With just about every staging of the FIFA World Cup since videogames became part of home life, EA SPORTS has been there with an entry of their World Cup series of games to provide players at home with the opportunity to live out one of the grandest global sporting events. Since core titles in the FIFA series traditionally release in September to coincide with the beginning of association play, the World Cup entries have seen late spring/early summer releases and served to function as “.5” versions of the last core entry. With 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil seeing exclusive release on “last-generation” consoles, however, we have a title which exists somewhere in limbo between FIFA 14 for the Sony PlayStation 3 and Microsoft Xbox 360 and FIFA 14 for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. As a result, the experience of playing this year’s videogame celebration of the World Cup will differ greatly depending on where a person falls in terms of their FIFA 14 experiences over the last six months or so.
The easiest way to see how 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil finds itself stuck in the middle between last-gen and new-gen FIFA 14 is to analyze how the game plays on the pitch. Some facets of gameplay have been tightened up from last-gen; control is meant to be more responsive, and players are meant to be more “explosive” coming out of directional changes. These are improvements over how FIFA 14 played in September on PS3 and 360, but a step back from how the game currently plays on the PS4 and XB1 versions released in November. The game also introduces Over-the-Back headers—used most frequently by defenders in clearance when the ball is in the air—but while this is new to last-gen FIFA, it still remains behind the new versions of FIFA 14 which allow multiple players to contest for the ball in the air. The return to last-gen also carries with it the loss of a solid 60 frames per second experience, which necessitates an adjustment period for anybody return to an old console after putting hours in on their new one.
To its credit, the game does introduce new gameplay features which are tailor-made to end up in all versions of FIFA 15 when the core series returns this fall. The best of these is Set Piece Tactics which come into play when taking a corner kick or a free kick from the flank in the attacking zone. Pushing down on the directional pad brings up a menu with four options for how your teammates will react once the kick is taken, helping create more strategic scoring chances; it may well be the best gameplay addition to 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil. The development team also worked closely with adidas—creators of the Brazuca match ball for the World Cup—to improve the physics reactions of the ball, in some ways meeting the level of improvement seen in FIFA 14 on the new consoles.
As is tradition, the development team also has seen fit to make some changes to penalties as well, with improved shot tuning for the kick takers and better overall reactions for the goalkeepers. Keepers make an extra effort on shots that hasn’t been seen in the FIFA games before, which makes the penalty process more organic. Goalkeeper Antics have also been added—pressing a face button triggers one of four animations where the keeper taunts the kick taker—and while they’re humorous, they also seem starkly out of place in a game representing a tournament with so much on the line. No fan of the United States wants Tim Howard acting out an exaggerated matador taunt if the game is on the line and a place in the knockout round is at stake in real life, so it seems an odd addition to the game.
When it comes to an overall assessment of gameplay, it’s nearly as simple as this statement: fans of FIFA 14 who have only played it on a last-gen console will find enough to be happy with, but fans of FIFA 14 who have played it on the new consoles will find it lacking. As someone who was a Day 1 adopter of the PlayStation 4 and FIFA 14, it is all too frequent that I find something in 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil’s gameplay that annoys me because I know it’s been fixed or tweaked on the new consoles. Whether it’s a physical interaction between players that doesn’t work right and doesn’t seem to trigger foul calls appropriately, or players off the ball failing to recognize a chance to get into open space and take a through pass, it breaks me out of the experience and constantly reminds me that there is a better version of the gameplay experience which came out five months ago on a newer console. The game speed is also significantly ramped up—which is understandable, since the core audience of a World Cup game is a more casual player who only comes to the series once every four years—but even setting the speed to “Slow” fails to bring it back to the more measured experience of FIFA 14 on the new consoles.
There is fun to be had in 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil in basic gameplay, but long-term enjoyment comes with the caveat of either being unaware of the improvements made to FIFA 14 on the new console generation or willing to forgive the game for technical limitations preventing it from living up to that new standard.
