There’s a lot to be said for the popularity of the FIFA franchise over the past 10 years. Its rise has been pretty similar to that of the real game, to the EPL especially and to the ever growing marketing trend that aligns with the sport. At the same time gamers who have grown up with the series have a special place for it, and many gamers own consoles purely for FIFA alone. It’s with that in mind that you have to consider just how much effort has to go into an annual release and how much balance there has to be. Something that FIFA continues to adjust, and mostly get right. FIFA 17 may kick off on a new engine, but a lot of that essence remains.
Frostbite is cool, but not always breaking the ice
Probably the biggest change coming in FIFA 17 is that of the engine. The Ignite engine served its purpose and while it was built from scratch for the EA sport games, this time they have gone for a move to an existing engine and adapting. It’s a positive move considering how the Ignite engine was certainly tiring and instead of moving to a new engine with teething issues the use of an existing definitely helps.
[pullquote_right]FIFA 17 is a whole lot smoother than FIFA 16 and that is something you can see from the outset[/pullquote_right]The Frostbite engine brings a lot of good with it. FIFA 17 is a whole lot smoother than FIFA 16 and that is something you can see from the outset. The visuals are smoother, more polished and for the most part incredibly impressive. Player movement feels more natural especially in the way they kick the ball. The emphasis on animations definitely shows through on the new engine. Things like the stadiums, the lighting and the player models all look much improved.
That said, player likenesses are still very hit and miss. Thankfully they don’t look like sun deprived vampires anymore, but there are some players that look like they come straight out of a horror film. Some of the more prominent faces are spot on, but there appears to be a lot of work to be done in this area to get things up to speed with the rest of the game.
While the new engine definitely has its advantages there are some of the core game mechanics that just seem ingrained into FIFA and even the new engine can’t help this. Players moving as though they are on skates is one thing that FIFA just can’t shake. Players react sluggishly at times and especially on the turn feel very unnatural. It’s something that has been a problem for a while now, but hopefully a bit more work on the new engine will sort that out.
What’s a kick-about like?
Tying into the new engine, and as I always say, the most important part of a sport game is the gameplay. FIFA has had a very distinctive style since the previous gen and that has been maintained in the current gen. I have already mentioned how the running and responsiveness of players is an issue, and that definitely affects the overall gameplay. The AI doesn’t feel quite as intelligent as it should, or as is marketed and I still find that many of the CPU controlled teams play and react exactly the same, regardless of whether they are Barcelona or Leicester.
The AI controlled defenders (on your own team) are also problematic, finding themselves out of position regularly, not tracking back and acting utterly daft at times you least expect it. Put that together with the still semi-unintuitive defending and super dodgy goalkeepers and you have a recipe for disaster, one you never feel totally in control of. It’s a shame that these issues remain, but I am hopeful they will be sorted out eventually.
On the plus side, the flow of the game generally feels much better and not nearly as pinball like as previous years. While FIFA 16 took away the exploiting of pace as the core component, FIFA 17 seems to put it back in and fast players are as powerful as ever. It’s definitely a tricky balance to get right, but I think FIFA 17 benefits from the faster pace and is a lot less frustrating than 16 was.
Other than that the gameplay is solid. Playing online or vs. is brilliant as it always is and I am pleased to say that I have had no issues findings games online. Playing against a human controlled team improves the gameplay tenfold and something EA should consider when they design the AI in future. The different skills, off the ball moves, no touch dribbling, shooting and passing all feel perfectly weighted and definitely one of the highlights of the game.
Don’t Stop BELIEVING
Hopefully you get that Journey reference, but if you don’t it’s a song from a band called Journey which seems apt for introducing FIFA’s new story mode of the same name. I was a bit skeptical going into the mode where I would take the reigns of the career of one Alex Hunter and try dictate his path to greatness. I was skeptical because I thought I would be annoyed by the scripted path I would actually have to take and how my performance on the pitch would feed into this. My skepticism has been negated.
The Journey is just plain wonderful as you take Hunter through the exit trials of an academy into a big club (of your choice), the inevitable loan to get more experience and then a return to the club to make a name of yourself, all while dealing with family issues, friend egos and the pressures of the footballing world. The story mode is engaging from start to end and the football you get to play perfectly compliments that.
While all the off field action is happening you have to focus on your game. This means partaking in training sessions and impressing on the field in full games. In many of the games you will get set objectives including a specific rating and other more specific challenges like scoring or making goals, or even just setting up chances for goals. Thankfully you get the opportunity to choose between controlling the entire team or just playing as Hunter. The latter is much like the Be a Pro mode which has its own issues (such as AI controlled team mates doing stupid things, constantly) so I would steer clear of that if I were you. Controlling the team and ensuring you get an opportunity to use Hunter more is a better option throughout.
[pullquote_left]The Journey is definitely the highlight of FIFA 17 in my eyes[/pullquote_left]Off the field you can upgrade Hunter’s attributes how you see fit, though it’s a very basic skill tree and there’s more improvement that happens by training and playing matches. There is a bit of a grind aspect to it, but it’s quick and easy and very accessible.
The Journey is definitely the highlight of FIFA 17 in my eyes. It offers something very different and while it has its bumps it mostly integrates story with the gameplay perfectly. In a game that I have felt has been getting a bit stale it’s a most welcome addition that adds plenty of value to the package.
More modes for your money?
FIFA 17, as always, comes packed with other modes and while The Journey stands out this year the others return in full force. Ultimate Teams once again stands out as a mode that has a lot of effort going into it. Building your team, playing in online and offline leagues and tournaments and taking part in challenges has never been so rewarding. Include the new FUT Championship and the squad building challenges and you have a mode that will keep you going for months.
Career Mode returns and is packed with more content than ever as you attempt to take your chosen team to glory. It does have the usual annoyances with some odd transfers and the slightly dodgy AI that you will need to deal with but it’s more comprehensive than ever before and if you want to play the game solo it’s the way to go.
The other standard modes return including Be a Pro, online seasons, co-op seasons, playing games related to what’s happening in the real footballing world and those wonderfully addictive skill challenges. There’s so much content packed in that you are never going to get bored of FIFA 17, that’s for sure.
Time to score, or squeaky bum?
FIFA 17 is another top offering from EA, that goes without saying. FIFA fans will flock to buy it purely because of the value that it holds. All the glorious licensing, Ultimate Teams and The Journey make it a solid product that will have any football fan pleased.
It may not be all plain sailing with its repetitive commentary and frustrating AI, along with the standard fundamental gameplay mechanics which seem to be the same each year and don’t appear to be getting fixed. Still, with that in mind you really cannot go wrong with FIFA 17 and if you are looking for your latest roster update and consider the extra value of The Journey included you are already a winner.