“After the wheel, the PlayStation is the best invention of all time.” Those are the words of Italian World Cup winning legend Andrea Pirlo. With the 2014 FIFA World Cup due to kick off in less than 2 months, we spent time with the official video game to determine whether it has a place in the Pantheon of Football Gaming greats.
The last time EA SPORTS released a full retail game to celebrate a major international football tournament was 4 years ago, with the release of 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa. It was a great game that built on the solid foundations of FIFA 10 and added a plethora of modes to justify its full retail price. With EURO 2012, EA SPORTS attempted an alternative strategy and produced DLC for the tournament. This was not well received and had many issues during the initial launch period.
With this year’s football festival taking place in Brazil, it seems the samba fever has convinced EA SPORTS to celebrate the tournament with a full game. Following the initial announcement, many fans were disappointed to hear that the game would only grace the PS3 and Xbox 360. Many had hoped the next-generation consoles would receive some World Cup lovin’. So the big challenge facing EA SPORTS was to produce a full featured game to justify the full retail price, as well as convincing the vocal minority who have made the jump to next-gen that they need to dust off their PS3/X360 (delete appropriately).
Strength in Depth
From the initial menus it is clear that 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil (FWC2014) is a game truly blessed with modes and features that will keep you busy till the tournament kicks off and possibly till the launch of the next version of FIFA later this year.
The WORLD CUP and ROAD TO WORLD CUP modes need no further explanation. During our extended playtime with the game we found ourselves constantly wooed by the CAPTAIN YOUR COUNTRY mode. Essentially it is a Be A Pro mode that allows you to create your own player, force yourself into the national team based on your performances in skill games, friendlies and B-Team international matches with the ultimate goal of leading your team to glory at the World Cup (a la Maradona 1986). The STORY OF QUALIFYING throws you straight into 54 challenges/scenarios that took place during the arduous qualifying campaigns across all the continents. Each challenge has Major and Minor objectives to achieve. We also found 10 unique scenarios specific to the England National team that can be unlocked. Similarly, STORY OF FINALS mode (unlocked when World Cup starts in June) presents you with challenges/scenarios updated on a daily basis as the real-life tournament progresses in Brazil.
Due to the nature of the preview code we obtained and the limited number of people with access, our online experiences were limited to a couple of games. However, there are clearly enough modes to keep you occupied for the durations of the tournament and beyond with ONLINE FRIENDLIES, ROAD TO RIO and ONLINE WORLD CUP which represents the World Cup version of SEASONS. Add to the mix SKILL GAMES and EA SPORTS FOOTBALL CLUB and you have a feature packed FIFA title focused purely on the FWC2014.
Sights & Sounds
Once you get onto the pitch, it becomes instantly clear that this game has some graphical advantages over its older cousin FIFA 14. Everything from the pitch elements to the player faces and kits has seen a clear improvement. Interestingly these enhancements are only obvious in the full retail version, as they were clearly not evident during our time with the demo that was released last week (possibly due to compression). Don’t expect similar graphical differences to those seen when comparing FIFA 14 on PS3/X360 to PS4/XB1, but the improvements are clear for all to see. That the FWC2014 development team managed to push this ageing FIFA engine to provide a more pleasing visual experience deserves some recognition.
The addition of over 100 new animations also adds to that feeling that this game is different to FIFA 14, including new shooting animations such as punts when struggling to get the ball out of your feet and shots whilst slightly stumbling. We also saw some new tackling animations as well as some touches that looked like they had come from the Next-Gen version of FIFA 14. Another great touch is the 19 licensed managers that they EA SPORTS team managed to get in the game. Although it’s hilarious to see “Woy” grimacing on the touchline, we sincerely hope that isn’t the case when the tournament kicks off in June.
It’s clear that the carnival atmosphere that this tournament in Brazil will bring was a major focus of the development team. The crowds look brilliant and vibrant with real attention to demographics of the countries that are playing on the pitch! The carnival feel is further enhanced with some great sounds depending on what nations are on the pitch, yet interestingly there is almost a Brazilian remix to everything. As with most tournament-specific titles, the limited amount of stadiums means the team can really focus on making them look wonderful, and they do look great.
The commentary has also been enhanced with the usual duo of Clive Tyldesley and Andy Townsend supported by Geoff Shreeves being a nuisance pitchside. But the most intriguing addition to the commentary/narrative is the addition of the EA SPORTS Talk Radio that analyses your offline FWC2014 progress. It features both Michael Davies and Roger Bennett of the Men in Blazers or Andy Goldstein of talkSports and Ian Darke of ESPN. The two teams have recorded a combined 50 hours of audio and they constantly provide insight into your performances as you progress through the modes.
