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World Cup 2018: The Video Game

Sunday 10th June 2018

Football video games are a staple of my life. The crossover between reality and virtuality is beautiful. FIFA's series usually creates a seamless stream of verisimilitude which encapsulates my attention way beyond the recommended session time. I remember several times missing real match kick-offs due to playing on a screen. 

The latest World Cup game has arrived. Russia 2018’s redolent software package. Does it offer excitement before the tournament? Will it remain relevant after this summer's festivities?

The game has no physical entity. No tangible state. There wasn't any lining up outside shops to buy the disc. It was a free, automatic download. The perils of 1984 are indeed alive. You don’t need to even think, it's already there whether you want it or not. 

I assimilated to dystopian terms and conditions of using the new update; continuing on my journey to cyber Russia to play the newly-formed networked CPU. At this point, memories of prior games came flooding back.

FIFA’s 1998 edition was a real corker. The last two were also gems, particularly South Africa's 2010 version

I can't help reminiscing about taking Jamaica not only through the barren CONCACAF qualification campaign but to a World Cup semi-final. If only the time wasn't 3 am, I might have won the coveted trophy.  

The menu screen loads. Oh. This is different. The modes are all missing. I had previously enjoyed the qualification campaigns, captain your country and story of qualifying. They had all added depth, ensuring you got the most out of the game. After all, this was once an addition that money had to be spent on.

Another noticeable absence: there are far fewer teams to choose from. In my favored 2010 and 2014 versions, I had the opportunity to play as 200+ countries. This was breath-taking. I could spend as much time selecting a side as controlling them on the pitch. European giants, South American stalwarts, and Oceania minnows — they were all present.

This year’s download has skimmed it down to the tournament 32, with some token extras. Widely-followed nations such as Wales, Republic of Ireland and the United States feature. Yet, we're void of Ghana, Hungary and Jamaica. Teams which have all featured in major competitions during the last four years, while also proving valuable to their respective confederations. Whoever picked the non-qualified section needs their head checking.

It's important to remember that features could be added at a later date. The intangible software is prime for change. Okay, we've dwelled on what the game doesn't offer. But what does it possess? 

World Cup 2018 is incredibly slick and shiny. It's well polished, with the ample sound capabilities making it seem the action is being experienced first-hand in Russia. The menu screens look pretty nice, too. The décor and theme both consistent with the real tournament.

Having selected England's highly-rated national team, I was able to get a feel for the game’s natural handling. It's a direct expansion of FIFA 18, meaning there isn't much difference to the original. If anything, the gameplay is a tad more fitting to international football. The club version provides great speed, whereas the recent update has slowed down the overall pace. As a result, it feels more natural. Matches seem real, not simulated.  

Russia 2018 feels authentic. Providing such an experience has been a clear objective over the past eight years. Less arcade looking, focusing effort on getting gamers closer to the blades of grass that their heroes play on.  

When summarising, we must take the long and short. Granted, several fundamental features are missing. However, the game isn't a stand-alone. It was a free extension. Neither FIFA nor EA Sports were obliged to produce it. They'll receive no profit, at least not directly.  

There is, of course, the possibility that the game was made lacklustre to encourage people to use the FUT pay-to-play version. Only to later call the World Cup add-on unpopular before scrapping it completely. That’s enough dystopian scepticism, though. It’s free and it’s good.

Oops. One last snap at the system. I’m not entirely comfortable with the game being download-only. For one reason: should FIFA or EA decide to recall it, there's virtually nothing preventing them. They couldn't take my disc, but my current copy is vulnerable. Up to now, research suggests the FIFA 14 World Cup update remains a feature. However, that could also be withdrawn at any point.  

Although Russia 2018 is satisfactory, it's a corporate game with subtractive value.

Warren Smith

A British and J.League soccer enthusiast, now local to Yokohama, Japan. A keen Arsenal supporter. Has been known to play the game every once in awhile, once likened to Xherdan Shaqiri. 


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