It’s that time of year when football fans everywhere dive back into the wonderful world of FIFA, so we thought we’d give you our early impressions of the latest entry, FIFA 17.
The first big change from previous iterations of the best-selling franchise is a cosmetic one –
EA Sports, like their very own version of Ultimate Team, have traded in perennial cover-boy Lionel Messi for a raft of lesser stars including Marco Reus, Eden Hazard and Anthony Martial, who are plastered all over the game’s many menus and information screens.
Graphically the game is undeniably impressive, especially in the moments immediately following a goal when you’d be forgiven for mistaking it for real-life footage, such is the realism of the motion blur effects. Player design and animation are also top-notch, although their expressiveness often means they veer firmly into uncanny valley territory. The addition of real-life managers adds another level of immersion and it goes without saying that the in-game presentation is polished and professional.
In terms of gameplay, the players feel surprisingly light and mobile, especially compared to the demo, although the AI remain annoyingly adept at defensive tackles and interceptions on higher difficulties, and are equally good at keeping the ball in possession. Slight tweaks to passing and shooting also add to the realism and allow players to exploit the space on the field like never before. Changes to free kicks, penalties and corners seem intuitive, but may also fall prey to the kind of game-breaking exploits that often make online FIFA matches an exercise in hair-pulling frustration.
The much-publicised The Journey mode is a refreshing makeover of the old Be-A-Pro mode and sees players assume control of Alex Hunter, a young English star-in-the-making, whose career is charted via a series of interactive cut scenes. After completing a trial, you choose a Premier League club to sign for and then develop your career through a series of mini-game drills and playing matches.
The new game mode incorporates light RPG elements into how you build your stats and different career milestones provide FUT rewards, so player progression is certainly no chore. The dialogue is a bit on the nose and the story plays out with all the realism of the ‘Goal!’ film trilogy, but we’d be lying if we said it wasn’t an enjoyable ride and the closest you’re going to come to living out your childhood dream of becoming a professional footballer.
For those fancying their personal crack at the big time, Career Mode allows you to set out on a managerial or player career as your own created character, but obviously without some of the bells and whistles of The Journey.
As expected, FIFA Ultimate Team is back and bigger than ever, with new features like FUT Champions and squad challenges sure to keep players coming back to the famously addictive game mode. However, navigating the FUT menu system is a painfully slow process and we were disconnected from the EA servers midway through our first single player match. In terms of the FUT transfer market, FIFA 17 looks set to require the same level of patient grinding and canny trading to get ahead, with pace again being the key attribute when building a team.
Overall, FIFA 17 continues the strong tradition of the series with a focus on evolution over revolution. It’s not without its flaws, but it’s an entertaining and feature-packed sports simulation and a no-brainer for football fans.