Tag Archives: football

Review: FIFA 17

Like many people, I was unconvinced when EA showed the first trailer for The Journey at E3. “This will add nothing to the game,” I thought. “They’ve just dressed up the Be a Pro mode with a few cutscenes and a clichéd Cinderella story.”

I was half right. FIFA’s new story mode does feel like revamped Be a Pro season, and the writers didn’t have a single original idea between them, but it still somehow manages to be the most interesting thing to happen to the series since Ultimate Team first launched back in 2009.

The Journey follows 17-year-old Alex Hunter and his, erm… journey, to becoming the Premier League’s hottest new wonderkid. After impressing at the exit trials, you can sign Alex to any of the 20 Premier League clubs. Whichever team you choose will be title contenders come the business end of the season, so the story is more credible if you sign to a top team. Still, thanks to Leicester’s heroics last season, it’s not too much of a stretch to imagine West Ham mounting a title challenge.

Once you sign to a club, you must level up Alex’s skills by getting as much playing time as possible. The bigger the club, the harder this is, though as long as you complement good match performances with top marks in the training sessions, it’s trivially easy to stay in the starting XI.

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Your performance on the pitch might get you more games but seems to have little bearing on the story. For example, Alex will always be loaned out to a Championship side for the first half of the season to gain more experience, no matter how well you play in your first few games. The same goes for the Mass Effect style dialogue choices, which do little beyond earning insignificantly small bonuses or penalties to manager approval and your Twitter follower count.

The story may be set in stone, but the outcome of the matches isn’t. In my playthrough, West Ham finished as unlikely Premier League champions, but lost the FA Cup final to bitter rivals Tottenham. I was impressed that the game didn’t just hand me success for the sake of the story, but I replayed the final and won to see how things would play out differently, and discovered that all I missed out on was an extra cutscene.

The Journey has a few twists to it. It’s just a shame it insists on telegraphing every single one ahead of time on the fake Twitter feed that you can read through between matches. “Will West Ham recall Alex Hunter from loan to reinforce a misfiring front line?” Hmm, I think they might. “England manager considering squad shakeup after string of poor performances.” You don’t need to be Nostradamus’ fortune-teller to see where that one’s going.

Despite these missteps, I found myself completely hooked on The Journey. The likeable characters and surprisingly good acting were enough that I was completely invested in Alex’s burgeoning career. As I carefully picked my passes, desperate to make sure he made a good impression on his Premier League début, I realized what a difference a little context makes to what would otherwise be just another match.

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None of this would matter if the matches weren’t fun to play, but FIFA 17 shows great improvement on the pitch. FIFA 16’s scrappy, low-scoring games have given way to more free-flowing football, provided you don’t stray into the higher difficulty settings, which turn the opposition into ultra-athletic supermen, who win every header and muscle even your strongest players off the ball with ease.

Players still feel slow to respond at times (especially in online play where latency becomes a factor), but they have a renewed sense of agility that FIFA 16’s lead-footed footballers lacked. An updated attacking AI means teammates make more intelligent runs on attack and get caught offside far less often. New attacking options like the threaded through-pass and the low, driven shot aren’t exactly game-changers, but they allow for a little more creativity when putting moves together. New set piece options like the ability to change the angle of approach on a free kick or penalty, feel like change for change’s sake and only serve to over-complicate what should be a simple part of the game.

While the quicker pace of the attacking play is a welcome change, the defenders seem woefully unprepared for it. The defensive AI is stubbornly passive, rarely pressing the opposition and often failing to make easy interceptions. It’s common for both sides to have over 90% pass success at the end of a match. Still, if proactive defenders are the sacrifice that must be made to bring back the exciting gameplay of FIFAs past, then so be it.

Visually, FIFA still sets the standard for visuals and presentation. The shift to the Frostbite engine was a big part of the game’s marketing, but you’ll struggle to tell the difference without a side by side comparison; some slight improvements to the lighting here, some atmospheric fog effects there etc. It’s not the graphical revolution it was marketed as, but it’s still a generation ahead of Pro Evolution Soccer.

