2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil

2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil

It's a World Cup year, and you know what that means...

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Sometimes getting excited about a new FIFA game isn't the easiest thing to do, and this feeling makes itself known most obviously during a World Cup year, when there's three different titles released within a twelve month period (four if you count the next-gen version of FIFA 14).

Don't get me wrong, I like FIFA. It's been one of my go to games for the best part of two decades, we've had a long and fruitful relationship (even if I did cheat on the franchise with PES once or twice during the mid-naughties). I play plenty, but despite that the World Cup games always leave me feeling a little bit cold. The have the look of the classic money grab, a chance to squeeze a few extra shekels out of devoted fans.

During the Euros just past, the decision to include the tournament as a DLC add-on for the core entry that year met with my approval. This time EA is creating a standalone title to mark the biggest footballing tournament in the world. That's not necessarily a huge issue, the Euros pale in comparison to FIFA's flagship event, and there'll be plenty of interest in World Cup 2014 Brazil from non-FIFA aficionados (a stat mentioned during the presentation more than once by producer Matt Prior was that - as it was four years ago - they expect half of the game's take-up to come from players new the franchise).

The question is then, how do EA Sports make this new FIFA game relevant to both new fans and old? Before the presentation started my main concern was that it might be a struggle to inject enough meaningful content to ensure 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil was an essential purchase across the board. After the presentation and my hands-on time with the game, most of my concerns have been somewhat eased, though that's not to say that my doubts have been completely eradicated.

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2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil

Menus and whatnot are but a facade, and the main thing that purists will want to know is how it plays, and whether there's progression and improvement on what we've seen in the past. Precision dribbling is just as the name suggests, it's more precise than in FIFA 14, while through balls seem a little more erratic than before (maybe that'll be tightened up before launch). EA says they've improved ball trapping, but the ball was still pinging away from our defender's instep in unwanted positions during our time with the demo, so we're going to reserve judgment on that claim for the final build of the game.

All told, there wasn't a massive amount difference between this and FIFA 14. To be honest, I didn't expect there to be. During my chat with Matt Prior, he did explain to me that the absence of FIFA Ultimate Team did free up a bit of memory, allowing his team the luxury of not having to cut gameplay features or make too many compromises. The build I played felt solid, decent, though underwhelming compared to the version of FIFA 14 I've been playing on Xbox One. I think they'll never put the genie back in the bottle on that one, current gen FIFA won't compare from here on in because we've already seen the future, and it is good. While we're on the subject of Xbox One and PS4, the decision to stick exclusively with Xbox 360 and PS3 was down to resources and console availability. I also asked Prior about what next-gen football fans would have to look forward to this summer, and while it will be a slimmed down offering, there will be content coming for those who've shed their current gen consoles in favor of new machines.

What there is in 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil is plenty of different modes. A plethora of options greet the player at the starting menu, which as always is busy but well implemented. EA has got very good recently to catering for all fans, and offering a variety of different ways to play the game. For those - like me - who like to play offline for the most part, there's the vanilla World Cup tournament mode, and a Road to World Cup option that let's you take any one of the 203 officially sanctioned teams through the qualifying stages.

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My hands-on time was split between a run through of the tournament, and an attempt at qualification. Along with a writer from another outlet I made a stab at World Cup glory with Germany, but alas we were thrashed 3-0 in the quarter finals by Belgium (it is a golden generation of players there after all - we simulated the tournament after our exit and Belgium came runners up to Russia).

2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil
2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil

In the Road to World Cup mode we opted for something out of the norm, and tried to steer Nigeria out of Africa and into the finals in Brazil. We'll never know how that particular campaign would have finished, but the handful of games we played did give me some insight into how it's going to feel to play a full campaign. There's a calendar, not dissimilar to what we've seen in the manager mode in the main series, and here we see the events surrounding the international games. There can be long waits between matches as time advances. There's also a shed load of friendlies, perfect if you want to tweak and experiment, annoying if you want to get through to games of consequence.

