I’m generally a sports fan and with it comes yearly traditions of all the sports titles. While certain features may pop up here and there that change the dynamic of the game, nothing has changed the genre like Fifa just did. Find out why after the jump.
First we need to start with the game itself. This is the first iteration in the series that is utilizing the new Frostbite engine as all of EA Sports titles transition either this year or next. With that in mind I expected a drastic change in everything, but I didn’t really feel like there was a huge leap. In fact if I wasn’t told the engine change I probably wouldn’t have even noticed.
The game infused a bunch of minor tweaks instead that improve the overall feel of the game. Corners have a new meter mechanic, but they also have a better ability to aim perfectly. Free kicks also become an interesting aspect with adjusted aim, and the ability to move the player around the ball to create new angles.
The gameplay itself feels rather solid, but there are two issues I have had. Similar to the NHL series I have a problem with passing. Quick taps normally still lead to my player attempting to pass the ball clear across the field, instead of to the player yelling at me to pass him the ball. It really makes no sense where the ball will be sent half the time. I think the problem somewhat originates with my second issue. Everything has a “power meter” when you do things such as shoot or pass. You press the button, the longer you hold it down the harder your player will hit it. For shooting this normally means the higher the ball will go. Hold it down longer, the higher lift you get on the ball.
This is a great mechanic to use, but for me it was hard adjusting to it. The meter rises extremely fast, so fast that “quick taps” is actually already half way up the meter. It makes sense since you need quick shots sometimes, but overall it leads to a lot of balls flying way over the net. Keeping the ball on the ground, or down low, is actually rather hard to do. Of all the things to learn with the game, this meter took me the longest time to get down and I still flub it once in a while. This makes hitting top corners rather hard. I’ve spent probably an hour or more in practice mode trying to hit corners, but I can’t perfect it. My ball always goes sky high over the net.
My main issue was player stance and movement since all of this comes into play when shooting or passing. If the player is set up properly they have a higher chance of hitting prime spots, while sprinting into a kick isn’t such a good idea. Player stats also adjust the timing and distance a bit too. Once these mechanics come into play the game gets a lot more fun, and it allows you to better your skills over time.
With Frostbite also comes the ability to make the game look better. For the first title with the new engine the game mostly looks like it got a facelift with more fine tuning coming later. That means that as an overall presentation the game looks great. Stadiums feel extremely authentic and there are times where it actually looks like footage from an actual game is being used as presentation. Players are where the fine tuning is needed. While their face and overall appearance look amazing, once they start becoming “animated” they lose all disconnection. Talking animations are horrendous, and their hands don’t feel natural at all. There is a similar issue with the crowd being entirely stiff armed with no real animation to them.
Presentation as a whole has added a lot of authentic feeling to it with smaller animations true soccer fans will notice. The collection of the game ball, the managers being animated, and transitions off the field feel fantastic. The game has very powerful ambiance all around with the crowd going absolutely bonkers during key plays, without a goal even being scored. There is a personal touch to everything, it’s an experience worth having.
The biggest addition to the game is an entirely new game mode titled “The Journey” and this could change sports forever. The Journey is a game mode that follows a player named Alex Hunter on, you guessed it, his journey to becoming a soccer star in the Premier League. You start from the bottom and you are given the opportunity to work your way up, similar to “Be A Pro” modes. The difference being this actually presents itself as a story with custscenes, acting, and a powerful meaning.
The mode starts off with Alex as a kid, but quickly jumps into him trying out for a Premier League contract. I felt the jump was rather fast and would have liked to spend more time as a “nobody,” but the game does a good job of constantly kicking you down. You get to basically pick what team you play for, as you will be playing that team for the most part, but there are circumstances to each one. “Better” teams for example probably have no room on their roster for rookie starters, so you will spend a lot more time training and trying to get a roster spot. While other teams might be more driven to start you faster, but could withhold your stats a bit as you don’t train as hard.
There are dynamics like that with every decision, and you even get to do vocal decisions too. For example, the first time I started a game I had a media interview right after. Each answer I made influenced my coach’s decision to start me in the following game. For games you don’t start instead of watching a simulation, the game instead puts together cutscenes to tell a story. It feels impactful with a good score to go with it, and it pumps you up or puts you down. When a player gets hurt you feel sorry for them, but excited to take their spot. It actually feels like they put you on the field with mixed emotions behind your selfish plays, and honor behind team tactics.
Each game will throw specific goals at you which will help you level up faster and become a better player, thus progressing the story. There is also a social side where you gain more influence and power as you grow. There is also value in doing things properly such as simply scoring a goal, or winning a game. Before each game you get the option to play it as the entire team (like a normal Fifa match) or stick to just your player, with the AI controlling everything around you. The second experience is supposed to immerse you in the story, but I personally preferred playing as a team.
The story does a fantastic job of messing with your head. I found myself truly trying to be something great and after a game if I had scored a goal or two, made some good assists, and played well I felt good. Then I jump right into the media interview and I’m positive, upbeat, I expect good things to come from this. Then I’m called into the manager’s office and I’m told I’m put back on the substitute team. Not only that but a teammate I’ve been a rival with just took my starting position. The coaches feel I’m doing good, but I need more time. It’s these low moments of frustration that send you back into practices with a fire burning in your head. It might get frustrating at times, but the pacing really does the story justice by not letting you simply ride directly into fame. You need these hiccups to make it interesting, and the story takes perfect moments to ensure you are shoved back down.
Honestly The Journey did something fascinating for me. It made me more interested in soccer. It made things more personal. Above all else it helped teach the game to me in a better way. I have never really been that great at Fifa, but after spending a ton of hours in The Journey I’ve learned some new mechanics that were hammered home in training sessions. The new mechanics the game introduced were quickly implemented early in the story, and every time I felt I needed to polish something I was put into a training session to do so. The mode works great as a learning tool for new fans of the series. If you start at rookie the game will progress through higher levels at a good pace as well.
The best part of the mode is that it will entice fans from all over. The story is worth experiencing as the ups and downs of an athlete can be crazy. There are external mechanics that come into play, and you don’t really play full games all the time. Instead you get to watch thrilling cutscenes and feel the energy of your player. If you let it engulf you then it’s an experience you won’t soon forget.