IF ever a gaming subgenre had a perilous shelf life, it is surely the World Cup tie-in. Usually released a few months before football’s greatest tournament kicks off, it seeks to capture the anticipation of fans and allow them to chart their nation’s path to glory.
2014 Fifa World Cup Brazil - Xbox 360 (reviewed) / Playstation 3
Score: 8.2 / 10
For long-suffering Scotland fans in particular, such a journey represents an especially potent fantasy.
However, once the real-life trophy has been won and the international football calendar falls silent, the games are ejected from disc drives and consigned to a lonely place on preowned shelves the nation over, never to be played again.
Little to entice FIFA 14 owners
Consequently, there has historically been a reticence on the part of developers to offer an entirely new product from the usual annualised releases when it comes to World Cup titles.
There are always presentation overhauls and dedicated modes, but beneath the cosmetics, the changes to the gameplay are minimal at best, calling into question whether the standalone versions represent value for money.
By sheer virtue of the solid and entertaining physics engine underpinning it, 2014 Fifa World Cup Brazil is an excellent game - but if you already own FIFA 14 there is little in way of new features to entice.
Expansive World Cup mode
EA cannot be faulted for realism in the flagship Road to the World Cup mode, a vast, meandering way of playing through from a team’s earliest fixtures all the way - with any luck - to the finals proper in Brazil.
Spanning qualifiers, friendlies and training sessions, it is an expansive and rewarding option for those in search of as accurate a simulation as possible, especially if you succeed in qualifying with an unfancied nation.
That said, it is hard to imagine that the majority of gamers would relish the prospect of playing through a series of meaningless friendly encounters as far back as 2010, a full four years before this summer’s spectacle.
It is possible to simulate the results such fixtures, but equally, ploughing through the pastel-hued calendar (the colour scheme most definitely hints at Brazilian exhuberance) in the knowledge that the consequences of certain games are minimal hardly makes for an enthralling experience.
As with every new FIFA title, the developers claim a continuing evolution of the core gameplay. This time around, EA claim an all new control system is in place, featuring ‘response dribbling’ - which “allows players on the pitch to turn quickly at every possible angle and still maintain control” - and ‘pinpoint passing’, a roster of new animations which improve precision and responsiveness.
In practice, it is difficult to surmise how these features impact on the existing engine. The animations, granted, make for a more visually appealing update, even for those gamers introduced to the smoother framerate of the next gen versions of FIFA 14. Whether they truly make for a different game is less tangible.
Set piece play transformed
Where the differences are obvious, EA do well; assuming the position of a goalkeeper during a penalty now allows you to distract the striker - a nice if rare touch of humour - while the ability to control the runs of AI teammates during set pieces is a genuinely transformative offensive skill if used wisely.
All this tinkering bodes well for FIFA 15 and there is a sense that having honed the essentials of the beautiful game, EA is paying increasing attention to dead-ball play, a crucial part of modern football.
If you are impatient, this World Cup special will be an entertaining stopgap until the new game arrives in the autumn. The question, as ever, is whether you are prepared to invest upwards of £30 for such a pleasure.