One major inclusion is the training sessions. During qualification and the finals, you'll be able to run your own sessions, picking areas to improve certain members of your squad. There's a variety of different ways to tweak and boost your player's stats, and the better you perform in mini-games, the bigger the improvement you'll see in your players. I'm theory it means you'll be able to train your team in a particular direction, so if you need goals you'll be able to work your strikers on shooting, if you need a clean sheet you can make sure your defenders are well drilled. As Prior put it, "it's not a means to create an uber-bionic team" as you won't be able to max out stats, so exactly how much meaningful impact this will have remains to be seen, but it's a neat idea. Like the friendlies, you can sim the training sessions if you wish, ensuring the quick fix or adding more depth to the experience as desired.

Pro Clubs fans will be able to take charge of a player in Captain Your Country mode. Taking either a newly created character, or a real player returning to the B team after injury, we're being promised a chance to live the fantasy of playing for our country, potentially lifting the World Cup at the end. The other offline mode is Story of Qualifying, where we'll be presented with real life scenarios, and completing them will unlock the stories of how certain countries made it to the finals.

Online modes include Road to Rio, where players will battle through twelve divisions, moving between cities as they head towards glory and holding the World Cup aloft in Rio. Online Friendlies return, back due to popular demand. Story of the Finals plays out much like its offline counterpart, except this mode will constantly update during the tournament, with new events being added to create "a scrapbook of events and scenarios" from the summer event. If you're the kind of FIFA fan who likes to hit the game straight after a match and reenact the matches that have just been played, this mode will undoubtedly hold some appeal. The Online FIFA World Cup mode lets you compete against personal and community averages in a variety of different matches. Extended play will reveal which of these new modes are killer, and which are filler.

2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil

Other than that, there's a laundry list of minor tweaks and innovations. The EA Sports team have been given access to wind tunnel physics for the new "brazuca" match ball, so there's a layer of science in there now for purists. We're promised over 100 new animations, such as passes with the outside of the boot, headers over the back of opponents, and new flicks and tricks.

As most football fans will know all too well, penalties are an integral part of the World Cup. EA Sports are adding in new goalkeeper animations, allowing them to goad opposition players, and pull silly moves just before a kick is taken (think Bruce Grobbelaar). Shot tuning will be simpler, which should mean less wild shots for inexperienced players. Keepers will also be able change save mid-dive thanks to improved AI, so if they see the ball heading down the middle when they've leapt to the left, they may try and stick a hand out back the way they came. Much like real life this will often be in vain, but it likely means more penalty spot drama and that's a good thing in our book.

More advanced players are being promised better input control and sharper reactions from their players, and pin point passing. As with every FIFA game released there's plenty of buzzwords flying around at the moment, so we'll have to wait and see how these changes manifest themselves in the game.

One nice new feature is a beginner mode. Recognizing that there'll be plenty of people picking up the game who aren't core FIFA fans, EA are including a two button (pass and shoot) mode with really soft AI for those completely unfamiliar with the franchise. It's a nice touch that should appeal to younger kids and non-gamers who are looking to enjoy a bit of football over the summer, though FIFA fans are urged to stay away because of the cricket scores that will undoubtedly follow.

Other nice touches include a full roster of players (over 7,400), and 19 authentic managers, as well as football's top man, Sepp Blatter - a likeness approval that went right to the very top of FIFA (but as Prior noted "we made him look lighter than in real life to grease the wheels"). There'll be a variety of weather effects (though these will be more obvious in qualifying), and cutscenes from the countries playing on screen, with celebrations back home including landmarks for additional atmosphere. In fact, atmosphere was mentioned several times during our visit to EA's Guildford base, and it looks like a lot of effort is going into the creation of the stadiums. This makes sense if they are trying to "capture the flavor of Brazil" and create "the most authentic, immersive, and deepest representation" of a World Cup to date. Given that they're competing against they're own past efforts, we've no doubts that they'll achieve this. I'll even go as far as saying that it's looking like a decent overall package, particularly enticing to newcomers. Will it be enough to draw in those who've already shelled out 50 quid on a copy of FIFA 14 just six months ago? Well, that's what we're waiting to find out.

2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil
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REVIEW. Written by Mike Holmes

"It's a sidestep rather than a progressive move forward, tweaked yet comparable to FIFA 14, and ultimately more of the same."

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