While gameplay is a mixed bag, one thing that the World Cup games have traditionally gotten right is depth in game modes to have a full experience. 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil is no different, boasting a host of ways to take part in the tournament from your living room.
There are various takes on playing from qualification through to the World Cup in Brazil itself, including “Road to the FIFA World Cup”—which allows you to use any one of the 203 nations included on the disc to try and earn your ticket to the final—and “Captain Your Country,” a player-focused mode where you control a created or existing player and attempt to earn your place on the final 23 roster for Brazil by playing the “Be A Pro” game type. For gamers whose team may not have made it to Rio—or those who want to see how closely they can replicate their team’s real-life qualification process—these game modes provide significantly lengthy experiences. There is also a basic “2014 FIFA World Cup” mode where players begin in Brazil using one of the 32 qualified teams—or substituting teams of their own choosing—and just play through the final experience.
There are also online takes on the process through “Road to Rio de Janeiro” and “Online FIFA World Cup,” which essentially take the “Online Seasons” feature of FIFA 14 and apply it to the World Cup landscape. While purists may be frustrated that there’s no easy way to set up an online experience which fully replicates the nations and group draws found in Brazil, these modes offer diversity in team selection for the online experience. Online play is about par for the course for FIFA titles, though limited play did reveal some rough lag which hampered the experience of a game so reliant on smoothness in play.
“Story of Qualifying” and “Story of Finals” return to provide scenario play which will be familiar to anyone who played 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa; “Story of Qualifying” is available from launch, tasking players to replicate the results of key qualifying matches around the world leading up to Brazil. Once the real-life World Cup finals begin, “Story of Finals” will be persistently updated with new scenarios as the matches are played so that what you see on TV can be tackled in-game without much time passing in between.
Finally, along with staples like “Kick Off” and “Online Friendlies” meant for one-off games, the “Skill Games” of recent FIFA titles return to give players of all skill levels the opportunity to hone their skills and develop their play in multiple categories. While these games mostly come from FIFA 14’s skill suite, there are some minor variations available through “adidas micoach Training”—which happens in the tournament modes—meant to train up certain skills in players as their form rises and falls over the course of matches. Training games between matches allow you to select a single skill to train and a single game to use in training, while allowing you to select four players to undergo training in the hopes of improving their ratings. It’s not all that ground-breaking, all told, but it helps to incentivize participation in training between World Cup matches and expand on the experience.
The World Cup series traditionally has been able to hang its cap on great event-related presentation, and 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil isn’t any different. From the moment you boot up the game, the menus clearly mean to evoke the carnival atmosphere of Rio de Janeiro and Brazil, with great color and imagery which are a stark contrast from the clinical feel of the FIFA 14 menus. Stadium fly-ins before matches show the location of the venue in Brazil and have imagery specific to that region of Brazil, along with highlighting the higher-quality fan models that have been created for stadium close-ups not seen in the core FIFA titles. Nineteen of the 32 managers at the World Cup are fully-licensed and appear on the touchlines as high-quality models, and all 12 of the stadiums are licensed and represented as well.
One major point of emphasis in presentation has been the addition of cut-aways to fans watching the game from around the world as their nation takes the various pitches in Brazil. You’ll see footage from “fan zones” on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., at Trafalgar Square in England, and fans celebrating in the streets of Paris when France scores a goal. These cut-aways are brief and don’t have much in the way of variation, but they’re a nice touch with regard to replicating how World Cup games are broadcast when the event happens.
Despite all of the good in presentation, anybody who has played FIFA 14 on a new console will find it difficult to overlook how dated the visuals look across the board in 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil. Player faces get a bump up in quality from last-generation FIFA 14, but player models and kit details take a major step back from the fluidity of the new console generation. There are some new animations in the game compared to last-gen FIFA 14, but the smoothness of animation blending in the new console generation isn’t here to mitigate some of the lingering awkwardness of the previous game engine. The manager and fan close-up models suffer in the same manner, especially when you notice flat 2D fan models peeking out from the corners of a close-up of 3D fans in the stadium; it’s unfortunate, and really breaks the immersion that the game is trying to create. Even the new “fan zone” sequences have this awkward blend of 2D and 3D models which make you glad the glimpses are brief. After seeing massive stadiums populated with high-resolution fans in the new console generation, seeing fan models in close-ups which don’t compare visually is a disappointment.
