On the 29th of September we saw the launch of one of the most anticipated and biggest selling sports games around the world. With a dedicated following and a firm foothold in the eSports arena, this game has made strides since its inception back in 1993, known then as EA Soccer. 14 years later and it hasn’t lost its pedigree with a large complement of football teams from almost every league from around the globe, there may have been great leaps in the visual aspect of the game, but other aspects still needs the Midas touch.
Previously on The Journey…
There was a lot of skepticism with the introduction of a story-driven immersive experience into a game that’s primarily about couch one-on-ones and online footy show-offs, but it seems EA have put in the road work in order to develop a unique look into the life of a footballer. The Journey sees the return to the highly competitive and somewhat tumultuous life of Alex Hunter, the protagonist that was introduced in FIFA 17. The story continues on the rags to riches adventure with Alex on holiday in Rio with his now best friend Danny Williams, kicking about on the street courts with the locals (makes me miss FIFA Street), but now having established himself as a first team regular, the only question left is “where to from here”?
If you do follow the frantic and fortunate lives of football players, you’d know that they either change their overall attitude based on their successes, or purely something as simple as a new tattoo or hairstyle. FIFA 18 brings this experience to The Journey where you can kit out Alex with the latest boots, a whole new wardrobe to customise Hunter for both on and off the pitch, hairstyles and tattoos. This doesn’t make for a better player, but it can affect how your supporters view you ever so slightly.
There’s also the sometimes over done inclusion of various football superstars on your way, including members from other franchises like NBA which comes across as a cross-marketing concept to indirectly punt EA’s other sporting franchises.
Unfortunately, The Journey doesn’t step off the bench to score a hat-trick over last year’s sub-par performance in terms of story and gameplay transition. You ultimately only get one instance to choose between a firey, cool and intermediate response in most of the dialogue pieces. This leave you with very little control over Hunter’s future. Not to mention the slightly less shallow story that feels like it’s going on forever. And for the most part, it doesn’t affect your play, unless it’s to warn you of being relegated to the bench if you don’t listen to the gaffers instructions. There are some interesting new twists to The Journey as you play, but it isn’t packaged well enough to make you want to step on the pitch as Alex again.
Everyone wants to be the Ultimate in everything
Ultimately, The Journey wasn’t meant to impact the longevity of the game. Ultimate Team is where you’d pile your trade. Not much has changed from previous years, though PS4 and PC players will now have access to legendary players like Thierry Henry, which were previously Xbox One exclusives. Other than that, the same core elements still exist where you purchase packs to build a team of players, selling players you don’t want, competing against others in seasons and online competitions, and bidding for players you do want.
You can still use real money with which to buy FIFA coins to get your hands on packs to build your Ultimate Team. Unlike other games that have included a similar concept, they’re not detrimental to those who don’t buy into the microtransaction economy. Coins can be earned at a steady rate while playing Ultimate Team, with challenges boosting your chances of getting coins. Any customisation options for a player you create are unlockable and aren’t purchased. Things like haircuts, tattoos, boots can all be previewed and cost nothing more than reaching milestones in the game.
Superstars aren’t born, they’re made
Other game modes return as per usual, allowing you to venture into the world of football either as your very own Diski King or as a manager. In manager mode you’ll encounter the expected scenario of creating your squad, develop your youth players, carry out transfer and contract negotiations, deal with your teams Divas when they feel they need more time on the field, and try to meet board expectations while also playing as the team, though you can simulate matches if you want to avoid that, which tends to do very badly in most cases. This could be linked to your actual playing style which doesn’t necessarily get recorded in any way, and your team follows the implied instructions.
MyPro will have you managing aspects like player training, focusing on drills to improve your player’s performance on the pitch and request to loan or transfer them if you feel the club isn’t the right fit for you. Like in The Journey, you can choose to either control the whole team or just your player. Online play is a toss-up as you’re pitted against players from around the world. Connection can range from solid to a downright stutter lag showcase ultimately leading to an abrupt disconnect. With that said, the online matches in FIFA 18 can lead to some smooth gameplay even with latency issues between you and the other player, but it’s not as stable as its competitors offering. Being a title that’s on the eSports grand stage, you’d think the online aspect of the game would receive more attention. But, alas, the improvements haven’t garnered expected results.
Twenty out of Ten for graphical presentation, but not for animations and technicality
Player realism is always a big plus in sport games as it gives that feeling of immersion and lacing up to run around chasing balls with Ronaldo, Messi and Neymar Jr. The aforementioned player characters and many others have received highly detailed likeness and animation sets mimicking their real life counterparts to the very sweat from their brow. For the rest of the footballing community, however, there’s the standard animation sets. EA promised that animation sets will be improved dramatically, but there are still instances where there’s either a drastic delay or some awkward movements that occur while tackling or taking a shot on goal. Instances like teleporting to the ball through opposition players. There are moments where they do come off as a spectacular display of the promised improvements though as you’ll see in the clip below, but they are few and far between.
It also seems the goalkeepers have been overlooked to some extent. As you hit a screamer from 30 yards out you’d expect the keeper to attempt a superman style dive to parry the ball before it reaches the goal line. Instead, the ‘keeper does a weird squat and sideways wobble as if their pockets are filled with lead. Same goes for close range attempts that see ‘keepers fall over as if they’re playing on ice. EA, why you do dis?
Passing seems too easy in some cases which points out the bias to attacking football over defending. Through passes will gift your following player Scarlet Speedster type pace leaving defenders behind. Defending in this regard have received some strange tweaks where, while closing down on a player on the ball, will see you starting a slow jog leading to a sudden sprint, and as you approach the player any slight movement will see the defender take an extra three high speed steps passed the ball, leaving him to stumble and recover. At this point the attacker is free to burst off and gun for the box. This is as infuriating as the shielding option of attacking players, where you can hold off oncoming defenders to your hearts content. This really puts a damper on the game especially in online play that will see you running around the opposition trying to get a foot in for most of the play.
But, at least you get to feel enraged while kicking about on some hyper realistic world renowned stadiums like the Camp Nou, Allianz Arena and Wembley Stadium. Even the tele-graphics gets the authentic treatment which you’re familiar with when watching the real game. FIFA 18 has had a new lick of paint broadly applied to every aspect of the game including the crowd which adds to that electric atmosphere when making the net bulge. Although not all aspects of the game have seen great improvements, there are some that have received a lot of attention, such as set pieces scenarios that have become more accurate when bending it in from a corner or making the ball dip over the wall in a free-kick.
The audio quality gives you goose bumps as the crowd ramps up the chants while dribbling towards goal or pulling off an impressive skill move. This makes the whole experience feel dynamic with the crowd behind your back cheering you on or filling the stadium with groans and whistles at your feeble displays. The commentary though, it seems that they’ve had very short scripts or ran out of creativity. Repetition, repetition, repetition.
Eighteen years later and it looks way better than it plays
FIFA 18 delivers a star studded experience with the things all football fans want when booting up the game. Full roster of players, all your favourite teams accompanied by stunningly detailed grounds with a pitch that shows its scars as your team covers every blade of grass. The Journey demands more time from you with its extended story over its previous installment, but the script needs a bit of a rewrite. Other than that, FIFA 18 steps up to the penalty spot looking and moving like Ronaldo, but puts his foot through the ball while slipping on a wet patch and nearly misses the goal with a ‘keeper seemingly suffering from spinal injuries.