2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Review
Every four years EA Sports gets to triple-dip and, essentially, sell three soccer games within the span of a year. The World Cup game is usually diminished in some aspects, serving as a side story to the generally substantial offerings in the annual releases. This year is a bit different in some regards, as 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil is a full-priced retail product rather than a download or expansion, and the developers at EA have tried to diversity the modes and gameplay offerings enough to satisfy those who might be curious to mix up the usual FIFA action.
Have they succeeded? Well, if you're not looking for next-gen visuals and if you're comfortable paying $60, you'll find some breezy FIFA action on display, complete with a few new gameplay wrinkles and a good number of game modes that stretch the World Cup conceit nearly to its breaking point. It's hard to recommend the game wholeheartedly and without caveats, but if you go in knowing what this product is, there's probably some value for you.
The big selling point for this World Cup entry is that there are lots of new modes to play that are inspired by the World Cup tournament. This is true from a purely factual standpoint, but as always, EA is fudging the truth a bit, since many of these modes are just riffs on each other or previous FIFA modes. Still, kudos to the devs for finding a bunch of different ways to approach the World Cup experience, whether it's online or offline. All of this action gives face time to the 12 venues that are going to be featured in the 2014 World Cup, and EA has done a great job of rendering these unique venues and giving them some level of meaning within the World Cup experience. All 203 FIFA-recognized countries are available to use, so any small country can be brought through qualifying and into the final tournament.
For anyone that's played FIFA in the last couple of years, the action on display for this World Cup release will feel quite familiar, but with a few new wrinkles. In particular, if you've played FIFA 14, you'll be able to situate yourself almost immediately. The sad truth is that FIFA 14 on Xbox One or PS4 has some powerful technology boosting up the action, so this X360/PS3 release obviously lacks the better framerate, resolution, animations and overall feel of its next-gen peers. With that said, the action plays and feels familiar while reducing the emphasis on play in the center of the pitch, meaning you'll be able to go by defenders a bit easier and run down the field with relative ease (particularly on the low and mid difficulty levels).
This isn't to say the game is an arcade experience, but EA has clearly conceded that these releases are unique from the annual games This means you'll find yourself unleashing some powerful shots, which feel different thanks to some good sound work and wind-up, and you'll be able to have more chances at goal than you might get in FIFA 14. This increased “oomph” on the shooting creates for some spectacular goal-scoring scenarios, and you'll likely find yourself driving in a few more deep shots than normal.
This speed and shot emphasis comes at the penalty of stupider AI, which can be a bit troubling on both sides. Your teammates seem more passive than ever to go after any loose ball, and your opponent's defenders will also let you run by them with more ease than should probably occur. It's a tough balance to achieve, especially when EA clearly wants to create more action in this release, but having players stare at a ball in open space can be a maddening thing to watch. I found this particularly galling on the Captain Your Country mode, the game's Be-A-Pro equivalent. I took control of one player and had to watch as my mid-level Canada squad was basically powerless on the higher difficulties. As I was controlling one player, I could only do so much to intervene. My AI teammates would stare at similar skill opponents, completely unable to intercept or tackle, making the qualifying process particularly arduous. I want some challenge in my game, to be sure, but if turning up the difficulty in a mode like Be-A-Pro effectively kills my team's chances of even playing, it's not much fun.
On the bright side, the AI does do a better job of getting defensive headers in the box now, as you'll see them use other players to raise up and clear the ball away. This also seemed to be the case in the middle of the pitch, which is a welcome sight from the usual staring and navel gazing that goes on in FIFA 14 (even on next-gen). Goalies seem about the same as in FIFA 14, and you'll see them generally make some pretty good saves but still be a bit passive on corners. Speaking of corners, the game now has some pre-defined plays that you can call when taking a corner, and this allows you to set up runs from outside the box or crowd the goalie. These worked well in my experience.
On the whole, my feeling is that the gameplay lends itself to some exciting action from time to time, but I get frustrated when AI players don't react to obvious errors by the opposition. Wayward passes and deflections should be collected; instead, CPU players hesitate and are slow to react. I'm fine with slightly buffed shots and somewhat easier runs, but I'd like to see the CPU show more aggression when no one has possession.
There are quite a few modes on offer for solo play, including Story of Qualifying, Story of Finals, Road to World Cup, Captain Your Country, skill games, exhibition and the World Cup tournament itself. The Story of Finals is a neat little wrinkle, as that mode will unlock during the real-life World Cup tournament and allow you to replay certain match scenarios in order to change or preserve history. Playing through the World Cup tournament itself is a pretty standard affair, as you alternate training sessions with actual matches. It's more or less the same for Road to the World Cup, as you can take a fledgling nation all the way through qualifying and into the final tournament.
