EA Sports released their annual FIFA game this week. FIFA 17 marks the first time the series has moved to the Frostbite engine made popular by the Battlefield and Battlefront games EA has recently released. With new additions to the gameplay as well as an exciting new single player story mode FIFA 17 has taken a big step forward for the franchise and manages to keep pace with the competition.
Gameplay is king in the world of video games. For all of FIFA’s shiny presentation and licensing, the game wouldn’t be worth playing if it wasn’t fun. Fortunately, the action on the pitch is good enough to keep you coming back. New additions mentioned by EA are the smarter attacking AI, a revamped physicality and a whole new way to take set pieces.
The new attacking AI does indeed feel noticeable. Your teammates make smarter runs and the new driven through ball feature makes defense splitting passes much easier. On professional difficulty and below, playing through the middle with accurate through balls was a little too easy at times, but on the harder difficulties, they become tougher and a little more rewarding. Passing, in general, feels better. Also, the computer AI will not be as laser accurate as they were in 16, which is nice. In 16 it was common for me to play as a team like Bayern Munich and finish a game with less possession than the likes of Werder Bremen who would finish the game with a pass completion percentage in the 90s. Teams might not have as much personality as those in Pro Evolution Soccer, but this year there is a noticeable gap between the good teams and the not so good teams.
The revamped physicality is a more subtle touch but it’s handy when trying to keep the ball away from opponents. The ability to hold the ball is effective, but never feels overpowered. It doesn’t seem to be abused online either, but it’s early days. The physicality makes playing long balls a viable strategy as well, provided you have the right target man. Big, strong center forwards will use the new system to their advantage to get an upper hand on a defender. The Frostbite engine seems to allow for a greater variety in animation, this is nice because this is a physical sport and being able to engage in physical battles feels immersive.
The new set-piece rewrite is the third big addition to the game, and I will admit, it’s not the best. I loved the penalty mechanic in previous FIFA games, so maybe it’s just going to take some getting used to. That said, the new penalty run-up system seems overly complicated. You can adjust your position with the left stick, and then begin the run up with the right stick. You will hold the shoot button down to provide the desired about of force behind the shot and use the left stick again to aim. It requires a lot of practice to get right, and it took me quite a few tries to win a shootout. Trying to save a penalty is unchanged. The corner and long free kick system aren’t terribly different from last year, with a reticule that you can use to aim your shots being the main edition. This works well so far since it actually gives a good idea as to where you are aiming. Lastly, direct free kicks from in close appear to be the same as last year as well.
If there is one thing FIFA does well it is the presentation. There are more licensed teams that you can shake a stick at, and some new leagues as well. If you’re a fan of the Japanese J-League, I have good news for you. There are some notable omissions, though. Most notably, Barcelona playing in a generic stadium because the Nou Camp is exclusive to PES, and the Italian league does not appear to be fully licensed, however, all the teams are.
There are a few new on-screen graphics you can spend your time looking at, including a shot chart that pops up on occasion. The Bundesliga gets their full graphics package you see on FOX Sports every weekend, which is a lovely touch for the German fans in attendance. The Premier League has all the new logos on the player’s shirts and the ad boards, but there is no official Premier Leauge score bug or graphics package like last year’s game. Something tells me this is something that will be fixed in a patch, but that’s just speculation. With the Premier League, you do get all the official stadiums again, and the recently relegated teams still have their grounds. Every Premier League manager is rendered in the game this year as well. Minor complaint, you can’t use any of the real world managers in a career mode. So if you’re a Liverpool fan wanting to role play as Jürgen Klopp, you’re out of luck.
The new Frostbite engine looks great as well. Players look good, and there are even more players that have their real-life faces in the game than before. PES has the better face scans for many of the top teams, but FIFA isn’t far off. Stadiums look terrific as well. Playing in a famous stadium like Old Trafford with the flood lights and a little bit of fog is awesome.
FIFA Ultimate Team will still most likely be the most widely played mode in the game. The inclusion of squad building challenges is the big talking point this year. EA wants you to keep a lot of your unwanted cards this year, instead of quick selling them. You can put your unwanted cards into these squad building challenges to build teams to redeem them for things like a special pack or special player cards. Be warned, only put in players you don’t want or need in these challenges because once redeemed they’re gone. Apart from that, FUT is largely the same for better or worse. If you like FUT, you’re going to have fun taking your team online to battle other players.
Career mode hasn’t seen very much in terms of innovation either. The mode feels largely untouched, which is disappointing. It’s still fun if that’s your thing, and the addition of special board objectives give a little spice to the challenge of running a club. The objectives are largely arbitrary, like sell X number of shirts in a season, but it gives you something else to think about when signing players. Would you sell more shirts signing Paul Pogba to offset the cost or save on a cheaper player but lose that big money marketing.
The biggest new addition to FIFA this year is The Journey. You play as Alex Hunter, a 17-year-old from England looking to make it in the Premier League. EA have taken a page from 2k Sports and their story-driven career mode in NBA, and EA has nailed it. Unlike the NBA 2k series, you don’t get to create your own player. At first, that’s a little disappointing, but you quickly realize how smart of a decision it is. EA is able to tell a more focused story with Alex Hunter, and if you’ve ever played NBA’s story mode in NBA 2k16 you know how cringy the generic nickname for your player Frequency Vibrations was. The dialog is much better in FIFA since they are able to use an actual name, rather than bad nicknames.
The mode mixes story driven cutscenes with regular gameplay, where you can choose to control the whole team or just Hunter. The characters are engaging and Hunter’s family is immediately likable, except for one member, but I won’t spoil that. Interactions are all done with a dialog wheel that anyone who has played Mass Effect will immediately be familiar with. In fact, EA consulted with Bioware, the makers of Mass Effect, on how to branch dialog based on the players choice.
Don’t expect to get an Oscar winning screenplay in this mode, but it should be more than enough to keep you entertained and wanting to continue playing. My only complaint is the length. Playing matches and doing skill games will take up most of the 12 or so hours it takes to complete the mode. Perhaps EA will take another page out of the Mass Effect playbook, and allow you to continue your save file in FIFA 18 with a continuation of Hunter’s career. It’s just a thought, but that would be nice, because I really liked his character.
All in all the mode is terrific fun, and the variety of dialog choices could give players a reason to come back and play it again.
FIFA 17 is a very good game. It’s not perfect, and you might have a few frustrations from time to time, especially with the lack of innovation in some modes but it’s still a solid game of virtual soccer. There is enough here, especially with The Journey, to warrant a purchase. The first year on a new engine can be bumpy for some developers, but FIFA’s transition to Frostbite looks smooth, but most importantly it’s fun. A solid 8 out of 10.