Another year, another FIFA. It's that wonderful time of the year when all of your favorite sports games get their annual update, bringing with it a plethora of new features designed to either refine the experience or revolutionize it. Usually, these games are divisive, and due to ancient rivalries like the one between FIFA and PES, it's key that they stay fresh and be bold with their development decisions.
With that in mind, FIFA 17 really feels like a new leaf for the series. In the past, there's been a distinct lack of change in the game, and a growing need for new game modes and gameplay tweaks to ensure the tried and tested gameplay does not go stale. In this edition, EA seemed to have listened to the main complaints about the series and adapted the game to fit the needs of the FIFA faithful.
First, we must talk about the visuals. FIFA 17 casts away the chains of the Ignite engine, upgrading to Frostbite, which is the engine that gives Star Wars Battlefront its gorgeous sheen. Of course, it's easy to see a lack of change from a bird's eye view, but the game really shines up close in its stunning replays and cutscenes. You can see how the polyester shirts stick and breathe on the body of the professionals, and you'd be hard-pressed to ignore the gleaming sweat cascading down Ibrahimovic's face after seventy minutes on the pitch. It's truly gorgeous.
The stadiums have been allowed a new lick of paint too, and almost all of the Premier League managers have been scanned into the game so that you get that feeling of authentic guilt when you hit the bar on a rainy night in Stoke. Speaking of which, the lighting from the new engine is absolutely incredible. The game captures seasonal changes very well, and a sunny day at Stamford Bridge is a far cry from a rainy night at St James. Park. It makes every exhibition match feel like a world cup final, and this is only helped by the refined gameplay.
Last year, there were some annoying problems in the game that left set pieces feeling pointless and passing most lacklustre. Players could abuse the systems after hours of play and ensure a victory by playing two fast wingers to outgun the defence with pure pace. Whilst this is not entirely extinct, and passing across the box to score a cheap goal is still all too prevalent, there seems to be a change in attributes to make strong players effective for a more well rounded experience. No longer can you just rely on a famous midfielder to thread the ball out wide either. The passing is fine-tuned to a point, which makes it even more satisfying when the run comes off and you finesse the ball into the top corner.
The gameplay has definitely been refined since FIFA 16, but it's not perfect, and some of the frustrating bugs are still present. Alas, this is the nature of balance in a simulation game, and hopefully some of these nitpicks can be ironed out a few patches down the line. For now, it's already a ton of fun and a breath of fresh air from the last instalment.
Set pieces have also been completely revamped. You can now walk around the ball at a free kick to change up your style, instead of locking a few different methods to button presses. Each shot feels bespoke, and again, much like the passing, increases the satisfaction when a plan comes together. The same outlook has been grafted on to the corners, which now feel like a viable option for scoring a goal. There is now an aiming reticule for you to toy with that, although finicky at times ensures that the ball goes where you want it to, instead of just taking a shot in the dark.
All of this works to make each ninety minutes exciting and worthwhile. It must be endlessly hard to balance a game of this kind, but from the hours of testing with friends, it was clear to me that I've never enjoyed a soccer game as much as this one. We warred over Golden Goal and last-minute finishes, the pangs of defeat not creating frustration but appreciation for skill and technique.
This would already be enough of a step forward for me to appreciate FIFA 17, but it further surprises you with The Journey. When I first played what was billed as a Bioware-esque story mode set in the soccer world at Gamescom, I was deeply skeptical of its ability to deliver a story that would drag me away from Ultimate Team. I'm happy to tell you that it's done just that, and is a delightful addition to FIFA 17.
You play as 17-year-old Alex Hunter, a working-class youngster with problems at home. His grandpa won the FA cup, his dad's career lost to injury, and his mother's dreams sidelined to raise him after splitting from his father. Alex impresses at the exit trials and manages a shot in the big leagues, giving him a new lease on life and, because the dialogue is driven by choice, a lot of tumultuous options. You must chart his career in the world of professional soccer, going from extreme highs to deep lows, dealing with the breakup of friendships, endorsement deals and constantly berating Twitter followers.
It's quite a clever little thing, and in between each match you get to train him to become the star he wants to be, managing his skills on the pitch with his temper in the dressing room. On the pitch, you can choose to play as the team or Alex, but you must make sure to show him off to impress the manager or risk losing favor. Answer too fiery in the post-match interview and you will also be dropped from the team, but gain precious followers and score sponsorship. In the sphere of moral video game narrative, it's nothing ground-breaking, but it works as a valuable off shoot from the main game.
The shoe-horned voiced appearances of soccer stars like Marco Reus and Harry Kane are the only thing to really criticize it for, which felt grafted on for the sake of it. It was great to see them in the locker room, but not when they were bumping into us on the way out to the car, making pointless, often unintentionally funny comments. However, the actor behind Alex Hunter does play his cards right, and though at times a little over the top, manages to pull off a believable up and coming player.
On top of this Ultimate Team has also been expanded. We now have squad-builder challenges which give a value to those players collecting dust in your club, and bring diversity to the market. 'Ones To Watch' is also an innovative means of creating a new special card classification, with players that will upgrade and gain value throughout the season. Little things like player walk-outs and more realistic stadium sounds/commentary put the icing on this already very tasty cake.
It feels like EA have really put their back out trying to make FIFA 17 an experience worth upgrading for with a myriad of new, bold changes that for the most part, work in an effective manner. There is no better soccer sim on the market right now, and if you've been feeling disillusioned with the series, this is just the title to hook you back in.
FIFA 17 was reviewed on PlayStation 4 with a review copy provided by the publisher. It is also available on Xbox One and PC via Origin.
EA have refined and near perfected the soccer simulation, but also experimented with some bold ideas that work well and breathe new life into this veteran series.(Review Policy)
- Best Gameplay Yet
- Frostbite Upgrade Really Shows
- The Journey Works Well
- Ultimate Team is Better Than Ever
- A Few Frustrating Bugs
- Cringe Inducing VA from Soccer Stars
- Cheap Strategies Still In Place