Captain Your Country is probably the most meaningful mode, as you can use either a created player or someone on your country's squad. The idea is that you are competing against a few others on your team to be the captain, and you'll constantly see their ratings and progress as you compete to be top dog. You'll have to outdo them in training, and you'll need to distinguish yourself on the pitch. There are occasional newspaper headlines to see, and the game's talk radio teams will occasionally prattle on about how you're doing. This mode provided some fun, to be sure, but I was annoyed by the inability to actually quit a match once I was in it (had to go to the dashboard), and the constant score overlay of your competing teammates during play is very poorly designed, taking up about 20 percent of the screen.
Multiplayer comes in three flavors: online friendlies, World Cup and Road to Rio. The online friendlies format is similar to FIFA 14, in that you're playing against friends in one-off game sessions. The World Cup mode has you playing against random players as the game creates an artificial World Cup tournament around you based on who you play. You have to get out of the group stage to play against other teams in the knockout rounds. Road to Rio is the most substantial mode, as its basically the “seasons” concept that FIFA has been using for a while, but the gimmick here is that you're going through the various venues in Brazil, earning points and trying to make it to the next city (get promoted).
Most of the action I had online was quite smooth, as is the norm with FIFA games, but I did have a couple of matches that were quite laggy. Not sure if those folks were way far away, but I'd suspect that was the case. It's also worth keeping in mind that many users who buy games like this often choose powerhouse teams like Brazil or Italy, meaning the matchmaking process may be skewed somewhat when it's trying to find lower-tiered countries.
Artistically speaking, 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil looks really good, with all 12 venues modeled in nice detail. There are lots of splashy touches, such as camera cuts to the crowd out on the streets, coaches jumping up and down on the sidelines, and angled sweeping shots of the stadium. You'll see some goofy costumes and silly fans in the crowd, and the colours used to represent World Cup Brazil are particularly vibrant. On the pitch you'll get a similar level of artistic detail, as all of the country kits are well-represented.
Then again, having been to Eden and tasted the fruits of FIFA 14 on next-gen, it's hard to go back to lower-powered hardware and have poor crowds, compressed animations, and lower framerate and resolution. It's really made me appreciate the replays and player detail in next-gen FIFA 14, and it makes going back to this game kind of rough.
On a positive note, the sound design remains top shelf, as the commentary team of Clive Tyldesley and Andy Townsend do an awesome job of getting you excited for what's going on during play. As usual, the chants, singing and din of the crowd also come to life on good sound systems, and you'll hear some jamming international tracks during the menus. EA has also created two talk radio channels during the menus, and these are used to provide some anecdote, commentary and history about past World Cups and your current exploits. It's a neat idea that's been done before, and they don't get very specific about what you're doing, but it's a good addition.
It's tough to reconcile the realities of a game like this, as it does a lot of things reasonably well, but then it sits in the shadow of a better game (FIFA 14) and a $60 price tag. The folks at EA Sports have done about all they can to stretch the World Cup tournament to its limits, including themed modes, artistic flourishes, talk radio banter and all 12 Brazil stadiums. But even with those efforts, I still wonder if this shouldn't have been an expansion or lower-priced release. What's here will provide a diversion for the die-hard fans and casual World Cup watchers, so if you go into it on that basis, you'll find some value from this one.
Learning Curve: All of the modes do a good job of explaining what it is you'll be doing in them, and the gameplay feels slightly different while also familiar. The skill games continue to teach you during down moments, and the usual assists and sliders allow you to make the game bend to your will (if need be).
Control Scheme: Everything feels comfortable and familiar with the FIFA controls if you've played any of the recent games, and the new corner set-pieces are easy to deploy. The shot timing was slightly different since everything feels a bit easier, but most will probably find their footing soon enough.
Visuals: If you've been spoiled by Xbox One or PS4 technology powering FIFA 14, it's difficult to come back to jittery framerate, compressed animations, poor-looking crowds and lower resolution. The art direction is good; the tech is not.
Audio: The commentary works great for this release, as do the talk radio duos that pepper the menus with anecdotes and banter. Love the sound effects on the ball, too. The soundtrack provides some good beats as well.
Value: This is definitely a game that should've been sold as an expansion or a digital-only release. I can't say it's worth $60 if you already own FIFA 14 on Xbox One or PS4.
Score: 7.0 (Good)