In my review for last year’s FIFA 16, I complained about the stale look that has plagued the FIFA series going on since the 7th generation of consoles. So the news of EA Sports using a brand new engine to breathe life into the series was a nice surprise. After getting my hands on the game for a couple of weeks, I have had time to peruse the new graphics in FIFA 17.
Once you start up FIFA 17, you are presented with what has now become a staple in EA Sports games – an instant match. This year it is an FA Cup final between Manchester United and Chelsea (I guess Crystal Palace wasn’t quite box office for this). As this match is starting, you can see the improved lighting effects and the little added details around the pitch like the pyro flamethrowers etc. Players have better facial expressions than ever before which is a god-send for the series. Football is one of the most emotional sports that exist on this planet and seeing expressionless players in past FIFA titles really killed any desired immersion of the sport.
As nice as these new touches look, the FIFA series is STILL suffering from the same old looks of the generic faces which come from the 7th generation (Kris Boyd has a game face from FIFA 09, that’s EIGHT years now), along with some super-low resolution textures around the stadium settings, like housing tenements and such.
With the new Frostbite engine bringing in more room for facial expressions, into the FIFA series comes a story mode of all things, called “The Journey”.
The Journey follows the life and times of Alex Hunter – a young boy who has always dreamt of growing up to be a professional footballer in the English Premier League. Your first task as Alex Hunter is to impress at a trial overseen by all of the top scouts in England. This is billed as Alex’s last chance of a professional football career. Of course, Alex impresses and now the top teams want to sign him. From this point on, you encounter varying scenarios you would imagine you would face in a football career – hype, praise, fandom, sponsorships, obnoxious agents and hard-nosed assistant managers.
Speaking of which, the aforementioned assistant manager Mr. Butler is practically the first team manager in The Journey. This is understandable due to the logistics of EA getting every EPL manager into their studios to record dialogue which is a) never happening and b) a logistical nightmare. The first team managers in question are virtual mutes who stand in the background whilst Mr. Butler carries the heavy water of managing a team.
The writing is really predictable and cliché at the best of times. And in pro-wrestling terms, there are also predictable “heel turns” which get little build up before commencing. There are some characters who are more endearing than Alex Hunter himself, especially Danny Williams, who constantly banters with Alex throughout. As cliché as the story may be, there are a few meta-moments that are quite clever and got a few chuckles. Details of those will be spared in case anyone cries about spoilers (you’re welcome).
During cut-scenes, you are prompted with 3 different responses to situations: “balanced”, “fiery” and “cool”. This supposedly affects how many fans you receive and your manager’s attitude towards you. I ended up being fiery as the other options were quite frankly really boring. There were no obvious after effects of these choices. It really seemed like none of them mattered at all.
Although it became a bit of a chore in the end, The Journey is one of the boldest moves EA Sports have made with the FIFA series and it will be interesting to see if EA Sports are able to build upon this development.
FIFA 17’s gameplay seems to have gone backwards. Tackling is clumsy, passing is as easy as ever, shooting is quite erratic and the referees are even worse than last year. After only a couple of games, I was horrified with this refereeing incident:
This was only the tip of the iceberg – consequences of tackling are really inconsistent, almost to the point where there might as well not be a referee there at all. It seems like the CPU has taken over the reins in terms of tackling itself. All you have to do is hold in Circle and the CPU does the rest for you.
Players perform certain animations at strange paces. One second, your player is on his backside, the next he morphs back onto his feet, all in one swift motion. As if the players on the park are cutting proverbial corners to achieve things.
There have been very specific instances of the entire pitch being perfectly covered in the referee’s foam spray:
The white spray gradually disappears after a minute or so, just like the actual foam itself. This has happened at least three times during my two-week spell with the game.
One new positive of FIFA 17’s gameplay is the new method of performing set-pieces. We now have a little yellow circle to move around for corners and free kicks. We have the choice of whipping the ball with power, or floating a cross into the box. This makes the players feel more in control of proceedings. Penalties no longer have the needle flying back and forth in-between a red and green meter. After a bit of practice, penalties are more simplified. Select your direction and power. Not much timing is required any more.
Manager Mode returns with barely any new features at all. The one new feature they have added in is more board demands from your season. They now take into account the financial side of the game.
Shirt sales, gate receipts, brand exposure and making marquee signings are a nice touch to a struggling game mode but in the end, Manager Mode is pretty much the same old, same old.
Sonically speaking, FIFA 17 is pretty much on the same level as FIFA 16 which is decent at best. However, there are a few new bad habits that have gotten super-old super-fast. After EVERY goal, the crowd will either sing “You’re not singing anymore!” or “Shall we sing a song for you?” and practically EVERY match, the stadium announcer tells someone to move their “red sports car” from the front entrance.
Do not even get me started on Alan Smith telling us about the Netherlands inventing the 4-3-3 formation before every other match.
Hopefully these issues are patch-able, but EA Sports are not the type to make that kind of change.
FIFA is a strange series to review. When you break the games down to their nuts and bolts, it feels like the same old game as the year before, but yet EA Sports always add in a few things here and there that makes it feel like progress is being made. Last year was the old graphics, but yet with a slower pace and added training regimes in Manager Mode.
This year it is a new engine, which only goes so far (improved graphics and a new game mode) but the gameplay has gone downhill and we still have old generic faces from the 7th generation. EA Sports have an interesting dilemma on their hands with The Journey. They cannot have the same story next year but with a new character. The Journey will have to become bigger and better next year.
If you never bought FIFA 16 then FIFA 17 is a good time to jump back into the series. In terms of game modes and graphics, FIFA 17 offers more than FIFA 16 did (which is hardly high praise). However, Frostbite in FIFA 17 is basically a platform for progress further down the line in the series. We will not see proper developments until next year’s title at the earliest. Let’s just hope they work on the gameplay more than a story-line.
This review is based on a digital copy of the game for the PlayStation 4 provided by Electronic Arts.