There are a few things in life that can be taken as a virtual certainty. The sun will rise and set, console wars will almost always be a thing, and every year EA Sports will see another game added to the FIFA series’ expansive catalogue.
The year 2016 is no different with EA releasing this year’s iteration, FIFA 17. Of course every time a new FIFA game rolls around the promotional fluff material is filled with promises of gameplay improvements, graphical polishing and an all around better football sim experience. And every year it’s the same pattern for most of us – the die-hards play it endlessly until the next iteration rolls around, sure, but the more casual gamer tends to drop off pretty quickly. With a new story mode debuting this year, we thought we’d hold our review back for a few weeks to see if the initial shine wears off, or if this one has staying power.
The focus of FIFA 17’s promotional campaign has been its use of the powerful Frostbite engine, a revamped set piece system, and The Journey – FIFA’s first real attempt at a bona fide story mode.
The initial impressions of the latest FIFA instalment are altogether positive. As has been the tradition for a couple of years now, as soon as you load the game for the first time you’re thrown into a match. This serves several purposes. First and foremost, it allows EA to say, “Look how new, shiny and fancy this is compared to last year!” and that’s certainly true for this year’s game. The colours seem sharper, the players’ movements seem more natural and the facial recognition system used to scan real world stars of the game seems to have been given an overhaul, presenting an overall much better looking final product.
Secondly, being thrown straight into an initial match-day scenario allows the game to read how you play. Are you comfortable in possession? Do your shots sail high and wide or do they nestle comfortably in the bottom corner? Does your lack of defensive prowess often see you hacking players down and conceding silly goals? The game will read all of this and suggest the settings it believes will allow you to challenge yourself whilst still enjoying your time in the realms of professional football. It’s a neat touch – helpful to both veteran and rookie alike.
Once you’re through the initial match it’s time for you to pick your poison in terms of game modes, whether that be FIFA Ultimate Team, Career Mode, The Journey, Matchday Live or simply exhibition games.
What is perhaps most surprising about FIFA this year is that FIFA Ultimate Team (FUT) seems to have received the least attention from the developer since last year’s instalment. That’s not to say it’s an unenjoyable or forgotten mode, that certainly isn’t the case. FUT has been FIFA’s chosen made for many fans for several years now, which makes it all the more surprising the only real changes seem to be aesthetic ones, with nothing really altered in terms of the way the mode forces you to play and interact.
With a lot of focus over the past couple of years on FUT, it’s been Career mode that’s suffered in comparison, stagnating from year to year. That’s not the case this year – there’s a whole host of new features introduced.
Ordinarily, players will have found themselves in a game mode that can become extremely monotonous extraordinarily quickly. Start as a struggling team and you’ll find yourself with the objectives like, “Don’t get relegated and give us an alright cup run.” Play as one of the big teams and it’ll be, “Finish top four and reach the semi-final or final of the cup”.
This year though the requirements are a little different, to say the least. Managers in career mode are now responsible for ensuring that youth talent is scouted and promoted through the ranks accordingly, managing their transfers in such a way that shirt sales see boosted revenue, building the club to a level where they aren’t a one season wonder in European competition, and many other aspects of the running of a club.
On top of that, the way managers are represented in-game has seen a bit of an overhaul. Previously, you would simply select a build, skin tone and whether you wore a suit or track suit – but this year that’s all gone. Now you’re given a selection of avatars from which to choose, and EA utilise this mechanic much better than in previous games. Your avatar is shown on the home screen of career mode, and can be seen reacting to goals and decisions against their team during matches.
The effect the Frostbite engine has on FIFA 17 is noticeable almost immediately; in-game, the players look better (even down to visible sweat post game) and less like plasticine models than in previous years. The engine also seems to have done a number on the gameplay itself, with players performing more touches you’d expect to see in real world situations, and fewer robotic pre-determined animations.
One marketing ploy employed by the EA PR gurus this year was to relentlessly promote a completely new mode – The Journey. And with good reason: this is EA’s first attempt at an out-and-out story mode, and they’ve pretty much nailed it.
If you were to use a footballing reference to try to indicate how good The Journey is, you would be in the realms of Aguero clinching the title on the final day of the season, or Wayne Rooney’s overhead kick in the Manchester Derby. It really is that good.
The basis of the game clearly borrows a lot of its philosophy from FIFA’s somewhat ill-fated Be A Pro mode. Players will find themselves loaned away from bigger clubs initially and pushing to work their way from the reserves up through to the subs bench and eventually into the starting eleven.
On the pitch the focus is on objectives. Scoring goals, assisting team mates, helping your team to secure points and making crucial tackles are all among the objectives you can expect to see.
The real genius of The Journey, though, is experienced away from the pitch. You’ll realise the opportunity to interact with team mates, family members, friends, coaching staff and the press in a variety of ways. If you choose to give fiery answers and retorts to questions you’ll find your fan base grow, and better promotional deals come your way, but at the detriment of the relationship with your manager. Conversely if you choose a cool approach your coach will approve, aiding your chances of being selected, but your fan base will wane and media opportunities will be less frequent.
While there are many positives to this year’s edition of FIFA , such as its improved career mode, The Journey, and the move to the Frostbite engine, the game isn’t without flaws.
For example, the “improved” set piece system allows for some truly incredible Ronaldo-esque knuckleball free kicks, that’s about where the positivity ends. The corner system is twitchy and temperamental at best; sometimes you’ll execute what you were going for to perfection, while other times it goes so wrong it’s laughable. And the biggest downside of this new system is penalties; they’re so overly difficult now that there’s even an achievement for scoring all five during a shoot-out – something that would’ve been managed with relative ease in previous titles.
Finally, with so much focus on Career Mode and The Journey it’s understandable that FUT didn’t get the TLC we’re used to seeing. Its relative stagnation means FIFA 17 just misses out on the “best FIFA in many years” title. Just.
Overall ,there are so many positives with FIFA 17 that it would be wrong to judge it purely on its faults (comical glitches included). This is still a franchise with something to offer and certainly a few surprises up its sleeve. With improvements in most of the game – and the excellent and compelling The Journey to keep you engaged – we’re sure that this year FIFA will keep its shine longer, and for more of its player base, than before. Well played, EA, well played.
Hopefully EA can take the forward momentum they’ve gained this year, and improve the franchise even further with FIFA 18.
A polished performer in most areas, the new story mode helps FIFA 17 rise above its peers.
We all know there’s a hardcore FIFA fan base that will keep the franchise going by purchasing each year’s instalment without fail. This year, though, the new story mode – The Journey – offers something interesting for a wider audience. EA should be applauded for trying something different in an attempt to broaden the game’s appeal. With FIFA 17, they may have succeeded.