Last Friday we headed off to EA Guildford to spend the day with World Cup 2014, the game aiming to replicate the drama, the excitement and the magic of the upcoming tournament in Brazil. We left Guildford crushed with disappointment, but for all the right reasons.
I guess what people will be wondering most is how much better is World Cup 2014 than stock FIFA 14? The answer, unsurprisingly is that it’s an improved experience overall, but just like its predecessor, it’s a somewhat of a mixed bag when it comes to affairs on the pitch.
Most of the gameplay changes to EA’s credit have centered on community feedback and as such the dribbling is now noticeably tighter, as is First Touch Control. Lofted through balls have also received attention and are now more often over or under hit, as opposed to landing perfectly on a sixpence 99 times out of 100.
Some niggles remain though, like player switching which seems destined to remain un-fixed on this generation of consoles, as is FIFA's tendency to dish out the odd wayward pass, directed miles from where your analogue stick was aimed. Long passing felt a little odd too in this build as the power seems to have been unnecessarily nerfed, resulting in prolonged button presses to get the desired switch of play. A standard FIFA offering then, one might say.
On the whole though it does play better and is perhaps a more accessible game compared to FIFA 14 and with the World Cup brand open to a much wider and often newer consumer base for EA, its something the die hards will have to accept. When stacking up World Cup 2014’s gameplay versus next-gen FIFA 14 however, there’s really no contest as the PS4 and Xbox One versions still represent the best FIFA experience by some distance.
A welcome surprise though is that World Cup 2014 is a much better looking game than we expected sporting a pleasing new level of polish to the games graphics. Stadium exteriors and the like are now present on PS3 and Xbox 360 too which when combined with the plethora of World Cup themed presentation bells and whistles, makes for the most accomplished visual package we’ve seen on this hardware.
Invariably what matters most with FIFA World Cup games though is whether EA have managed to capture enough of that World Cup magic to enable you to immerse yourself deeply in to the tournament experience, feeling the emotion of every twist and every turn. They have, and then some.
It’s a culmination of many factors really because the whole game is geared up from minute one to grab you by the balls and inject World Cup fever in to your veins. When the game does it well (and it does so often) the aforementioned gameplay frustrations simply melt away as you’re instead gripped by the enjoyment of World Cup tension.
Even in a day’s play we’d managed to craft some great World Cup memories. A scraped 1-0 win architected by a mazy Neymar dribble against Cameroon. A glorious triumph over the Germans in the Semi Finals which concluded with a dramatic 7-6 win on penalties. But as we sat there, crushed by defeat after the final against Spain and the credits began to roll, the purpose of these World Cup games came crashing home.
It may not contain the nextgen equaling gameplay update we’d hoped for, but if World Cup 2014’s sole mission was to bring the excitement of the tournament in Brazil straight to our living rooms, then the team have succeeded, and with a heavily time bound experience like World Cup 2014, sometimes that’s enough.
The content on offer is exhaustive too, and to deliver a fully licensed game with 10 game modes, a new training system, 21 new stadiums and so much more in just 15 months is a remarkable achievement. There's a really strong design vision behind this game, with every menu and sub menu doused in carnival atmosphere. It may seem like a small thing, but the attention to regional detail especially is staggering and you can't help but be sucked in by it.
Okay, it’s not doing anything especially new, but each and every FIFA trope which we've now seen routinely rolled out over the last three years has been expertly delivered and above all else, this is just a fun game to play. We spend all year delving in to the finer details of FIFA, looking for chinks in EA’s armour, and it’s very easy to forget that at the end of the day we all play these games to relax and have fun. However infuriating they can sometimes be.
So light the barbecue, chill the beers, get your mates round, fire up FIFA World Cup 2014 and have an absolute blast. The time for cutting critique and greater concern will soon be at hand with the arrival of FIFA 15, but in the meantime, enjoy World Cup 2014 for exactly what it is. A superbly presented, samba inspired, football romp around one the worlds most diverse and vibrant countries, showcasing by far the greatest sporting event on earth.
And whatever you do, don’t let Tom take the deciding penalty…
This preview was hosted at EA's UK HQ in Guildford, where they provided lunch and a variety of hot and cold beverages. These items in no way swayed the opinion of this preview. Apart from the brownies. They were delicious.