EA’s FIFA 17 has decided to go where few sports titles dared. Indeed, we’re entering uncharted territory and something that resembles athletic drama than annual foray.
That sounds ambiguous but the fictional story known as “The Journey” turns out to be moderately engaging, following the prolific rise and tribulations of a young Alex Hunter, a 17-year-old football prospect from Clapham, London who experiences the first year of his Premier League career. The foundation of the plot is a striking, if not a little formulaic, vision into a profession where endorsements and glimmer of superstardom can twist genuine aspirations. A scenario that conveniently (and deliberately) borrows the experiences of Reece Oxford, one of the youngest real-life footballers to ever play professionally.
I remember scoffing when this single player campaign was billed as a breakthrough, but I’m a little more receptive towards the concept as they attempt to move FIFA in a unique direction. The unfolding of the story offers you some static choices but never deviates from the main narrative. Working closely with BioWare and them liberally taking the structure from their Mass Effect franchise, to conjure up multiple choice responses at certain points. A lot of the dialogue will determine how well-received you are among your coach, media, and followers, although only to minor outcomes as being too fiery will get you seated from a couple of games or being too cool inciting cold stares from your teammates.
The pattern is fairly linear and involves a cutscene, training session, event match, topped off with a post-match interview. Occasionally, you’ll have to a major decision like the dealing with going on-loan to another team or choosing which Adidas shoe to endorse but everything is as planned to maintain the pacing. Despite it all though, it is fun and somewhat involved up until the climax, with a protagonist that’s believable in scope and equally likeable cast grounded in reality. There really isn’t much to spoil aside from the completion rewards, but EA has done a steadfast job to make The Journey worth going through. This is already on top of the existing career mode and an online experience that’s nearly lag-free and full of competition.
But the rest of FIFA 17 could be considered business as usual, with the necessary changes implemented or (in this case) backpedaled from the prior release. EA took the gameplay feedback of FIFA 16’s subdued and muted feeling and brought much of it back to a quicker pace that debatably plagued the essence of last years’ entry. Power and speed contribute to some players having a distinct edge in stats, it’s nice to have the domineering priority of Diego Costa and the swiftness of Antoine Griezmann stroll through the opposing team, but going against them is migraine-inducing as they tear across the field and pick apart your formation. It’s basically a return to FIFA 15 while keeping the defensive bits that made the better parts of FIFA 16.
The fundamentals are familiar with shooting, passing, and tackling mechanics being contextual in execution. However, there are some nuances that’s less guesswork and more correct timing to your attack, with the outcome properly rewarding those attentive enough to punish hurried or sloppy tactics. The general learning curve is equally accommodating as well, as an aiming reticule system for free kicks is used, and can be turned off once you’re comfortable in your league cleats. Overall, the rundown is geared to getting that ball through the field in one fell swoop, especially if your opponent is the AI who has the uncanny ability of taking the lead with unbalanced finesse; when that happens, you might as well forget trying to regain possession because they’re pretty much godlike.
The other technical proclamation is the move to the Frostbite engine, the same game framework that underpins current major EA titles from Battlefield 1 to Star Wars: Battlefront. The implementation in FIFA 17 appears to be a purely visual one, as details in physical interaction, cosmetic improvements, and volumetric lighting is portrayed astonishing realism versus last year. The face modeling is fantastic with many existing league bosses accurately scanned like the players, and the environmental changes are at least bumped up aesthetically.
After putting my money on PES 2017, would it be wise to redact any statements? Both titles are wildly entertaining in their own right, and while I still believe that Konami has made a more contemplative game as a whole, EA has a football title that’ll be easier to pick up and have fun with. The episodic addition of “The Journey” is admittedly refreshing, squad building with FUT Championship Clubs, and the bragging rights of having more sponsored licenses holds true for the popular vote. FIFA 17 is the better bet for sheer volume, but not the marginal edge against PES 2017 when the smoke clears.