A journey worth taking?
FIFA is back again, and with a swap from EA’s Ignite to DICE’s Frostbite engine and an all-new story mode EA Sports shoot for the top corner again; but will they pull all the changes off?
The major change this year is the addition of a ‘proper’ story mode, where you play as Alex Hunter, as he goes from under-11 wannabe to Premier League superstar under your watchful eye. The mode is a significant step up from previous attempts, but struggles from giving you both too many, but yet not enough choice. You can choose any Premier League team to start your pro career, so as a result you never really have any interaction with the actual manager of the club (as getting all 20 to agree to record dialogue would have no doubt been expensive and time consuming). But, you’ll then find that your choices actually have very little impact on the outcome of the story anyway – your twitter followers may go up or down, but you’ll still have to get sent out on loan anyway.
The story also (despite, or perhaps because of, having actual top-flight footballers contribute) feels incredibly hackneyed and inauthentic, with your cockney grandfather looking like he’s been swept out of Mary Poppins, whilst your virtual mother feels like she’s going to burst into one of the songs from Oliver! as she weeps about her fashion career given up to support her son’s dreams. In a more positive note, the ability to either control the team or just play as Hunter works well, whilst the addition of training mini-games to help boost your stats, along with some RPG-lite mechanics make it a worthwhile addition to the overall package even if I wish the actual ‘story’ part was skippable.
Outside of ‘The Journey’, there are further tweaks and additions to the already solid roster of game-modes. FUT remains mostly unchanged, with the exception of Squad Building Challenges – which encourage you to delve deeper into the already significant rabbit-hole by meeting certain conditions with your teams (all British or Spanish/ all Premier League etc.), before submitting them to gain extra rewards. Frankly, I don’t think FUT needed much extra depth but EA seem to mostly tinker through additional content rather than meaningful gameplay shake-ups so this doesn’t come as a surprise.
FIFA 17 also continues to integrate your own team’s options excellently into the much-improved menu structure. Having the ability to pick up Bristol City’s season at any point has always been great, although I was very much less than impressed when FUT defaulted my team’s name to Bristol Rovers. Tut.
Gameplay-wise, the pace has been sped up once again, but the major changes are to free-kicks, corners and penalties. The penalty system offers considerable extra freedom by allowing you to select how you do your run-up, but the corner and free kick systems rob you of most of your control by simply selecting a spot where you might want the ball to end up. I found there was little indication this ever happened, whilst fine ball control and swerve were almost impossible to pull off successfully. Back to the drawing board there please!
Tackling also sees some changes to discourage you from just holding down ‘X’ when near the opposition, but seemed to just make the system even more of an art than a science.
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