“…FIFA 17 inspires and shoots itself in the foot simultaneously.”
FIFA 17 promised players one of the biggest overhauls of the game in years. The usual minor tweaks have this year been replaced by a brand new engine, the franchise’s first ever story mode and a total rethink of gameplay mechanics. All eyes have been keenly focused on the EA Sports classic. Now we can finally discover what the developers have done to enhance and improve the “beautiful game”.
Moving FIFA onto the DICE-created Frostbite engine was a widely supported idea and a move with real potential. Frostbite has its shining reputation for a reason; it is a vastly powerful building block for video games offering capabilities that many other engines simply haven’t yet achieved in the same level. The only question then is how can an engine which has predominantly been designed and utilised with large-scale shooters in mind be used to significant advantage for a football title? The answer, somewhat predictably, is that it hasn’t…
Sure, there are some positive, visible differences in the way FIFA plays now thanks to Frostbite. Gameplay looks smoother, graphics look slightly cleaner, and replays look even more impressive than they have done before. Some of the sharp visuals in the game’s story mode cutscenes are probably owing to the new engine as well. In terms of the actual gameplay however, aside from some changes in game physics, your average FIFA player would notice little difference other than those which come across thanks to specific game mechanic alterations. The game runs just as well as before and with some slight improvements, but the Frostbite engine has hardly been a game changer. More likely, this move was seen as an opportunity by EA to play on the engine’s good name, try something new and attempt to test the limits of one of their greatest acquired resources.
Gameplay mechanics have changed alongside the base engine for the game in FIFA 17, but sadly these have not been altered, at least on the whole, for the better. This is an area where the game really has changed, but if anything it is one where people really didn’t want or need it to. EA Sports ignored the traditional lesson of not fixing what isn’t broken, and in doing so they have caused an upset amongst long-term fans.
Tackling is harder in FIFA 17, and for no good reason. Chasing a player down and successfully performing a clean tackle is now unnecessarily difficult to achieve, with old methods having very much been thrown out of the window. On the flip side of that, changing direction on the fly if you have control of the ball is also more tricky now. This is an aspect which EA have tried to improve and make “more realistic”, but in terms of actually playing the game as you usually would, it has simply made things frustrating when they regularly go wrong. In order to play even the simple aspects of FIFA now, you need to relearn how it works.
Set pieces are the other gameplay element which have been graced by a total conversion, however the results here have at least been mixed. Penalties can be re-learned quite easily, but if you attempt to go in blind in the new game you will almost certainly fail at them. It is no longer a case of simoly aiming, adjusting power and kicking the ball. You now have to start and time your run, concentrate on both power and spin on the ball, accuratley deduce direction and achieve your target; all in a shorter space of time than before. Getting a penalty used to be a cause for celebration. Now, if anything, it is stressful. Free kicks and corners however are actually better than ever.
Free kicks look the same on the face of it, but you now have far more control and a much greater chance of scoring the direct ones. Aiming is no longer just down to guess work with the camera, with the game allowing you to actually position your player for the shot. Spin on the ball is also entirely yours to control, simply by spinning the analogue stick as you take your shot. Power, direction and distance are still up to you to deduce, but with these other elements in place alongside your calculations a free kick by any player can now be a genuine threat.
Corner kicks are, likewise, entirely yours to control now. The traditional elements of choosing your kick taker and having the option to control the recipient as well remain in place. On top of these, a reticle now allows you to accurately atley aim your kicks towards a specific area in the box, giving the set piece move a much greater threat and significance. You aren’t any more likely to score a direct corner, but you can certainly play out some mean strategies now the ball is in your court to set them up.
The biggest and indeed best new feature in FIFA 17 is its story mode; The Journey. Following the story of up and coming professional star Alex Hunter, The Journey is part FIFA, part Bioware-style RPG, bringing together elements of two of EA’s studios in a strangely harmonious matrimony . On the pitch, the game is the same as ever, although this time you aren’t in the manager’s chair. You might start the game, be brought on later in the match or never touch the field at all. It is up to you to prove your worth through strong play and regular training drills. The drills are essentially FIFA’s now classic skill games, but your performance affects your play time, and so results here are now truly important.
Off the pitch is where The Journey is truly a delight. Against all odds, FIFA 17 provides an interesting and engaging storyline for you to follow, with decisions that genuinely matter in a way that other, dedicated RPG’s still fail to achieve today. Your decisions can affect all sides of Alex’s life, from the club at which he progresses in his career to the attitude he has with others both on and off the pitch. Every move from speaking to your mother to speaking to the press can influence how your friends, family, fans and the manager view you as a player and person. The depth of the decision making is phenomenal. Who ever would’ve thought you could say that about FIFA!
The actual story which plays out in The Journey is also deep and truly enticing. You start out seeing Alex play as a child alongside his best friend, Gareth Walker. Walker follows you through the story later on, becoming both a comrade and a rival along the way. Alex’s parents are watching his game, but their turbulent relationship quickly reveals itself. Down the line, Alex lives with his mother, but seeks desperately to reconcile his relationship with his absent father too. Perhaps the most engaging character of the entire story however is Alex’s grandfather. An ex professional player himself, he takes on the role of both a father figure and a mentor for Alex, clearly acting as our protagonist’s idol throughout The Journey. He is supportive as a person, and distinctly interesting as a character. Gamers will enjoy his purpose in the story, and football fans will share in the experience of hearing his exciting stories about his career.
Outside of The Journey, the game modes o offer remain largely the same as ever. Ultimate Team, Manager mode, Be a Pro, Online Friendlies, Tournaments, Events and of course the traditional Quick Match options are all present and correct, with only minor changes where there are any. Fans can easily jump back into these and remain within their comfort zones. The menus have once again been simplified and improved too. The only thing that I found that was missing was the random button when I was playing with a friend online. This was a little disappointing, but didn’t effect the game critically as a whole. One thing that does do this however is missing teams, perhaps most notably the popular Iceland International squad, due to disputes with EA. There is also still no Be a Ref mode, but after years of asking I am beginning to resign myself to the fact that the day may never come…
FIFA 17 changes the game, but it isn’t a game changer for the franchise. Gameplay changes from the new engine and mechanics toy with an already working model a detract from the fan-loved experience that the FIFA games usually offer. Those changes which implement desirable improvements are overshadowed by those which detract from the flow of the game. On the up side of things, The Journey offers the freshest and most engaging new FIFA experience for many generations of the game, keeping you interested for hours on end. With much if the remainder of the game remaining the same as ever, fans will be hoping that many of the games pitfalls are simply a case of EA Sports testing the water. If fixed, the game could be seen as a success. As it stands at release, FIFA 17 inspires and shoots itself in the foot simultaneously.