Every four years the FIFA World Cup rolls around and with Brazil being the host nation this time around, fans can expect some thrilling, fast-paced football from one of the strongest countries in the sport. Despite our lads, the All Whites, failing to qualify this time around, thousands of New Zealanders will be set to witness the International heavy-weights, like Spain, Germany, and the Netherlands go toe to toe when the tournament kicks off in June.
As with football World Cups before this one, EA have released a timely edition of their top-selling FIFA franchise, which brings all of the flair and ceremony of the prestigious event. But with the release of FIFA ‘14 being less than eight months ago, it’s a tough decision whether fans should fork out again so soon.
For those who have ditched their old consoles and upgraded to the PS4 or Xbox One - the decision is easy. You can't play FIFA World Cup Brazil 2014. It's a strange move for EA to release this title only on the older Xbox 360 and PS3 (considering FIFA '14 was released across all platforms) and is a point of contention that has a lot of people wondering; is this FIFA World Cup going to be a major step-backwards and seem just like a port of an older FIFA, but with some new stadiums and team kits?
The short answer is yes. For FIFA fans who have played the newer console renditions, there is an expected step backwards in terms of animations, graphics, detail and ball physics. But for those with an Xbox 360 or PS3 - there have been some subtle improvements since FIFA '14.
In my opinion, EA’s FIFA offers the best gaming football experience to date. FIFA World Cup Brazil 2014 continues this trend, bringing to the table responsive dribbling with excellent ball control. Passing and shooting seems to be the same as in FIFA ‘14 on the old-gen consoles, but in order to capture the flair and excitement of the world cup, players appear to move a lot faster - especially strikers, even when they’re on the ball.
Adding to this, penalties have been tweaked slightly to heighten the tension. During normal match-time (not shoot-outs), players will now line the penalty box waiting for a spilled shot, or awkward deflection which can cause for a nail-biting goal-mouth scramble. It’s another layer of realism injected into the game. Put simply, if it has been four years since you last played FIFA - then this title is going to impress the casual fans.
On the surface, the overall presentation has been given a face-lift. The menus are vibrant and hit you in the face like a piñata, with Brazilian colours and their 'carnivale' World Cup flair.
Also all twelve Brazilian stadiums that will feature in the World Cup are included, complete with cinematic fly-ins to really help encapsulate the atmosphere of the world's most watched sporting event. Add to this all of the festival-esque music, confetti, national anthems, and new crowd animations - this game does feel very different to plain old FIFA '14.
There is a certain vibe that this is FIFA for the masses, as a lot of casual fans jump onto the World Cup bandwagon. However there is plenty of detail for real football fanatics too, for example all of the teams have authentic qualifying kits (and even training gear) for the preliminary games before switching to their official World Cup strip. All of the managers appear in the game too, and while their animated models seem quite subdue when considering what is at stake, you can still clearly distinguish Scolari and Klinsmann.
As mentioned, FIFA World Cup Brazil 2014 is more accessible than other FIFA titles, with faster gameplay (much like the real tournament) which results in end-to-end football, with more scoring opportunities due to a slightly dialled-back realism factor. The end result is a slightly more arcade form, which is perfect for multiplayer where the matches are condensed and action-packed.
Don't expect to have 7 - 5 score lines however, because while the opportunity to score seems higher, the improved goalkeeper AI will still stop a lot of them. It's just that the emphasis on a crowded midfield has shifted in this World Cup rendition, giving more emphasis on counter-attacks and through balls.
While the main attraction is obviously the World Cup finals, there are plenty of other game-modes to make this title worth picking up as well. The Road to the World Cup has all the authentic qualification formats, with friendlies, playoffs and all of the 203 FIFA-sanctioned teams available. The Story of Qualifying mode is a nice throwback to the qualifying campaign too, with scenarios taken from real-life events.
One of the highlights will most likely be Story Of Finals, which allows you to replay the games as they happen over in Brazil. We couldn't try this out obviously as the World Cup hasn't kicked off yet, but as many FIFA fans will attest, it’s always fun trying to rewrite history in your living room. Finally, Captain Your Country and other online modes return here, along with an additional fifteen hours of newly recorded commentary.
It's still a little bewildering why next-gen console owners can't enjoy FIFA World Cup Brazil 2014 - however one explanation is that there aren’t enough next-gen consoles in countries other than the US. Most notably, host nation Brazil, to warrant the expense of making separate games. It's fairly justified, but then a DLC pack with additional stadiums, commentary, player rosters and kits for Xbox One or the PS4 would be nice.
However in the meantime, this is still football at it's finest for Xbox 360 or PS3 owners. It's difficult to justify it for owners of FIFA '14, but these titles always do well with a non-footballing audience. It’s ideal for gamers who enjoy the sport and want to get immersed in World Cup fever when June rolls around.