The Sports Fan might just be the worst of the lot when it comes to unwavering, and at times incomprehensible, dedication. We buy the jerseys and watch the games religiously. Shout and scream at the screens as if the players can hear us and our support will carry our team over the line (it does). Most of all, we buy the games year-on-year to take control of the teams we love, paying top dollar for minor gameplay improvements, the latest transfers and stats in place, with really nothing else. FIFA 17, thankfully does not fall into that category.
One of the longest running football/soccer franchises, EA Sports’ FIFA series, is one that I’ve been following since its Sega MegaDrive days. While it’s come leaps and bounds since then, it’s not always the case with the yearly editions. Last year, the improved AI and addition of the Womens Internationale teams added something new but it wasn’t game changing. FIFA 17 though, gives the fan a whole lot more.
Once again, there’s changes with the AI and the way players react on the pitch-in both attack and defence. With Pushback Technology, FIFA 17 offers a very authentic experience in the way players come into contact with the ball and other players on the pitch (and at times the referee). Battling to win and keep possession is the most realistic so far, but it’s also much tougher to defend. Running around aimlessly will get you nowhere and you’ll soon find yourself on the wrong end of a walloping.
For players familiar with the franchise, there wont be much difference in the way you control the players, but set-pieces have been changed and re-written. Corners use a different targeting style but its generally easy to understand. Penalties on the other hand have totally changed and I simply hate it. I just can’t seem to get to grips with how to effectively take penalties and it’s extremely frustrating. Are the set-piece changes really something for the better though? Not necessarily. The cynic in me can’t help but think that it’s changed for marketing reasons rather than actual gameplay improvement – which hasn’t actually improved all that much from last year’s edition.
Last year we saw the addition of the vanishing spray to mark the spot that free kicks should be taken from. This year FIFA 17 gives you managers. In what is probably the most exciting Premier League season – not because of the players but managers such as Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho, Juergen Klopp and Antonio Conte, watching these same managers walk, and celebrate on the touchline brings the game a notch above the rest.
However, that’s not where FIFA 17 shines though. The Journey, the latest feature, puts you in the boots of young Alex Hunter as you try to establish yourself as a professional footballer. The entire experience follows a storyline that rivals any coming-of-age sport shows and does much better than the Goal! movies with a script that has it all – drama, emotion, an antagonist and football.
Powered by Frostbite, EA needed to do something special to showcase what can be done with the graphic engine – the same one that powers Battlefield and Dragon Age. However, I can’t say that I’ve always been a big fan. For the movie sequences in Battlefield: Hardline, I felt that for all its hype Frostbite still had much to improve. Textures were flat giving clothes a very plastic look and character’s eyes felt strangely out of place. There was also the occasional tearing whenever it rained in a scene. Lots of these issues have been fixed for the Journey and I have to say, it looks amazing.
While it’s still not perfect, it’s pretty damn good considering that even though it follows a script, there’s still work to be done to render the scenes based on your choices – the team you play for (you can choose to play for any team in the Premier League), and the manager at its helm. EA consulted Harry Kane, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford, Delle Alli, Reese Oxford, to add authenticity to the Journey and keep it grounded in reality and it works to produce a tale that’s extremely engaging and probably with more elements of fact rather than fiction to it. Yes, there’s the career mode has its own tweaks and new bells and whistles, but I found myself sucked into the Journey, which is worth the cover price by itself. However, The Journey is only available on the PC, PS4, and XBOX One. The PS3 and XBOX 360 version will not contain the Journey.
FIFA 17 definitely raises the bar in terms of the overall gaming experience for fans. It will be very interesting to see what they do next year, because my expectations for sports games has just gone up.