As a twenty-something British chap who considers himself something of a ‘lad’, FIFA-playing is practically a rite of passage. Since 2011, it’s a rite I’ve taken extremely seriously – dedicating more hours of my life to pretend football matches than I have my own girlfriend. I know… don’t judge me.
Game Name: FIFA 17
Platform(s): Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC, Wii, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
Publisher(s): EA Sports
Developer(s): EA Canada
Release Date: September 27th
(Review copy provided by the publisher)
So FIFA 17 is now here, armed to the teeth with new features that’ll make last years ‘female players are now included’ bundle feel like the worlds’ worst value for money. Not only does 17 now concentrate on a ballsy single player experience entitled ‘The Journey’, the gameplay has been massively tweaked (for better or worse) thanks to the brand new Frostbite engine. Now those monumental adjustments are in effect, only one question remains: is it any good?
Gameplay is the crux of any football game and has been the centre of the PES/FIFA debate for what seems like an eternity. Whether you’re a fan of a more realistic slow burn slog, or an arcade-like experience that guarantees goals galore – it’s safe to say at some point in FIFA’s lineage they’ve had every style covered. 17 sees last years’ repetitive equation of ‘pace + low drilled cross = tap in goal’ be thrown to the curb, with an emphasis given to slower build up play. My initial feelings, having played plenty of 17’s Ultimate Team & head to head matches, is that the game rewards you for doing your best to pass and move. Gone are the days of hoofing a lofted through-ball to your overpowered Aubameyang only for him to race away and score – now you need to find men in space, feign your way around your opponents, send runners into the box and work your way into good striking positions. Your chances of scoring long-range screamers are actually quite common here, it’s all about whether or not you’ve got enough time on the ball to charge up a good enough strike. If you play an opponent who plays deep and holds off, chances are you’ll be able to finesse plenty of quality long-range strikes into the top corner. On the flipside, if you play someone who leaves plenty of spaces at the back, you’ll be able to exploit them with accurate through-balls and lots of tap-ins.
The core gameplay feels as addictive as ever, with the Frostbite engine playing a small but noticeable part in FIFA 17’s on-pitch success. The main issues still arise when playing competitive online matches – the game having a habit of playing out in a random and unpredictable fashion. You can often find yourself dominating matches and limiting your opponents to very few chances, only to have them score from corners and set-pieces beyond your control. The most frustrating way to concede is when your defenders misread a ball or bump into one other, allowing the enemy striker an easy one-on-one with your keeper. I understand that’s fairly realistic akin to real football, but overall it feels a very cheap way to concede.
Onto ‘The Journey’ – the highly touted single player experience that EA has brought to the table to extend both FIFA 17’s shelf-life and satiate the desires of offline gamers. In The Journey, you take the role of Alex Hunter – a Marcus Rashford-like player who we find on the brink of football obscurity, giving the scouts one final shot of his talent at an FA-lead exit trial. Assuming you can perform the most basic tricks and skills, you’ll soon find yourself being snapped up by a Premier League club along with your childhood pal – rapidly rising to the top of the footballing elite. While the gameplay is fairly fresh and varied – the game occasionally dips in its excitement levels.
I suppose it’s hard to maintain consistent enthusiasm when in the early days you begin on the bench or only start matches on a pre-season tour. When the storyline kicks off and Alex has to start making key decisions with his family, friends and enemies – the game really grabs you by the scruff of the neck. Overall, The Journey is a nice little timewaster – although I never quite got over how random it was to see players like Sergio Aguero & Kevin De Bruyne be shoehorned into every cutscene possible. It could definitely be an improved experience in 2018, most notably by allowing the player to start their career at a non-league or lower league club – rather than being immediately snapped up by a top Premier League squad. Who knows whether this will be recommissioned for FIFA 18 – but I’m confident we’ll be seeing these touches in future installments.
Finally, FIFA Ultimate Team returns this year with an absolute bang (and by bang, I mean every half-decent player is extremely overpriced and you’ll be waiting months before you can afford a good squad). I love Ultimate Team; I genuinely feel it’s revolutionized the way many play FIFA – but it’s become so inherently popular around the world, you need to be extremely wealthy or a successful YouTuber in order to pack good players. Having your meagre 78 rated gold squad be pitted against a team starring Bale, Messi, Ronaldo & a few legends doesn’t do good for the old confidence. Ah well, it’s back – it’s another timewaster, and it’s fun when you’re on a winning streak. I’m a fickle footballer, aren’t I?
The new Marcus Rashford mode makes FIFA 17 a success!
Overall, FIFA 17 takes enough steps forward to warrant its place in your gaming library this year. Occasionally EA can deliver a lackluster experience and take its position as the ringleader of football sims for granted – but with the addition of The Journey and a more refined gameplay style, FIFA 17 will satiate any footie fantasies you have for the next 12 months. Don’t be put off by FIFA’s overtly British aesthetic (Alex Hunter’s tale takes place strictly in England – and the Premier League will default itself to most of your settings), it’s a game that can be enjoyed by everyone. Just don’t be like me and take it far too seriously, otherwise you’re due to shell out some money for controllers broken out of rage…