EA might have experimented with a download-only route for its official Euro 2012 game, but when it comes to the World Cup, the publisher has made a clear choice to offer a full retail release.
There's more to that distinction than first meets the eye. With this decision comes an unspoken commitment to provide sufficient content for the premium price.
Euro 2012, which was a £16 / $20 downloadable add-on to FIFA 12, didn't offer much apart from the official tournament, updated international teams and squads, and maybe the odd extra mode, all of which was implemented without too many issues.
But the key question hanging over 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil is whether this full-price release can justify the additional expense.
The gameplay on the pitch doesn't exactly offer a convincing answer. Historically, World Cup and Euro games are considered testing grounds for EA to debut new mechanics that will be present in the next FIFA game if they're well received (and quietly ditched if they aren't).
This year the developer appears to be content with making very few noticeable differences to how the game plays. Any tweaks to the speed or feel of the game are so subtle that they are arguably inconsequential.
"For the first time in a FIFA game, every single national team that took part in the qualification campaign is featured"
Despite it playing similarly, the look has undergone an upgrade. Not in terms of players and animations, we should stress: very little has been improved over FIFA 14, but we'd wager this is more down to the Xbox 360 and PS3 reaching their limitations after nearly nine years of FIFA games.
It's in other areas where World Cup looks better. Given the colourful Brazil setting of this year's tournament EA has cranked up the saturation dial, with far more colour in the stands and some stadia baked in fierce sunlight. As superficial as this change may be, it does have a slight psychological impact and makes it clear this isn't just regular old FIFA with dreary mid-season slogs in the rain. This is a special summer football party where the grass is (literally) always greener.
Slideshow: Player likenesses
Extra detail has also gone into trying to capture the World Cup atmosphere, albeit with mixed results. The addition of managers for 19 of the teams who qualified is certainly a nice touch, and it's fun to see the likes of Roy Hodgson and Cesare Prandelli jumping around when a goal is scored.
The additional cut-scenes featuring fans outside the stadia, however, are a good idea poorly executed. As well as the occasional generic crowd shots showing Sims-grade supporters dressed head-to-toe in their country's colours, there are also short scenes showing groups of fans watching the game on big screens back home - a nice touch, were it not for the fact that the needlessly low shaky-cam and overuse of bloom lighting makes it look authentically amateur.
While brief, these scenes are so poorly done that it takes about ten views before you can tell the England fans are in Trafalgar Square, and the sudden lack of commentary throughout can't help but shatter the illusion of watching a proper broadcast on TV.
The game fares better aurally. The typical nation-merging soundtrack aside, the new World Cup-specific commentary adds something special to the game, with each country getting its own specific trivia and general discussion topics during matches. Playing against Croatia, for example, spurs the commentators to discuss their chances and their history in the tournament. It's a brilliant touch that will inevitably generate excitement for the real-life tournament too.
But is it enough to ensure players will be enjoying this after the final celebrations in Rio? After all, as this is essentially a game based on a seven-match tournament, the majority of time is likely to be used playing other modes than the main World Cup finals.
The optional Road To The FIFA World Cup mode lengthens the main tournament by winding the clock back to the start of the qualification process and tasking you with qualifying first before you get the chance to enter the finals proper. Not only does this greatly extend the length of time you'll dedicate to one competition, it also gives you the chance to right real-life wrongs and help Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland or any other country qualify for the main tournament.
For the first time in a FIFA game, every single national team that took part in the qualification campaign is featured: a total of 203 squads. This means that, yes, your oddly specific dream of winning the World Cup as Equatorial Guinea can finally become an unlikely reality - and if you can't be bothered doing it legit by playing through the qualifying stages, you can just flip a middle finger at realism and slot any team of your choosing straight into the main World Cup mode instead.
"This isn't regular old FIFA with dreary mid-season slogs in the rain, this is a summer football party where the grass is greener"
In terms of other modes, the most notable for offline players is probably the return of fan-favourite Captain Your Country, which featured in the Euro 2008 and World Cup 2010 games but was ditched for the Euro 2012 DLC.
As before, it lets you take control of an existing or created player as he starts on the outskirts of his country's B-squad. By consistently performing well, the aim is to eventually make your way into the main squad and take part in the qualifying campaign before becoming captain and winning the World Cup.
This mode is particularly enjoyable when played with up to three other players. As it's a lengthy campaign and is offline only, the number of people who'll be able to play it like this will be limited, but get some siblings or friends involved and it becomes an interesting combination of co-operative and competitive play - after all, you may all be on the same team and you may all want to win the World Cup, but there can still only be one captain.
That's the offline side of things, but since FIFA is a flagship online game for EA, many will be keen to see what's on offer here. The answer isn't too satisfying - the popular Ultimate Team mode has been ditched, as have the 22-player Pro Clubs matches. Instead, there are just two options: the self-explanatory Online World Cup and a new mode called Road To Rio De Janeiro.
This is essentially a modified version of FIFA 14's Online Seasons mode. Whereas in Online Seasons you're placed in Division 10 and are given ten matches against other Division 10 opponents to earn enough points for promotion, here you start at one of the Brazil 2014 venues and are given ten matches to earn enough points to travel to the next location. It's essentially a 12-division Seasons mode with the Maracana being the equivalent of Division 1.
It would be remiss to cover 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil without addressing the elephant in the goalmouth. With the game only coming to Xbox 360 and PS3 - the fewest number of systems ever to host a World Cup game, even going back to 1986 - the inevitable question from Xbox One and PS4 owners will be why this game isn't also coming to their expensive new consoles.
Certainly it would have been possible, seeing as this is a game that is essentially FIFA 14 with a serious makeover. The six main modes featured are reskinned versions of existing FIFA 14 ones, and the same EA Sports Football Club levelling-up and coin-based catalogue system is carried over too.
The real reason EA didn't support new-gen consoles may never be known: the only real conclusion to come to is that the reward didn't justify the resources. Whether that means the likes of EA Canada is at full stretch already, or that EA doesn't want compromises on quality, or that the installed base differences between last and next-gen are too vast right now, is unclear.
What's certain is that it's understandably disappointing for Xbox One and PS4 owners. It could have looked glorious, and there's an oncoming next-gen drought too.
Still, what we have is a World Cup spin-off that still plays the same brilliant game of football FIFA 14 does on Xbox 360 and PS3, albeit with fewer teams and modes. While it was never going to outdo EA's main series in terms of content that was never the intention.
The key objective for this game is to get players in World Cup mood and ensure all the FIFA you play from now until the end of July is based on the events in Brazil. In this respect, given the modes on offer should at least take a few months to play through in their entirety, it should be considered a success.
Just don't expect to still be playing it by the time FIFA 15 eventually turns out: this is purely an 'event' game for the summer alone, and as long as you're fine with this there's just about enough in there to justify your £40.
Not as feature-packed as FIFA, but nothing will get you hyped for the World Cup like this. If you are okay that this has been designed to only be played for a few months, you'll find enough here to keep you gripped with World Cup fever.
- A colourful, carnival version of FIFA
- Captain Your Country returns
- Scenario mode will last
- Excellent commentary
- Only available on two consoles
- No gameplay improvements
- Ultimate Team absent
- Some odd touches