIFA.
It's not merely that the FIFA games, like Gillette, are a global phenomenon beloved by hairy critics and consumers. It's that for both, improvements are drip-fed. With this in mind, EA Canada's offering this year isn't quite the best a man can get.
Let's clarify: we played a pre-alpha build of FIFA 14 running at about 60% completion on an Xbox 360, rather than one powered by the next-gen Ignite Engine revealed during the Xbox One conference. Sweeping changes were not expected, and sweeping changes we didn't get. That said, Precision Movement - one of this year's big additions - is at least noticeable from minute one.
Gameplay producer Kantcho Doskov explains: "It's the most fundamental part of FIFA gameplay. It affects everything. It affects first touch, it affects dribbling, it affects shooting, positioning, AI. In the last game, if you wanted to change direction, it was like 'we don't care where your feet are planted, we just know you want to go there.' It was called floaty animation. We were giving the user what they wanted - but it didn't look like football."
Now it most certainly does. Whereas in previous FIFA games players seemed to glide across the pitch, here they plant their feet and forcibly push off. It results in a noticeably weightier, more grounded game. Like wading through soup compared to FIFA 13's water. Accelerations feel powerful, with faster players positively bursting from the blocks.
But speed also has a harsher effect on stopping distance, with pivots and cut-ins after explosive runs now resulting in longer recovery times where players dig heels to slow down. Running one way and then the next, just as it does in real life, requires overcoming momentum and pushing off from a leading leg. It takes time to learn, and stray balls will occur as you do, but most FIFA fans will relish the opportunity to sink their teeth into something new.
Precision Movement isn't about giving you more control - more about recreating the feel of football
In development for two years, the technology behind this new 'motion philosophy' is just as impressive as the results. We were shown a wire frame video comparing FIFA 13's blended movement to FIFA 14's step-based-locomotion: where in the former, lines of code were fed to the player after each animation, here code was fed after each step. Footwork is seamless, with no noticeable transition between animations. It doesn't necessarily result in more control over the player; it's more about recreating look and feel. Precision Movement is pure biomechanics; the science of movement.
Where the first improvement concerns the player, the second concerns that equally crucial element of football - the ball. Pure Shot enables grandstand efforts from distance. Shots now swerve, dip, bend and rise with newfound lethality. We know what you're thinking, and don't worry: Pure Shot won't turn FIFA into some breezy goals-a-thon. Says Kantcho: "Pure Shot doesn't make shooting more accurate or less accurate or more effective. It just makes it understandable."
"So last year," he continues, "if the ball was played in behind you, you may have had an animation which warps back, and slides you to that position and then you kick it. It didn't make sense. Now it's more understandable. Why did he miss that shot? Oh, because he was off balance, oh because he was sprinting, oh because the ball was underneath his feet." The laws of physics are never broken, and goalkeepers are still capable - you'll simply want to test them more.