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The Journey is FIFA 17’s headline act, but the series core game modes haven’t gone anywhere. In fact they’ve barely been touched at all. The only significant new feature of Career Mode is the addition of club-specific objectives beyond the usual “Win the League” or “Avoid Relegation.” These include goals like expanding the club’s brand in a region by signing players from there, or promoting a minimum number of youth players. It’s a small change but it gives each club a more distinct personality. Brand exposure goals are going to be way more important at Real Madrid than they are at Bournemouth.

And then there’s Ultimate Team. FIFA’s flagship mode still presses all the same buttons that collecting football stickers did when you were a kid, and EA have added to it with squad building challenges. Build a team that meets certain criteria, like an all Bundesliga team or an all-English bronze team, and you can exchange that team for rewards. It finally gives us a use for all those bronze and silver-grade players we’ve been selling off for all these years, even if the rewards for these challenges are sometimes not worth the time and effort it takes to earn them.

Sadly, Ultimate Team still operates on a free-to-play formula. Earning coins to buy players and card packs is a painfully slow process, so you’ll need to spend real money to progress at a reasonable rate. Only players with plenty of free time or disposable income can get the most out of Ultimate Team. It’s bitterly disappointing to see a format with so much potential ruined by micropayments, especially in a game that will already set you back $60.

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Too Long; Didn’t Read

FIFA 17 isn’t FIFA at its brilliant best, but it fixes most of the issues that made last year’s entry so unsatisfying to play. Attacking gameplay flows better and players have more tools than ever to help them carve a path to goal. It’s just a shame that defenders struggle to keep up. Returning game modes like Career Mode and Ultimate Team remain largely untouched, but The Journey is a fantastic new addition that’s unlike anything seen before in a sports game. With top-draw presentation and plenty of modes framing the rejuvenated gameplay, FIFA isn’t ready to give up its place at the top of the table just yet.

Review Score 8

 

 

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FIFA 16

FIFA 16 is a rare and disappointing step backwards for the world’s most popular football series.

Such a misstep was bound to happen eventually; every year we hear the same complaints that not enough has changed, leaving EA under constant pressure to find ways to keep the formula fresh. Inevitably, that pressure has led them to try to fix things that were never broken.

You see, while the many tweaks to the on-the-pitch experience help FIFA resemble real football more than ever, they ruin the responsive gameplay that made FIFA 15 such a good time.

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Beginning with the positives, the defensive AI has received a welcome upgrade. Defenders are now better at playing their way out of trouble, so last year’s tactic of pressing really high up the pitch and trying to force a defensive error won’t work.

Things will be more difficult for your midfielders too. Expect the AI to close you down and cut off your passing lanes more effectively than last year. The midfield battle is now just as scrappy as it should be.

It’s clear that plenty of work has gone into upgrading the animations as well. Players change direction much more naturally, making dribbling and turning on the ball look remarkably realistic. It’s one of the few steps towards creating a realistic football sim that hasn’t come at the cost of fun gameplay.

One of the most noticeable new features is the trainer. This is a kind of on-the-fly tutorial that gradually teaches you the controls via on-screen prompts and seems like it would a great way for complete newcomers to learn the basics.

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The women’s teams are a welcome, if not fully fledged addition to the series. There are only 12 national teams to choose from, and they’re limited to friendlies and a single offline tournament.

The women’s side of the game feels different to the men’s side. There’s more freedom in attack and physicality plays less of a role. Tactics and techniques that work with women’s teams won’t necessarily work with the men’s sides, making the women’s game more fun for players who want to play expressive, attacking football.

The rest of the changes on the pitch only serve to spoil the perfect balance that EA managed to achieve in FIFA 15.

The match day presentation is still as good as it’s ever been, even if it’s still not on the levels of Madden. Having said that, there’s very little in the way of new commentary, and players’ faces somehow look less life-like. At least they’ve finally realized that Toni Kroos isn’t ginger.

Every FIFA seems to come with a new dribbling feature. This year it’s the much-touted ‘no-touch dribbling’ system, giving players the ability to use body feints to wrong-foot defenders, the way small, agile players like Messi and Isco do.