Feel The Samba
So EA SPORTS have the Carnival fever and have provided us with enough modes to keep us satisfied for a while. How does the game feel? We would start by saying that it is clear that this game has been tailored to become more “ACCESSIBLE” than FIFA 14. Accessible being the key words here as EA SPORTS would like this game to appeal to and be entertaining to more than just the usual dedicated FIFA crowd. In making the game more accessible, the game has seen some improvements as well as some minor setbacks. Furthermore, some of the gameplay changes are purposely done to provide the adrenalin-filled madness that the World Cup provides often.
FWC2014 is a faster game, providing an “arcadeier” feel to it. This may split the fans but it was purposely done to provide more action packed matches. We personally prefer a more considered simulation here at FSB, however, I must say that this game can be a lot of fun. It’s also important to consider that the controls are more forgiving which makes it far easier to pick up and play. This is meant to appeal to the casual gamers who occasionally buy a football game and also to those who play other football or sports games. Another positive we noticed with extended play is that there seems to be quicker responsiveness from players when controlling the ball. Improved responsiveness is always a welcome sight in football games, particularly if it is accurately reflected with precise controls.
Although this game essentially carries the same tech as FIFA 14, it clearly has its own unique feel. There are some differences to the ball physics that may have been introduced due to the collaboration between EA SPORTS and ADIDAS with extended testing of the “BRAZUCA” official FWC2014 ball. Shooting has more fizz to it, whilst the ball seems to travel fractionally faster during passing. The physicality of the game has also been altered. In order to make the game more accessible, the “Tactical Defending” system has been tweaked and now feels more like a hybrid between “Tactical” and “Legacy” defending. You can now press the player more easily and get much closer to them than “Tactical Defending” would typically allow you in FIFA 14. This means much more physical interaction and tussles between players.
With such a wide range of tweaks to the gameplay elements in FWC2014, there still remains one question. What changes have been made to the artificial intelligence and have the gameplay changes contributed. We can confirm that the AI remain solid, nothing stellar, but a good experience nonetheless. Although there have been various tweaks and improvements to the gameplay of FWC2014, the AI still performs as well as FIFA 14 and in some instances better.
Overall there seems to be an improvement in player awareness and reactions particularly with loose balls. The variability in player intelligence depending on the attributes of players is well reflected in FWC2014. During the qualifying campaigns you can feel the difference between sides and also see the variability in the style of play. However, there is still not enough dynamism in the way the AI responds and reacts to your input, something that its more powerful cousin (FIFA 14) still struggled with on better hardware. We would have liked to see a more “Active AI” that is almost on it’s toes waiting for your next move before providing you with options that you have triggered (player runs) as well as nearer short passing options that are constantly moving. As this game is running on the old FIFA engine, there is still that ability to easily run into a cull-de-sac even when playing with pass-masters like Spain.
In other areas, Goalkeepers are more acrobatic that’s for sure! We also encountered fewer instances where goalkeepers made blunders whilst under no pressure, especially when playing with or against lower rated international sides. Overall the AI seems to be behaving very well in light of the faster gameplay and tuned controls.
With the World Cup less than two months away, many fans will be looking for something to keep them busy particularly as most club competitions reach their final weeks. We have no doubt that FWC2014 provides a great footballing experience that will keep you entertained until, during and long after the World Cup is over. It’s a real shame that they couldn’t release a Next-Gen version, but understandable given the limited time EA SPORTS have to produce this game and the limited install base. Our only concern is that this game may not get the attention it deserves because the Next-Gen version of FIFA 14 is still enjoying the limelight.
EA SPORTS have done a great job in creating a game that is more accessible and much easier to grasp. Essentially this game has a much more gradual learning curve when compared to the steeper FIFA 14. As a result the casual gamers who don’t necessary play football games all the time (we all have those friends) will really enjoy the experience. From a hardcore football gamer point of view, it’s not perfect and it does feel faster, but it can be a lot of fun. Essentially that is what the EA SPORTS team was trying to achieve by making this game more accessible, they were attempting to create a harmony of Realistic, Fun & Easy-to-Play. Those three words don’t usually go together in the football gaming arena, but Matt Prior and his team have produced a package that maintains elements of all three.
With more modes than you can count on two hands, pretty much every national team under the sun and hours of fun FWC2014 is a must for every football fan. Some might lament the lack of Ultimate Team, but given the length of the tournament/number of players and the addictive nature of that mode it might be a good detox for FIFA players. We’re already broke from FIFA 14! For those who have migrated to PS4/XB1, we would say give it a chance as it does well to add to the spirit of the World Cup. Thank god CAPTAIN YOUR COUNTRY is back!