One bit of presentation which is a nice touch is the addition of “EA SPORTS Talk Radio” in the menus once you commit to a tournament mode in the game. Players can choose to listen to Andy Goldstein and Ian Darke on one channel or the “Men in Blazers” (Michael Davies and Roger Bennett) on another, and the talk radio will comment on your nation’s progress through the tournament as you navigate the menus. Over 50 hours of commentary is said to have been recorded, covering basically any nation you could add to the tournament; it’s a nice option to have if you’re going to spend a lot of time playing the game and don’t want to continuously be exposed to the game’s licensed soundtrack.
When the initial announcement was made that 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil would only be coming to PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, it was both understandable—since the older console generation has a larger global install base, particularly in Brazil where new console adoption has been slow—but also frustrating for those fans who were early adopters of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One and longed to see a World Cup game which took advantage of the new FIFA 14 enhancements using the EA SPORTS IGNITE engine. It’s probably impossible to quantify how many gamers won’t be playing the game at all because buying a new console meant trading in an old one. FIFA 14 on PS4 and XB1 will be receiving some manner of World Cup-themed content in its Ultimate Team mode—a mode which, somewhat surprisingly, doesn’t find itself present in the World Cup entry—but it is likely to be little consolation.
This situation is part of what makes it so hard to quantify a singular reaction to 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil. Gamers of many different backgrounds will be coming at a decision-making process for this game, and each gamer will have a different take on whether the game is worth the $59.99 MSRP, especially since that’s the same MSRP of a game they could own on a new console.
It is unfair to lump too much criticism against the game for what it is, which is a FIFA entry which is very much improved compared to the PS3 and 360 versions of FIFA 14. The game can be enjoyable once you drop comparisons to the newer console and embrace the spirit of the World Cup, which is fully imbued in the title across the board. Playing the World Cup as the United States, I had an enjoyable group stage run with a 2-2 tie against Ghana (buoyed by a 90th minute Landon Donovan goal), a surprise 2-1 victory over Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal, and then a stinging 3-2 defeat against Germany which was just enough to see me through to the knockout round against Russia in the Round of 16. The games and results were exciting, and as the drama intensified I was able to overlook so many of the things noted throughout this review.
But at the end of the day, 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil can’t be FIFA 14.5 because that is essentially what the PS4 and XB1 versions of FIFA 14 are; instead, the World Cup entry becomes more of a FIFA 14.25. Anybody who owns a new console will feel that tinge of disappointment when they are forced to go back to a console they thought they’d left behind, having to deal with an overall console experience which is older and lesser than the one they bought into last November. I would love to livestream this game to Twitch and share in the community experience of an event like the World Cup, but the steps required to do this on PS3 compared to how easy it is on the PS4 only add to the feeling of inherent frustration; a feeling which will unfortunately be shared by much of the gaming community.
- Set piece tactics
- Robust game modes
- World Cup event atmosphere
- Overall gameplay experience
- Dated graphics and animations compared to next-gen
- Assorted roster bugs mar launch experience
Because 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil is such a mix of positive and negative elements, it’s hard to recommend a Day 1 purchase at full price. With the actual World Cup event two months away, it’s fair to assume that the sales price will drop as the matches in Brazil approach. As a result, our official review recommendation is to “Wait” until the game is available used or at a discounted price. Your personal experience with and opinion of FIFA 14—and whether or not you have played it on the new consoles—will greatly influence your experience with 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil.
Full disclosure: 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil was reviewed on the PlayStation 3 with a retail copy provided by EA SPORTS.