For a headline feature, it’s surprisingly redundant, and there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to when it works and when it doesn’t.

FIFA now has so many ways for you to beat defenders, but there are really only one or two that are consistently effective; making the others, like the no-touch dribbling, good for little more than showboating.

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What really holds FIFA 16 back is the pace of its gameplay. Passes feel like they’ve been slowed down, possibly to compensate for the new ‘driven ground pass’ feature. Players also feel less responsive and agile than they did last year.

These two changes combine to make the game feel slow and lethargic compared to its predecessor. You can’t deny it’s more realistic, but more importantly, it’s not as fun.

You can offset some of these problems by adjusting the games sliders to tweak things like pass speed, but these changes won’t apply to online games against human opponents.

What’s less forgivable is what hasn’t been changed. The small frustrations present in FIFA 15, while few, haven’t been addressed.

Slide tackles are still worse than useless. Players don’t lock on to the ball when attempting a slide tackle, so you’ll miss both the man (or woman) and the ball way too often. This is even more common against the AI, which is so good at dodging slide tackles, you’ll swear it knows when you’re going to do one before you do.

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The ineffectiveness of slide tackles isn’t helped by the referee AI. Whether a challenge is deemed a foul or not, and what kind of punishment it receives, is so inconsistent it comes across as random at times.

Perfect tackles can be punished with yellow cards and even the occasional red. I’ve also seen the referee wave play on for tackles that got nowhere near the ball. I think all football fans will agree that referee incompetence is a touch of realism we could do without.

Even the AI seems to know that slide tackling is a bad idea. It doesn’t go to ground very often, and when it does, it usually gives away a foul.

The longest running problem has been EA’s lazy approach to difficulty settings. Turning the difficulty up seems to boost the opposition players’ stats and lower your own, essentially handicapping you, not improving the AI’s decision-making.

Boosting the opposition’s technical stats would make sense; every team is entitled to an outstanding game now and then. But the game makes them physically better too, and when you see that Sergio Busquets is suddenly as fast as Gareth Bale, you feel cheated, not outplayed.

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There’s been some successful work done off the pitch. Career mode now has a training feature, giving you the option to both practise certain skills and level up your players through a series of drills.

I found it especially useful for addressing players’ weaknesses, like improving the stamina of a player I was sick of having to substitute every game.

Ultimate Team has a new ‘Draft Mode’ in which you pick a team from a semi-random selection of players and compete in a short series of matches using that team. It’s a refreshing change of pace from regular UT, particularly as you get to use players that would otherwise be too pricey.

The catch is that it costs 15,000 coins (about 6-8 hours of play time) for every time you want to play this mode. It’s the same problem that the rest of Ultimate Team has; you earn coins at such a slow rate that you’re forced to use the microtransactions if you want to make reasonable progress.

Ultimate Team, and its new Draft Mode are great fun if you have plenty of time or disposable income. If you have neither, you’ll find it way too much of a grind.

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FIFA 16 is a brilliantly presented and very accessible football sim, but it’s slow, scrappy gameplay makes it an exercise in frustration for fans of FIFA 15’s exciting, end-to-end goal-fests. If you’re new to football games, you may still find plenty to love, but for long-time FIFA veterans, it might be time to take a stroll out of your comfort zone and give PES 2016 a try.

Too Long; Didn’t Read

  • Defenders are smarter.
  • Midfield battle is now just that.
  • Slower gameplay can be offset using sliders (offline only)
  • Career mode training feature useful for levelling up players.
  • Game now matches the pace of real football matches.
  • Great presentation.
  • Women’s teams offer a different and fun style of play.
  • Gameplay feels slow and lethargic, as do the players.
  • FUT Draft Mode just another EA microtransaction scheme.
  • Slide tackling still useless.
  • Referee decisions appear random at times.
  • New passing and dribbling features not very useful.
  • Cheap and lazy approach to difficulty settings.
  • Not nearly enough women’s teams.

Review Score 6

Reviewed on PlayStation 4