The FIFA football franchise has come a long way since its origins in the early 90s. Like any other distinguished game series, it has certainly had its ups and downs with a need to constantly innovate to stand out. It is hard for a series which comes out every year to significantly differentiate itself from each previous year’s title other than updating teams to reflect the Summer transfer window or promotions but it’s clear, however, that with FIFA 18 there has been a definite improvement and it’s the little details that improve the overall experience.
Upon launching the game the first time you are treated to a cinematic intro of the Madrid derby. Goals from Antoine Griezmann and Cristiano Ronaldo make the game 1-1. A darting run by Ronaldo is brought abruptly to an end by a heavy tackle on the edge of the box resulting in a Real free kick in the 52nd minute. Step up Ronaldo. At this point, of course, one can only imagine Ronaldo smashing it top corner as he so often does. The game however, lets you take the opportunity and dives you straight in.
I imagine for most seasoned FIFA players, a goal here is inevitable. I was poised to take the shot and lined it up correctly….*Presses SQUARE*. Yes, I grew up playing Pro Evolution Soccer and I am stuck in old habits. The result, a short slow chip to the left of the wall with the ball slowly rolling out of play. I think they should have let Ronaldo take it himself as it ruined a serious intro, but it’s a cool idea.
Now, FIFA of course still has its classic career modes, as both a manager and player, Ultimate Team and tournaments. Although you can do a Women’s International Cup, FIFA have missed out on adding a women’s career mode and club teams. In terms of actual gameplay, I feel there has been an improvement in comparison to its predecessor. 17 felt rather slow whereas 18 appears to have a quicker tempo and is more fluid in its passing and movement. That said, it still lacks a desired pace at times, which is certainly more evident with lower league teams. Although still rather hard to pull off, long through balls seem easier to accomplish and a player’s ability to cross is much more precise. It does though have a nice balance between realism and gameplay that makes it enjoyable.
Goals also seem much easier to score, but whether this is because tackling seems much harder (for me anyway) and dribbling with the ball slightly easier, I am not sure. It also seems partly due to frustrations of changing players. On top of this fouls also seem more of a rarity and the referees more lenient. Much of this is just practice however, and FIFA’s continued use of practice mode whilst in loading screens is something that is of real benefit which encourages the player to access the feature more than they possibly would.
The game is also stunning graphically. It is clear to see what the Frostbite engine is capable of. Realism of player visuals (player likeness is actually getting scary) and even movements using mocap technology is outstanding. EA seem to have also improved the overall atmosphere of matches and the crowd is more present. The crowd is now interactive and this brings the game even more to life. When a goal is scored, sections of the crowd now animate much more and fans run down to the pitch side and can celebrate with the players.
In this way, it is the small details that have improved the game most. The crowd at penalties is animated with fans trying to put off the opposition and dead silent for their own team; there is now a suggested sub option for players to make quick substitutions without entering the main menu; the pitch gets churned up as the game goes on; career mode transfer negotiations are more interactive, to name a few. On other notes, the music of course as usual is fantastic, with the likes of Odesza, Vessals, Skepta and Stormzy, and loading times (on PS4 at least) are very short.
The game also features the second instalment of The Journey. Alex Hunter once again is the protagonist in a story that is not all about football and it is refreshing once again to see that FIFA is doing something different. On top of the football it delves into the more personal side that footballers may experience, from transfer deadline dealings to family relationships and agents. You can also personalise Hunter’s appearance, personality and unlock attributes to help improve him as a player.
Although certainly enjoyable, there is definitely some awkward storytelling particularly in the form of real professional players Alex comes across. There are cameos from Rio Ferdinand, Thierry Henry (who is apparently always throwing parties), Gyasi Zardes and others, where most scenes are somewhat cringey. Aside from that one of your main aims is to get as many Twitter followers as possible, whilst footballing folk around the work tweet you constantly, which is an unnecessary distraction from the game. You even watch Alex do an advert for Coca Cola in the game which is both as awkward and ridiculous as it sounds.
That said, The Journey is a refreshing mode at its core and it’s nice to see that a story campaign in a FIFA game works. It will be interesting to see how they take it forward though for future releases without becoming repetitive. Overall FIFA 18 is one of the best FIFAs to have come out to date and advancements off the pitch have been nicely coincided with an improvement in the gameplay, where it matters, on it.
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