In the transfer-crazed world of top level football, real life is getting more and more like Ultimate Team mode all the time, so we may as well just embrace that. FIFA 15 Ultimate Team starts you with a team of bronze-level players and tasks you with improving your team so you can hang with some of the best clubs in the world.
That takes a while, but not as long as in some other team-building sports titles. For starters, the game has no energy system or restrictions on play of any kind. If you want to sit down and grind out a two-hour-long session on your iPad or Android tablet, you’re free to do exactly that. And you’ll need to in order to get really good players without spending additional money, because Ultimate Team mode remains a grind for coins to buy more packs of players just as it’s always been across the whole EA Sports range.
One really important addition means that you can play through matches faster than ever before. The Quick Simulation option puts you in the manager role, guiding your team from the touchline instead of controlling the players. As management sims go, it’s very lightweight — your only in-match controls are to choose an attacking, neutral or defensive style and pick an intensity level via sliders — but it does get you to the next match faster and can be a good way to dispose of teams you know your squad will beat without much effort.
For the more hands-on approach, FIFA 15 Ultimate Team provides several options for controlling your footballers on the pitch. The casual controls give you just the basics, while the complete controls offer more precision, parituclarly with the weight and location of passes. There are touch and swipe controls too, but I found myself never really using any of them except for tapping on players to switch on defense. This is a game that cries out for a gamepad, and that’s probably the best way to play, provided you enjoy figuring out what the buttons do by trial and error.
Graphically, you know what you’re getting at this point if you’ve played previous FIFA mobile games. The visuals and animations seem nearly unchanged from last season, and there’s some funky things going on with textures at times. Hair, in partiuclar, seems like it’s hard for the game to render. Christiano Ronaldo would not be amused.
If you do find a way you like to play, though, you’re golden, as there’s a wide variety of tournaments and a league system with rewards for avoiding relegation, earning promotion and winning silverware. It’s a lot of fun to simply build a big enough squad to meet the prerequisites for certain events, and EA always does a good job keeping things fluid with features like the Team of the Week, where you can grab special in-form versions of players performing at a high level in real life. There’s an auction house and all the other things we’ve come to expect from Ultimate Team too. What’s missing? Multiplayer, though unless it was a manage-only situation, I’m not sure how that would be possible at this juncture.
Like a soccer player who favors one foot, FIFA 15 Ultimate Team depends entirely on its one strength. Still, that one gameplay mode is a successful one, and at least the game has stopped pretending to be something it’s not. Full-featured FIFA is on consoles, while a free-to-play Ultimate Team mode with no restrictions is on mobile, and that’s just fine for now.