Maybe you’ve heard: Landon Donovan did not make U.S. soccer manager Jürgen Klinsmann’s 23-man World Cup roster. Considering that Donovan is perhaps the most well-known U.S. soccer player, this has caused a bit of a stir among those who follow the national team. Not only will his absence cast a shadow over any U.S.A. loss in the Rio World Cup, but the years that follow are likely to be a constant question of “What If?”
Questions of “What If” are one of the things that video game sports are best at, however, and “2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil” (PS3/X360; Rated E; $49.99) is no exception. As a matter of fact, Donovan himself is emblematic of much of both the good and the bad in this latest edition of EA Sports’ celebrated soccer series.
While Donovan did not make the U.S. 23-man roster, he still takes up a default spot on that same roster in “2014 Brazil,” which underscores the biggest problem with the game – it’s a stopgap. “FIFA 14” was released last September, “FIFA 15” will (probably) be released this coming September, and “2014 Brazil” is arriving in the middle of both to capitalize on World Cup fever. The fact that a patch has not yet arrived that removes Donovan from the starting squad is an indication of just how little EA Sports plans on supporting this game.
World Cup appeal
All that said, it is still a “FIFA” game, which has been one of EA Sports’ standout franchises for some time now. The game’s approach to a playable version of soccer is nearly as graceful as watching the best in the world play, even if mastering it still remains incredibly difficult.
Every mode in “2014 Brazil,” whether online or off, centers on the Cup somehow. But that’s okay, because the imminence of the World Cup is the main reason this stopgap version has the appeal that it does. Options include playing just the World Cup, playing the qualifying games or taking the role of a single player whose goal is to captain his team all the way to the World Cup.
EA has licensed a new (if slightly repetitive) batch of songs for the game, and the announcing teams actually do a very good job of saying interesting things both during and between the matches. Particularly fun is hearing the U.S.-based announcing team known as the Men in Blazers humorously wallow in their sorrows after a particularly brutal U.S. loss.
A fun souvenir
You can find shades of the improvements that EA is working on for “FIFA 15” throughout this edition, as well. Shooting feels far more controllable here than it ever did in “FIFA 14,” and corner kicks and headers feel a little easier to defend. The game in general feels a little more balanced than “FIFA 14,” even if the differences are hard to quantify and the similarities too easy to spot.
Really, “2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil” is a souvenir – albeit an extremely fun souvenir. It’s also the only way Donovan will ever lead U.S. soccer to the World Cup championship. The upside is that you get shout “I told you so” in Klinsmann’s general direction. There’s value in that.
“2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil” is now available on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.
New this week: The playable version of “How to Train Your Dragon 2” (X360, PS3, Wii U, 3DS) is out this week. The first “How to Train Your Dragon” game was surprisingly involving – we’re hoping this one follows suit.