It’s another year and once again EA sports have released their latest edition of the footballing heavyweight FIFA franchise.
While for some this means another year of addictive fun is about to begin, for others it will prompt a sigh as they think back to a better time when the FIFA franchise still had a soul.
EA has attempted to inject some emotion into their latest release in the form of The Journey, the flagship game mode of FIFA 17. Taking the ‘Be a Pro’ mode which has existed for a few years on the periphery of the game’s various modes, pumping it full of steroids, and placing it centre stage.
The Journey places the player in control of
Marcus Rashford Alex Hunter, the Premier League’s next top youth prospect, as you guide him through the highs and lows of football stardom. After half a season of fighting for your place in your favourite Premier League side, the manager decides to send you out on loan in the Championship, and it is from here that you must work your way back into the team and eventually to glory.
The game mode is fun, and Alex Hunter feels like a real person thanks to EA’s advanced motion capture technology. You soon become absorbed in the game’s entertaining (albeit basic) storyline thanks to well-designed cutscenes and interactive dialogue where different choices you make have a (limited) effect on things to come.
The developers have done well in the way that the mode absorbs the player, with noisy chants on your debut of ‘who are ya!’ actually motivating you to make an impact on the world that EA has created.
For the first time in years, players will actually experience emotions other than rage as they follow Alex Hunter on his dream to win the FA Cup. They’ll feel a sense of pride and satisfaction when improvements on the pitch are rewarded with boot sponsorships, increased social media following, and fancy new apartments.
However, the storyline is rigid at best. Even if you manage to fulfil all of your manager’s demands in your substitute performances in the first portion of the game, you won’t be rewarded with a place in the starting XI and you’ll still be loaned out to a Championship side come January.
Also, opting to play just as Hunter can be frustrating. Improved defensive AI makes it difficult to dispossess opponents, and you’ll often be playing games where you have 30% or less possession, even against lesser teams.
Your AI teammates can also be irritating, often making peculiar runs and getting in the way, and it’s seriously frustrating when you get penalised for a bad call for a pass when the pass itself is inaccurate.
When it was first announced that FIFA 17 would be using the Frostbite engine, it generated a lot of excitement in the gaming community as people speculated just what could be achieved with such a powerful engine.
Indeed, players look and feel very different from each other. Cover star Marco Reus looks as lean and wiry in-game as he does in real life, and he’s elusive and hard to keep hold of on the pitch. Wilfried Bony looks like he should be sitting on the bench for the All Blacks, and in-game he feels more like a human battering ram than a professional footballer.
Unfortunately, the only real impact that Frostbite has on the game is cosmetic, there isn’t really any significant impact on the gameplay. From a footballing perspective, it’s very apt that the hyped-up Frostbite engine has failed to fulfil its true potential.
Meanwhile, Ultimate Team is addictive as ever. EA’s favourite money making game mode is back and they’ve made enough additions to keep it fun and interesting. In one new feature, team building challenges, the player is tasked with building a team that meets certain criteria. Once they’ve done it, they can exchange their team for a rare player. This benefits more casual players as it means they can attain rare and high-quality players without having to invest too much time in the game.
Career mode is also back, and EA have made a few modifications. Creating your own manager avatar and watching him run around in his technical area during games is a nice feature, but in terms of gameplay, longevity, and scale, it’s still no comparison whatsoever to the masterful Football Manager 2016.
FIFA fans were beginning to accept that each new version of the game was just a re-skin of the last. The graphics are bit better and the grass is a bit greener, but otherwise it’s just the same game.
FIFA 17 attempts to fight this by introducing the fun ‘The Journey’ mode and by upgrading the game engine. While these are welcome changes, it still feels like EA haven’t done enough – or couldn’t be bothered – to give FIFA 17 its own unique identity in terms of gameplay, and once you get past ‘The Journey’ it starts to feel like just another FIFA game.