Another year another FIFA game, with a year number appended to it, and this time FIFA 17 has a new new things to share with us. Yes, they’re all soccer related. I’ll go get my boots and my ball and I’ll meet you on the pitch for this review.
The FIFA series has been going for more than years than some teenagers have been alive, and weirdly this is the first time we’re reviewing one of these titles (although this is by no means the first FIFA title I’ve played–I’ve been playing them since they came out on the Sega Megadrive back in the 90s). The series has seen some interesting twists and tackles over the years, but this is the first time we’re seeing a story mode being added to the game.
The story mode, called “The Journey”, takes you in the shoes of one Alex Hunter, an aspiring football star. You get to take him from his childhood years playing footie, all the way through the trials, and signing him up to a Premier League club of your choice. The story is filled with drama about Alex’s heritage, with his grandfather being a soccer star in his own right back in the day, and how his dad left the family when Alex was young, and with plenty of story about rivals and teammates–it’s the kind of thing that anyone who has ever wanted to be a footballer would want to experience. You don’t need to read the credits to know that EA hired a team of consultants and interviewed players who had been through the story that Alex experiences to give the story that authentic feel. It helps that, no matter which team you choose, you’ll bump into actual likenesses of real players, cementing the impression of Alex being a real person, no matter how fictional he is.
It wouldn’t be a decent story mode without levelling options and dialog trees, and the game’s dialog choices has been likened to Mass Effect, allowing you to choose Alex’s temperament (cool, fiery, or balanced). Changing your temperament affects certain cutscenes, but seems to have little effect on the story itself. It’s just a way of crafting “your Alex”, I guess. You can get some lip from your manager if you don’t handle things correctly, but you’re unlikely to be dropped from your team unless you do really badly in the matches. For what it’s worth, The Journey will set you back around 15 hours (longer if you’re totally rubbish at the football part of the game).
All of this has been rendered in EA’s new Frostbite engine, which delivers some really stunning, punchy visuals, but I personally found the motion capture jumped just a little bit short of the uncanny valley. It’s no L.A. Noire in terms of facial expressions, sadly, but the graphics look amazing everywhere else. The voicework for just about all the characters in The Journey is very well done, and a really talented team of actors need some kudos for a truly captivating job. I liked playing through The Journey–it’s a feature I didn’t know I actually wanted in a soccer game!
The gameplay itself, whether in an ad hoc match, online match, or a match in The Journey, is highly similar to what you’ve played before if you’ve been anywhere near a FIFA game recently. Many of the changes from last year’s FIFA 16 return to FIFA 17 with some new, tweaked gameplay to address last year’s issues. Passing and maneuvering the ball feels a bit better, although slide tackling is still an annoying experience that seems to result in more cards than actually gaining possession of the ball. That being said, it’s still an insanely massive list of teams, leagues, and players, all licensed so you’re bound to find a team you like.
While playing solo against one team at higher difficulties feels largely the same as playing against any of the other teams, the two real draws here are the online matches and FIFA’s Ultimate Team, a feature that was introduced back in FIFA 09. In fact, I spent a lot more time playing Ultimate Team than I did in any other mode of the game. For those of you new to FIFA, Ultimate Team—lovingly abbreviated to “FUT”—is a card-collecting game where you have to try and build the best team you can with the cards you’ve collected. The marketplace is flooded with cards so it’s easy to go a little nuts there, buying and selling players and so forth. There’s something satisfying about putting together the best team ever, and then taking that team on the road to dominate. Well, dominate insofar as your own playing abilities allow.
In terms of online, I played the Playstation 4 version, which naturally requires a PSN+ account. I didn’t have to wait long for a match in any of the modes, and the game was responsive and tight, even with the 11 v. 11 online match. If you’ve played FIFA online before, it’s much as before, so you shouldn’t feel lost. For beginners, it takes you through the whole process from start to final whistle, so you have no excuse either. On the other hand, the online mode might not perhaps be the best place for a beginner to jump in, since there is so much to be learned elsewhere in the game, even in The Journey.
Thing is, it’s difficult to go wrong with a FIFA game. It’s had almost 20 years to get the formula right, and boy does it deliver, even if it does play it safe in some areas. The game is best played with a bunch of mates over at your house, because the smack talk is a part of the experience. I played a good couple of matches against my sons, and they’re distressingly good at the game. Sometimes you wish you can swear in front of them. In any event, if you’ve been a fan of the series, then you’re definitely going to want to get your mitts on this. It’s just good, fun soccer.