Think Landon Donovan's too soft? Do something about it.
In EA Sports' upcoming FIFA World Cup Brazil, gamers can take any player from any country (including user-generated characters) and train him to play in a style of their choosing. Want to turn Donovan into a slide-tackling thug? Go nuts. Prefer to ramp up the dribbling skills of your virtual self and help the U.S. team secure the Cup? By all means. Somebody has to do it.
That’s just one of the features EA packed into its World Cup game, which hits shelves on April 15 (Xbox 360/PS3). We had the game’s line producer, Matthew Prior, tell us about some others.
ON THE PITCH
This isn’t just FIFA 14 in new packaging—EA wants to make that abundantly clear. In fact, World Cup’s designers paid close attention to the harsh criticism that FIFA 14’s gameplay elicited, fine-tuning World Cup with controls they hope will please both the hardcore FIFA gamer and the casual fan. Improvements include better acceleration and deceleration, tighter turning—especially while dribbling—and the ability to perform over-the-back headers. Adds Prior, “We also added more pinpoint passing, including ground crosses, to help give users a different experience than what they’re used to in FIFA.”
New set pieces and corner kick strategies have been added to the game to help attack opponents. “You can crowd the keeper or play the far post,” says Prior. “Your computer-controlled players will make actions in those areas, but the skill is still up to the gamer to put the ball where the tactics require.” There's also a new penalty kick system gives keepers an added level of intelligence. “In FIFA 14, when your keeper dove left—even if the ball was right above him—he’d make no attempt to get it because he was already locked into his animation,” says Prior. “Now they’re a lot more intelligent. They’ll reach for the ball or try to kick up to make the save.” Arguably the most amusing addition is keeper antics: Goalies bounce up and down along the line, and even throw in a wobbly legs animation in hopes of intimidating opponents. All's fair.
PS4 AND XBOX ONE? NOPE.
World Cup is the second big sports game announced this year (NASCAR 14) that's bailing on the next-gen systems. “We only have so many resources,” explains Prior. “Right now, the 360 and PS3 are still the most popular consoles. Part of it also has to do with the emerging markets like Brazil, where penetration of the Xbox One and PS4 is zero. We want this game to be accessible.”
Not only will you see fans waving banners, flags, and seat cards in the stadium, but the game also features live city presentations for each of its 203 teams. They include crowds going wild in Trafalgar Square after an England goal, or German fans erupting from Brandenberg Gate in Berlin. “What makes the World Cup so special is the atmosphere it creates,” says Prior. “We captured the fans inside the stadium biting their fingernails and dancing, but also wanted to represent what these games are like for worldwide crowds.”
CAPTAIN YOUR COUNTRY
Like a "career mode" of sorts, World Cup's "Captain Your Country" options tasks you with training a player of your choosing (or creation) and piloting him up from the country’s B-team to the World Cup starting lineup. "With all of our tournament modes, we have training so you can build up your players in specific categories," explains Prior. "You might have a great striker, but need a tackler to boost your defense. Now you can train that guy on tackling to make him the well-rounded player you want.”
In case any of you literalists are wondering why a country's elite player would wind up on the JV squad, EA thought this through: “If you pick a real-world player, we pitch it as he’s just coming back from injury," says Prior. "Otherwise it doesn’t make sense to have someone like Landon Donovan on the B-team."
ROAD TO THE WORLD CUP
Like "Captain Your Country" but for the entire squad, "Road to the World Cup" challenges you play through everything from the qualifying rounds to the group stages. Up to 32 players can play locally as any of the 203 National Teams sanctioned by FIFA. EA will also offer an online FIFA World Cup mode where you compete in the group stage and World Cup finals, needing to win seven games in order to ultimately come out on top. For pressure-adverse gamers, the online "Road to Rio de Janeiro" mode lets you move through Brazil’s 12 host cities, advancing from stadium to stadium once you earned enough points (3 points for a victory, 5 points to advance, for example). Lose too many games, however, and you’ll be relegated back to previous levels.
REAL-WORLD STORY MODESHistory buff? Take a crack at recreating one of 60 real-life scenarios from the 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifying stages, including Team USA vs. Costa Rica in the snow. “It’s fun to play in such ridiculous conditions,” says Prior. Then, once the real World Cup begins, Story of the Finals online mode will enable gamers to play challenges based on games that just concluded. “If you’re watching England versus Italy in the opening game," explains Prior, "about an hour after completion, you can replay a scenario from that game. If Wayne Rooney scores a hat trick in the last ten minutes, we’ll have you play as Rooney and see if you can repeat his heroic. No longer do we just want to ship a product and that’s that. This mode creates a unique bridge between the real world and the game.”