I enjoyed my time with 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil... but I couldn't escape the nagging feeling of good it could've been on next-gen platforms.
EA Line Producer Matthew Prior gave very understandable reasons as to why the latest FIFA will not be coming to PS4 or Xbox One. The relative number of Xbox 360s and PS3s in the wild, and the fact that hardly anybody in the World Cup's host nation, Brazil, will own a PS4 or Xbox One due to their exorbitant prices (R$3999 for a PS4, 63 percent of which is import taxes) means Prior considers it "sacrilege" to release a game none of the home fans could enjoy. The trouble is, sitting down with it, there's a feeling that more could've been done on superior hardwarde.
The first thing that's apparent is the number of new modes. We tend to pour over the new gameplay innovations in each new FIFA, but the World Cup game offers a ton of interesting ideas before a ball is even kicked.
Captain Your Country sees you create or take control of a current international, and battle against three other team-mates in the B team to catch the eye of the manager and earn your place in the squad, continuing to work your way up the ranks before winning the armband. This added level of competition is refreshing for what has become the 'match-sim-match' cycle of Be a Pro - I'm no longer focusing on my own performance alone, but whether I can out-perform my rivals, and whether my actions might actually benefit those guys and lead them higher up the rankings (for example, I assisted a striker's goal, which led him to a higher match rating and selection to the full squad - curses).
It's not perfect, mind, and while only a small bugbear, Captain Your Country does highlight all three player's names on-screen along with your own, taking up far too much real-estate. It becomes a bigger issue if you choose to play on the wing, mind, meaning for 45 minutes you can hardly see what you're doing.
The best feature here, though - as with most of the game - is the implementation of skill challenges as training drills. Skill games are no longer segregated from the rest of the experience, but actually help improve player stats. Between matches you'll have the option to complete a drill with up to four players, with either 'Adidas Micoach' recommending a drill based on your weakest area, or choosing your own. The better you perform in the drill, the greater your player will improve. Of course, there are caps on potential, so don't expect to craft the next Lionel Messi or Ronaldo with full 99 stats across the board. When taking control of a full squad, this helps plug particular weaknesses in your national team (like England's notorious lack of a quality left-midfielder), or quickly get up to speed in the aforementioned Captain Your Country.
The addition of training as a core part of all modes is very exciting for the FIFA series going forward, and I really hope the team in Vancouver expand upon this for 15, as Career has been sorely lacking innovation for a number of years.
There are, of course, minor tweaks to the gameplay that help keep matches interesting, too. Defenders can now climb over attackers to win headers, taking away a forward's advantage when running through on goal to receive a chipped pass. Lobbed through balls have been nerfed, though on Xbox 360 and PS3 there is only one animation for long passes, so this 'nerfing' could simply be a consequence of the lack of variety in how players kick the ball.
Button inputs feel more immediate. One of my biggest complaints with FIFA 14 is there's a big delay between pressing pass or shoot and the player actually doing so. This doesn't happen in World Cup, especially with passes.
You'll be pleased to know that penalties have been tweaked as well with a greater focus placed on the first phase of spot kicks (the accuracy bar that you must stop in the green zone). Prior explained that too many players skewed penalties high and wide as they were unaware of the sensitivity of the left analogue stick when placing penalties, so this has been adjusted.
Again, all these gameplay improvements are nice, but still fail to bring it up to a level of contention with FIFA 14 on my PS4, which is why the RPG-like game modes became so interesting. I spent much of my time with the game trawling through the menus and seeing what new levels of depth they offered. The online Road to the World Cup in particular will hook anybody who spends time with FIFA 14's Seasons mode. The basic premise is that you start at one of the 12 host stadiums, and have a certain number of games to collect a minimum number of points to proceed to the next stadium. You must progress through each stadium before culminating at the Maracana, with the hope of lifting the trophy.
Anybody who is as passionate about the World Cup won't be disappointed, as you'd imagine. There's so many different modes that will keep you intrigued for the entirety of the tournament and beyond should you choose to keep playing. It's just such a shame that the game lacks the gameplay of what we now consider current-gen, as that would then make this title a must-buy.