FIFA 17 is upon us and after a strong outing from PES 2017, EA’s popular football game has its work cut out. One of the biggest criticisms the franchise receives is that it’s the same game every year just with new kits and signings. EA have responded with a host of changes ranging from the game’s engine to the addition of a new story mode. Can these changes add some real meaningful differences to the annual release?
Those who I play with on the Xbox will probably despair at the idea of me reviewing FIFA 17 as I was mightily impressed with Pro Evolution Soccer 2017 this year. They likely assume that I’m about to be overly critical of this year’s addition, and for the most part they’d be right. There are some areas where I think FIFA 17 under performs but it’s also important to recognise that efforts have been made to change aspects of the game and no addition is more apparent than the addition of ‘The Journey’.
The Journey is a great way to enjoy FIFA 17 if you want to play alone. In this new FIFA 17 story mode you play as Alex Hunter. Rising up from the exit trials to the giddy heights of… well wherever you decide to take him within the Premiership. The story has an authentic feel to it and perhaps shows off the game’s new engine more than any other part of the game ( more on that later). The cut scenes can drag a bit and so far I’ve yet to find a way to skip them which for me at least will kill any replayability factor.
You have to guide Alex through the start of his Premier League career completing trials and training before trying to cement your place in the team. The action is broken up by the rather lengthy at times cut-scenes complete with Mass Effect-style dialogue options. You can choose to play it cool or put a more fiery attitude into your responses with each option having their own advantages.
There is a sense at times that the game almost wants or demands you to fail so you are loaned out but this doesn’t feel like a failure of ability rather an opportunity to progress your skills. It can also be frustrating to put in a good performance in a match only to follow that up with a sub-standard training session and starting from the bench despite your previous heroics and you find yourself really beginning to put the effort into the training sessions rather than seeing them as a mini game.
The biggest problem with The Journey though is that it really highlights how stale and neglected the Player/Manager modes are in FIFA 17. For years these modes have been left to rot on the reserve bench and are in dire need of attention. Maybe EA could do something similar with Manager mode as they have done with ‘The Journey’ and integrate some kind of story mode into these career modes. The huge 18% jump in UK sales in its launch week over FIFA 16 is proof enough to me that people want an engaging career option and I really hope EA take this point on board for next year.
The Menus in FIFA are frankly unrivalled. The extensive soundtrack keeps you occupied whilst you tweak your settings and it feels modern and fresh compared to say Pro Evo’s retro look and feel. The Stadiums look stunning and the pitches themselves look far better than they did last year. This is where I must add in my concerns though because making the stadiums look good doesn’t make them necessarily feel good.
The problem is that FIFA tries to recreate TV coverage of a football match which is fine by me but the immersion is non-existent because there’s just no atmosphere to the matches. Stadiums in the UK and I’m sure it is the same world wide, have a very distinctive feel to them. A match at Goodison Park will feel totally different to a match at say Anfield which is only a small distance away. Whilst they re-created the grounds beautifully they fail miserably to recreate the atmosphere that you find in those stadia on match day. Adding in a few chants is all well and good but if you don’t have the announcers and the typical musical repertoire that the real clubs have then it all feels a bit stuck together with masking tape to be brutally honest.
FIFA 17 has made the jump to the Frostbite engine that powers games like Battlefield and Battlefront but it doesn’t seem to have had the effect on FIFA 17 as the FOX engine has had on PES. Player models to me just don’t look right. Watching the manager close up turn his head and throwing his arms around doesn’t look real and at time looks outright frightening. On the pitch the player collisions are at times ridiculous, either reacting the same way or glitching all over as the game tries to figure out how the player model should react. EA would do well to have a good look at their competitor to see how it should be done, the collisions and movement of the players in PES 17 is spot on for the most part.
The gameplay feels heavy and the controls sluggish, not too different from previous entries admittedly but I’d like to have had some progress in this area especially. The AI is useless at times and leaves you despairing. Goal keepers don’t seem quite as capable at stopping shots from distance as they used to either and there are also those horrible guaranteed scoring methods rearing their ugly head again.
Despite these complaints though FIFA 17 does enough to get by and veterans will probably welcome the familiarity that FIFA 17 brings. The new Corner taking system is a nice addition giving you more control over where you want to place the ball and although the new penalty system is horrid I welcome the effort that they have made to try to bring some gameplay changes even if they do feel a bit last minute in the case of penalties.
FIFA Ultimate Team returns and its easy to see that this is where EA have their focus for now. The game mode allows you to collect player card from packs and build a team. You can build any team you want whether it’s a Premier League team or maybe a French national team for example. You will then compete against AI or other players. It’s easy to spend a fortune on this game mode if you aren’t careful and the temptation is one of the reasons I try not to play it anymore but that just goes to show how well EA have implemented it.
The other online modes all return with PRO Clubs receiving a lick of paint. You can now create your club’s own kit. I’m not particularly great at FIFA online but I must admit that when you have a group of friends playing, it can be very good fun and a good laugh. I had no stability issues whilst playing online which is nice to see and an area that EA have easily outshone Konami’s game.
So a mixed bag review with plenty for EA to address and work on but plenty to celebrate and commend. Of course, FIFA has its advantages. It has all the licenses, official teams and kits, the TV-style presentation is probably a bit better and the commentary, from Martin Tyler and Alan Smith, is definitely superior. It does look nicer than last year’s release and The Journey is a brilliant addition feature. It’s the gameplay that lets it down with Pro Evo 2017 being so much better this year and EA really need to focus some attention on this area.
It’s good to see a bit of competition in the genre again as one horse races tend to tempt the developers to take their foot off the gas and competition usually benefits the gamers at the end of the day. I think FIFA 17, despite some disappointing areas does just enough to retain its crown but Pro Evo is snapping at their heels and EA can’t afford to slip up. FIFA 17 is an impressive follw-up to last year’s game, and as the developers get more familiar with the new game engine I suspect we’ll see more improvements.