Release Date: Thursday 29 September Platforms: Xbox One / PS4 / PC / PS3 / 360
It’s that time of year again. When the new FIFA grips football fans and gamers into its twisted web of jammy goals, dodgy keepers and rage quits. But FIFA 17 has something new to add to its repertoire of time-consuming ways to play.
Introduced at E3 2016, FIFA’s story mode “The Journey” sees you take on the role of 17-year old rising star, Alex Hunter. You follow his story and career from a Sunday football game to a team regular in a Premier League club of your choice. This is one of the few choices you do have throughout his tale.
Most of The Journey stems from predetermined events that you have zero control over. You get conversational choices of cool, hot and balanced which impact certain relationships. If you’re too cool then the manager will love you but you won’t have many followers. And if you’re too hot, the manager hates you but wow, look how many followers you have! It would be safe to assume that your performance would hold some weight in the events that happen in the story. They really, really don’t. Even if you do get consistently good performances, you still get sent out on loan to a Championship club, of which you can choose three of the relegated clubs from last year (Aston Villa, Newcastle and Norwich), as they have the fancy stadiums all made up for them.
Starting as a substitute in the early stages of the game was given substance by providing challenges like scoring a goal, or making 10 passes, but in a limited space of time as you were introduced later in the match. However, as you get introduced into the starting 11, these challenges just disappear. It would have been good to keep them to some capacity by introducing challenges throughout the 90 minutes.
Playing as just one player has always been an issue in FIFA, with Be A Pro being a staple of the franchise since it was introduced in FIFA 08. The problems are even more glaringly obvious as you focus on just Hunter. The team is pretty useless unless you direct them to pass to you or to take a shot, else they linger and get dispossessed. There’s always the option to play as the team, but that defeats the point of the individual story arc.
Hunter’s story does hold a high level of emotion. The temptation to kick the s*** out of your childhood friend turned rival is far too strong. But that’s a good thing (not for the guy with the broken legs). It gives you a connection to the game that isn’t ever achieved in the usual Ultimate Team and Career modes. Encounters with family, friends and managers can be awkward. The annoying thing was, they animated the managers, so Liverpool was an obvious choice to get the charismatic personality of Klopp, only to be told once you sign that, “Lol, don’t expect the manager to speak to you.” And be stuck with some bald-headed guy who has the personality of a brick who acts as the manager instead.
Little instances like that take away the authenticity of The Journey. If choices were more dynamic, customisation was an option and certain interactions weren’t so awkward, then the magic they want you to experience as you evolve as a player would feel more alive. The story lasting more than one season would be nice too. It feels like a work in progress, which can only grow through future instalments.
In other news, there aren’t many new additions to FIFA 17. Gameplay has had a few tweaks to give you more control over set pieces and tactics. The strangest one to master is taking a penalty. You have a bizarre amount of things to look at as you take it, with the run-up and how powerful the shot is, then making sure it hits the net. Only for you to mishit it and watch the ball bumble slowly into the keepers hands as you hang your head in shame.
Ultimate Team is back, with a sparkly new feature. Squad Builder invites players to construct a team with specific conditions, like achieving a minimum chemistry level, or using only players from two different countries. Not only do you get rewards for doing this, but it also gives players the chance to use their silver and bronze players that probably wouldn’t make it into their main squad.
The other main fixture of FIFA, Career Mode, has had some welcome tweaks added to it as well. Each club has unique milestones that you need to reach to keep your job. Taking Manchester United as an example, you need to win the silverware and maintain your global brand, so good luck with that.
EA’s Frostbite engine gives stadiums a touch of realism, especially when the mist descends on that rainy Tuesday night in Stoke. Having accurate character models for the top players immerses you in the game, also helped by stadium announcements where someones wife is waiting in the club’s reception. These slight touches make the whole FIFA experience that tad more realistic.
FIFA 17 gives the well-rounded football game fans have come to expect every September. The Journey is a welcome change of style, but isn’t really the reason to buy the game. The classics of Ultimate Team and Career mode are great as always, with the added shine from the introduction of the Frostbite engine setting up FIFA for years to come.
Buy FIFA 17 – Standard Edition on Amazon.