“How on earth have I lost the FIFA World Cup final to England?” These words may have escaped my lips as I sank deep in my chair, ready to console a Brazilian public that not only longed for triumph, they expected it.
Adding insult to injury, goals from Ashley Cole—the still-quality-but-possibly-not-as-good-as-Leighton-Baines left-back—and MLS new boy Jermain Defoe condemned Neymar and friends to a famous defeat. Imagine if this happened in real life.
Such fantasies are the reason EA Canada know they're onto a winner with 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil. Two FIFA releases in seven months will barely harm sales. Gamers will continue lapping the series up with the certainty of Wayne Rooney sweating his hair thin in Manaus; even if you don't think you want this product, you'll be tempted when the hubbub of June arrives.
A number of questions are sure to litter your mind when approaching this title. Is this any different to FIFA 14? What have EA added to entice those who have already invested in the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One? Has the developer included Tahiti striker Marama Vahirua, everybody's forgotten underdog favourite from last year's Confederations Cup?
Such is the fast-moving world of football, Vahirua quietly retired after the competition to little fanfare. Tahiti are included in the game's database of 203 licensed nations, however, and appear alongside the juggernauts of Timor-Leste, Vanuatu and, er, Scotland.
Additional countries are certainly welcome considering there are no club teams in sight, but it's the game's more subtle changes that will cause the greatest debate.
The most prominent of which is EA Canada's work on defending through balls and crosses. Unlike FIFA 14, your players now track lofted passes effectively. Intelligent centre-backs such as Thiago Silva and Vincent Kompany are drawn to the path of the ball in a natural way, not allowing the striker to break clear simply because he is quick.
Through balls are harder to execute and easier to defend, but the balance still remains slightly off. This time, such situations feel unfairly weighted in favour of the behemoth defenders who are tortured so heavily on this year's annual release.
Crosses are also easier to clear and require greater accuracy to deliver effectively. The newly added “Aaron Lennon Control System” sees many attempts hit the first man or fizzle beyond the far post, introducing quite a challenge on Legendary difficulty.
If you do get it right, over-the-back headers now allow defenders to mount your attacker in order to gain extra leverage. Suddenly, FIFA 14's simplest and most frustrating goals have been turned into genuine contests.
While the gameplay has taken a baby step forward, referees haven't. Climbing on the back of your opponent is rarely—if ever—penalised. Towering strikers such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic can physically impose themselves without fear of punishment, a caveat that needs to be tweaked if this system is to avoid exploitation.
Those who already invested in the next-gen consoles will still feel the difference with the aforementioned alterations in mind. With that said, graphics will appear grainy to those who have experienced the most up-to-date tech, while a 100 new animations and changes to saving penalties also possess minimal impact.
Skillful players such as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo can pull off extra tricks, classy midfielders will naturally use the outside of their boot to progress possession and are more adept at completing difficult passes when under pressure. You can also pull of Bruce Grobbelaar's spaghetti-leg act amongst other distraction tactics when trying to save spot-kicks. All neat additions, but they barely enhance the action.
Those who played the 2010 South Africa title will be instantly familiar with all game modes. “Road to the FIFA World Cup” allows you to take any nation from the qualifying campaign to the main tournament, while you can hop straight into the latter if so desired.
“Story of Qualifying” once again tasks you with replicating and improving on memorable scenarios that littered the qualification process. Tasks include trying to score five goals with England during the final 15 minutes of their Wembley tie with San Marino, completing a late comeback with France after Paul Pogba was sent off against Spain and attempting to break Eusebio's goalscoring record with Ronaldo during Portugal's tie with Northern Ireland.
It's worth noting that “Story of Finals” will be added during the competition. This is the same premise as above, but allows you to play through key moments from the South American shenanigans.
These are time-sapping inclusions if you wish to complete all major objectives. More so than the entirely bland “Captain Your Country” mode, which adds an irritating ranking system to the “Be a Pro” formula EA have bored to death over the last few seasons.
Here, you start in a nation of your choice's B-team. You are given a handful of friendly matches to prove your worth and make it up a national leaderboard. If you fail to make the cut at each interval, the game ends. If you win the World Cup with your created player or real-life professional, the game ends.
Either way, this section feels like a futile task. The default Pro camera is awkward, waywardly swinging when you receive possession and zooming out too far when defending. Your B-team colleagues—which includes the likes of Juan Mata, Alvaro Negredo and Michu if you represent Spain—are also not diligent enough to earn victory against lesser countries, who oddly field their best XI.
The usual array of skill games also make their way over from the main release. “Road to Rio de Janeiro” acts as the equivalent of Ultimate Team's seasons modes, allowing you to battle through 12 divisions in the online arena, earning promotions and relegations depending on your performance. Although not available at the time of review, this mode is likely to entice those who are looking for multiplayer longevity.
For everybody else, 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil will suffer from a limited shelf life. The official licenses, beautifully-themed menus and constant splatterings of green and yellow don't mask the fact casual users are going to notice little difference to the on-pitch activity.
Some really smart touches—such as stylish camera swoops into the stadium when teams are lining up and quick cuts to supporters celebrating goals in their own country—can only keep the carnival bouncing for so long.
At full price, this is a crammed and alluring package if you don't own FIFA 14. Next-gen players won't feel the need to hunt out their old controllers—especially considering EA are releasing World Cup-themed DLC for the PS4 and Xbox One—suggesting this is most likely to appeal to those who haven't kept on top of the series' latest iteration (if that's you, add one point to the score below).
Ultimately, the lure of this game will prove too strong for the majority. Like Christ the Redeemer sitting above Rio de Janeiro, EA extends their arms to as many players as possible with a jam-packed deluge of game modes and options. Unfortunately, if you've visited before, this sight loses its wow factor and shoots slightly wide of the Amazon experience it promised to deliver.
The most impressive part of this title is the subtle differences to through balls and crosses; although both still need work, these tweaks look promising for the future.
2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil is available on April 15 in North America and April 17 in Europe, for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Many thanks to EA for providing Bleacher Report UK with a debug copy of the latter version to review.
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