“FIFA 18 is just a FIFA game, and therein lies the problem.”
Another year, another FIFA game comes kicking its way out of the door at the creative studios of EA Sports. However, I don’t seem to be the only one feeling like this year’s release is… different. The hype seems to have been far more understated than in previous years, and the news of new features seems to have come more in the form of a trickling stream as opposed to the usual awe-inspiring waterfall. Nonetheless, for fans of FIFA and football alike, this is the most exciting time of the year. As per usual, I have sat keenly tapping my feet as I wait for Invision’s review copy to arrive and reveal its secrets. The time, my friends, has come.
The big selling point of FIFA 18 is the continuation of last year’s big surprise success for the franchise; The Journey. Alex Hunter returns in FIFA 18 continue his story. We have seen him rise from child star with potential to Premier League prodigy, and in FIFA 18 we start with Alex’s sights set on the very top of the game; Real Madrid. Things kick off with the promised inclusion of FIFA Street-style play within FIFA 18, with Alex and foe-turned-friend Williams having a kick about on their holidays amidst the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. Sadly, however, the model fails to hit the mark. Beyond the 3v3 setup and smaller pitch, there is precious little of the beloved FIFA Street mechanics to realistically be seen. For many fans who were excited at the prospect of this integration in FIFA 18, this will be a big disappointment.
In terms of the story in the second season of The Journey, things again don’t seem as whole as they once did. Whether it is the sense of the stakes and struggle of Alex’s rise compared to his already established position at the start of FIFA 18, or the often shoddy voice acting of the story mode, things never seem as genuine or even important as they did the first time around. It is hard to get invested in Alex’s new goals, and even harder to take seriously the characters who have simply recorded poor audio samples for the game. Here’s looking at you Christiano Ronaldo and Rio Ferdinand.
As for the rest of The Journey in FIFA 18, things remain largely the same as they did before. You have to hit objectives in each match to maintain the manager’s favour and stay on the first team, attend training to improve your skills and gain further attention, and watch several strangely placed and often purposeless cutscenes which determine your character’s cool or fiery attitude depending on your responses. The attribute system remains the same as before, with performance leading to points that can be used to upgrade Alex’s abilities on the pitch, and truly this progression system, although feeling somewhat misplaced in a game of this style, is one of the game mode’s better features. Otherwise, it’s all about getting cool hats and sweet tats through the game’s new customisation options. You can determine your character’s style both on and off the pitch now, which is pretty cool. It’s just a shame the game mode around it cannot pull of the level of quality it offered us last year.
In terms of game modes, FIFA 18 remains largely unchanged. Given the number of evolutions the franchise has gone through over the last few years, this is almost a welcome breath of fresh air, and frankly nothing needed changing here anyway. Generally speaking, Manager Mode is the same pleasure it has always been, as is the player-based Career Mode, and in this game in particular these offer a much better progressive game mode than the story mode is capable of. One new feature which has dropped for Manager Mode this year, however, is interactive transfer negotiations. This process sees you sat in an office with the player you seek to purchase and their manager, discussing in real time the terms of your deal and seeing their responses. If successful, you transition to a similar system with the player and their agent. Although this sounds cool and even impressive in theory, the reality is a little… hollow. The lack of voiced characters and generic responses makes the feature a bit thin on the ground after a couple of experiences, and the pace is slow too. The options you have are also rather limited, meaning a good idea in this area quickly becomes a light gimmick. The other big hitter, the exceedingly popular Ultimate Team mode, is again largely unchanged from FIFA 17, meaning fans can jump straight back in and get to make their dream teams from scratch once again. I did notice a cheeky fib in the tutorial video for this mode, however, which claims to be the “only place” in FIFA 18 that you can pull your dream team together… Guess they forgot old manager mode there then eh!
Naturally, aside from up-to-date squads, the main reason we all keep coming back to FIFA is the incredible updates to its visuals and mechanics year upon year. In this ballpark, FIFA 18 in no exception. Once again the game is incredibly real looking, especially during actual gameplay. My only criticism here is player’s faces, which I felt looked much more static than they have in the past. Think resting bitch face, and you are on the right tracks. The mechanics of the game see players’ movements vastly improved however, with running and directional changes appearing to work much more as they would in real life, and clear distinctions between players of different levels and abilities. Add these elements to the previous updates we have seen to the games (ignoring the resting bitch face part, of course) and this is the most realistic football simulation that the FIFA franchise has ever offered. Some fans will be pleased to know that penalties are simple again too, after things went a little downhill in FIFA 17 in that camp. A new addition in the form of a quick subs option during stoppages is also a welcome improvement, speeding up play and in intense moments graciously doing some of the thinking work for you.
There is a problem though. We having been heading down this road for a while, and we may finally have reached the pinnacle of it. FIFA isn’t as fun anymore. The more realistic the games have become, the less they feel like games at all. Whilst it is certainly a saving grace that some aspects, such as the scummy pass in the box style goals we all love to hate, have been wildly improved upon, it is possible that there is a tipping point. On the one hand, we of gamers of course want realistic looking and feeling games. That being said, at the end of the day, we also want games to be in some sense easy and a little bit silly so we can enjoy them with our mates. Scoring a pass in the box style goal is frustrating yes, but what fun we had with our buddies when we ribbed them for it after. It feels like the last elements of “FIFA skill”, if there is such a thing, are disappearing, as realistic gameplay overrules what the FIFA games actually used to be. Perhaps that, if anything, is why my first point came about; the hype just doesn’t seem strong this time around…
FIFA 18 is just a FIFA game, and therein lies the problem. It has every game mode, mechanic and feature that a FIFA game should, but at the same time, it doesn’t have that sparkle that the usual yearly instalments of the game have in one form or another. Don’t get me wrong, despite this claim the game holds an awful lot of merit. Classic modes such as manager mode and Ultimate Team maintain everything that fans know and love about the FIFA franchise. Licenced teams, stadiums and commentary are up to date and of superb quality as players would expect, and the look of the game is stunning as ever and then some. The problem is that there is nothing big, new or exciting to look forward to, and the continuation of The Journey has been something of a let-down. The biggest problem for me however is that the more realistic these games become, the more you have to re-learn how to play, and honestly the less fun they seem to become. It doesn’t need to be that way. There just needs to be a balance struck, and that would be my advice to EA for next year’s release. They need to remember why people buy FIFA; what makes it fun and special year upon year? Even more that that though, they need to give us something worth throwing our money at again.