I hate to admit it, but 2014 has been a rough year for football games. I think my issues with FIFA ’14 were largely those of perception; I hated the new tackling they put in, which caused defence to be an issue to say the least. More on that in a bit. But most tragic to me was the absolute gong show that Pro Evolution Soccer had become, with even my fellow football fan Mohammed Al-Sadoon, aka The Notorious MAS, calling it “an unfinished game Konami released for full price”. Konami basically broke their game. So for my football fix, I’ve been going with Football Manager, which I’m not going to touch in one of these articles because I’ll write 50,000 words and end up selling it as a full critique like that time someone wrote a book on Spec Ops: The Line.
I decided to try one more time with a modern FIFA game and rented 2014 FIFA World Cup Brasil over the past week, figuring that I would be getting my money’s worth if only because that’s about what the game is worth. I remember my disillusionment with the prior World Cup game, when the tournament was in South Africa, when I reviewed it. I gave it a decent rating, but was tepid in my statements on the game, particularly aghast at the asking price of a full $60. The game must have sold well, because four years later, we’re here again, with a new FIFA World Cup game, another case of sticker shock, and a realization that this is almost the exact same game – warts and all – I played four years ago.
I will say upfront that I didn’t touch the online modes. Couldn’t be arsed. For people that do play online, this game is a bit more palatable because of the modes available, including the road to Rio that has people playing in all of the stadiums that are in Brazil. All I did was play through CONCACAF qualifying with the Canadian team, which allows for the fixtures to be like real life, or for seedings and pairings to be moved around. I took real seeding, which put me in the second (of four) rounds. Depending on region and seeding, this can feel like a whole season mode; the second round is six matches, then the third is six, then the final round is ten, with friendly matches mixed in. If bang-for-the-buck is the goal, this mode will provide it, at least until the football starts.
Before every match comes a training session. This involves playing a minigame for points. They’re good at first just to get some of the more sensitive controls down, but after that they’re a time-wasting pain in the ass that nonetheless feel mandatory to increase stats. There’s also the annoying Adidas MiCoach, which “recommends” the players that need a particular drill the most. Mind that these changes are those to form; they’re not permanent. So it’s always going to be the same four or five fringe players that get the training. This is frustrating because my qualifying started in 2011; that’s three years ago, and yet the Canadian football team has the same options, same players, with largely the same ratings, depending on form, for those three years. My #1 striker is Dwayne De Rosario. Do you know how old he is, without Googling? He’s THIRTY SIX. Even if Canada made it to the World Cup – or at least the final qualifying round – there’s no way he would have been on the roster. He’s a THIRTY SIX YEAR OLD STRIKER, and his form is shot. That’s a big issue to me: World Cup qualifying in this game exists in a vacuum, where each player’s club season, injuries, and the realities of ageing don’t apply. These are the things that *really* matter; if a player isn’t performing for their club, their ratings should take a hit, and vice versa, dependent on where that player plays; Tim Howard’s playing for Everton should matter much more than Julio Cesar playing for MLS’s Toronto FC.
This is all before an actual match takes place, where I quickly learned that, save for better jostling for balls in the air, this game plays almost exactly like the one I reviewed four years ago. Simply put, I don’t know where Association Football begins and Aussie Rules Football begins at times. Most of the time, defence is a matter of simply running into the player with the ball and shouldering him off of it. Did your striker get a run on you? No problem! Just run up to him – it doesn’t matter who he is or who you are, you will catch up – and jostle; you will grab on for a few seconds before just running him off the ball. It would help if players ran intelligently off the ball, but no dice; it’s usually just one player making a run at strange times, to the point where through balls don’t stand much chance because they’re either not set up properly or put in too close to the goalkeeper. Once again, the best ways to score are to either keep throwing crosses into the box and hoping one sticks, or just bombing away from outside the box. Build-up play usually just involves slowly and methodically making connect-the-dots passes; stringing together multiples is hard because of the speed of the ball. If it’s a game where the opponent is a particularly defensive team – CONCACAF fans, think Honduras – then forget it; players are in for a night of probing, sideways passes along the pitch and 35 meter prayers masquerading as shots.
In the end, I didn’t even bother getting to the World Cup, to see the best part of the game. I had to bring the game back, and rather than ring up late fees – in a store that’s made them virtually non-existent – I simply couldn’t be bothered to care enough to finish the game. Unfortunately, by the time World Cup ’14 comes down in price, it will be too late; the Final should be over by 6PM on Sunday night, which might as well be stamped on the box like a freshness seal, because once that time passes, the game becomes largely irrelevant.
I can’t even recommend 2014 FIFA World Cup Brasil to hardcore football and World Cup fans. Eventually, qualification will become boring, though there are challenges to be had, especially for anyone who wants to try to do damage with a team from Oceana. FIFA ’15 immediately makes any gameplay elevations in this title – which seem to amount to “you can crawl over someone’s back to head the ball now, yay” – irrelevant the day it comes out. It doesn’t even look good, especially since EA’s priority has clearly become the PS4 and XBox One versions of their engine. Anyone who really wants to play the World Cup would be better served petitioning EA for the World Cup to instead be added to FIFA ’18 as a $30 DLC purchase instead of coming out with an entirely new game. I feel sorry for anyone who bought this, because I think it’s pretty clear they were taken for a sucker.