Ah, another year, another FIFA. This time it’s called FIFA 17. What a surprise! No, not really. What is a surprise is just how darn good the bloody game is. Yes, it’s better than last year, and yes, the story mode is actually brilliant.
I’ll start by going into this year’s biggest new game mode, The Journey. You take on the role of up-and-coming footy star Alex Hunter on his journey (see what I did there!) to become the Premier League’s top striker. I’ll be honest and say that going into The Journey I was full of pessimism. I was convinced it was going to be a total cringe-fest and that I’d give up after an hour. How very wrong I was.
For a start, the writing is actually really, really good. Granted, at times the dialogue can be a little odd – as if the writers were trying a bit too hard to shove in as many ‘bruvs’ as possible – but for the most part it was perfectly passable. The story is a little cliche in places (just like every other sports movie, to be fair) but I was genuinely invested in Alex as a character, as well as his team mates and family. You know what else? I actually looked forward to the cut-scenes. Not only because they were well done, but because they also give you a bit of interaction as Alex Hunter. You’ll answer post-match interview questions as well as picking responses to other characters. It’s not all that deep, but your actions do have some consequences.
Presentation was top-notch and the cut-scenes were put together very nicely. All in all, I’ve not really got a bad word to say about The Journey, other than it could have been a little longer, but that’s by-the-by. Oh, you also play football, too. But that’s a given and I’ll go into the finer details in just a second.
So, aside from The Journey, what else has FIFA 17 got going for it this year? Lots, actually. There’s the usual roster of game modes to choose from, including a revamped FIFA Ultimate Team where player chemistry adds another layer of depth to a mode that’s already confusing to my tiny little brain. I’m not too big on FUT, but I did give it a go and from what I could tell, it seems pretty robust. There’s the usual player packs, transfers and all that other stuff that FIFA nuts obsess over, so I imagine that crowd is being well looked after in that regard.
Then there’s the regular online play, online Seasons, Skill Games (which are bloody difficult) and the traditional single-player Career Mode. It’s in the Career Mode that I really feel comfortable (sorry Alex!) as I’m a bit of a control freak when it comes to my footy.
As usual, you take on the role of manager and it’s your job to guide your team to success and look sexy whilst doing it. Oh, er, last part is optional, apparently… There’s a few new tweaks to the Career Mode this year, though they’re not quite as deep as one would like. You’ve now got some responsibility for the club’s running and that means you need to make some dollar. You’ll be given targets and the like that you need to hit – shirt sales, ticket sales, etc. – but it’s usually just a case of playing well and seeing the money come in naturally. Nice idea, then, just not executed quite as well as it could have been.
It’s a shame that EA hasn’t tried to blend in its FIFA Manager to FIFA 17’s Career Mode. Perhaps a little more in-depth management and financial risk/reward would give the single-player run a bit more of a kick? That’s just me, though, and I know I’m in the minority in that respect.
EA has been pretty vocal about FIFA’s move to the Frostbite engine (the same one that powers most EA games these days) and it’s not without good reason: the game looks brilliant. Players don’t look like they’re wearing death masks and they don’t spaz around nearly half as much as they used to. Well, the Welsh players still look a little gormless, but that’s just the Welsh for you.
In all seriousness, the game has never looked better. Player movement on the pitch is fast and fluid with collisions looking downright painful at times. Yes, there are still some dodgy animations but they’re few and far between. The visual presentation is a definite highlight in this year’s edition. The basking light of the early sun, the glow of the stadium floodlights, the little tiny blades of grass that cushion the stomping feet of Wayne Rooney on a rampage. It’s just so beautiful. Wait a moment, I think I have something in my eye…
Looks aren’t everything, though, and gameplay is always king. Thankfully, FIFA 17 doesn’t disappoint on that front. There’s a bunch of little tweaks here and there that are far too boring to comment on. Does a player now flick his hand in the same pompous way that he does in real life? Great! Does that player do that weird little shimmy before taking a free-kick? Sweet! No. Not for me it isn’t. I couldn’t give a monkey about some fella’s in-game mannerisms, I care about whether kicking that digital ball around is fun. And it is.
The controls are the initial hurdle (or at least for me) but once you’ve nailed them down it’s all about putting the ball in the back of the net via some well-played football. I’d say that the A.I is vastly different this year, but in all honesty, I can’t tell. I suppose a few things that stood out were A.I controlled team mates taking a bit more initiative in potentially game changing moments. Here’s an example: a deadly cross comes flying into the box, the opposing number 10 take a bite at goal, cocks it up because he’s crap and plays for England, the ball then moochs around the six yard box, your centre back then – without prompting – gives the ball a good welly up field and clears the danger. It’s the little touches here and there that make the A.I more than just a bunch of code. They’re still prone to goofs now and again, but for all intent and purposes, it does the job very well.
My one gripe with FIFA 17 is the commentators. I’ve never been a big fan of them and I’m never going to like the dull tones of Alan Smith. That guy is a bore, even for a Brummy. It’s not just my dislike of Smith’s vocal chords; it’s the stiffness and repetition of the commentary. Lines get repeated on a matchly (is that a word?) basis, and sometimes they just drone on and on and on and on an – let’s leave it there.
For players who only buy FIFA for the online, everything is as it should be. There’s a few tweaks to FIFA Ultimate Team that’ll have obsessives pouring over every little detail, and there are of course the standard microtransactions. To be honest, I’m not a big FUT fan myself, nor do I particularly like playing online against others, but from the handful of matches I did partake in (and lose wildly) everything just, well, it just worked. No complaints from me on that front, though I’m sure the stat obsessed fans will find something to complain about in terms of player balancing…
So, what’s the takeaway from FIFA 17? The Journey is surprisingly awesome. Kicking a digital footy around is still easier than doing it in real life, and Alan Smith is still a bore. Standard FIFA affair, then.
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