In 2017 we saw EA Sports breathe new life into the FIFA series by using a new engine, adding new game mechanics in certain game modes, and even creating a brand new game mode in the form of “The Journey”. In FIFA 18, EA Sports have attempted to build upon these aspects. Has this improved the experience of FIFA 18 compared to 17?
Last year there was a jump in graphics with the Frostbite engine. This year EA has managed to regress in this aspect, at least on an “artistic” level. Players faces seem to look more cartoony with an extra shiny effect on their faces. This even applies to the managers who at times look oily. Important players still do not have their true likenesses in the game. Stars such as Saul Niguez, Jan Oblak, and Casemiro still have the painful generic faces from the 7th generation of consoles (and Kris Boyd STILL has a game face from 2008, NINE years and counting).
FIFA 17 introduced us to Alex Hunter, the main protagonist in the new game mode titled “The Journey” and he makes a return this year to continue the path of a fledgling football career. You have the option of picking up from where you left off last year or start again fresh with a brand new Alex Hunter. I chose the most logical option in continuing from last year’s progress for a more natural advancement of the story.
I will spare you any spoilers, but I will mention that there are times where you are asked to play as other characters which completely ruined the experience for me. I saw this as an attempt to keep the story interesting by switching things up, but I wanted to play as my guy and not the ancillary characters who should have served as nothing more and nothing less. Some of these characters even get an entire chapter dedicated to them. Thankfully, EA Sports were somewhat self-aware at this point and provided the option to skip that chapter completely.
There is also one particular part of the story which EA Sports shamelessly railroads in some product placement. It is so odd and out of place and doesn’t even get built upon such as Alex Hunter becoming an ambassador for more brands for things like headphones or moisturizing cream.
The story takes too many sharp turns within the space of one season. The one point where the story/environment remained the longest without having a random change was actually the least interesting team/league throughout it all. One hopes that Alex Hunter’s story is now finished and FIFA 19 sees us introduced to a brand new set of characters and circumstances that are more football-orientated and less soap opera.
When it comes to the voice acting, you can definitely tell who are the real actors hired for this gig and who are the pro athletes being paid a handsome fee to deliver lines in a fashion that is more wooden than Pinocchio’s nose.
The Journey has some new features added to the game mode. We can now customise how Alex Hunter looks and dresses. Options from changing everyday attire to match-day kits are all available, alongside hairstyles and tattoos which all serve as unlockable content throughout the mode. We are also treated to a new mechanic which sees us pair up with a specific strike partner. The manager then orders you to build up an on-the-field relationship. This chemistry is tracked based on assists and goals set up by each other and that too also unlocks some rewards.
Career Mode is back once again and this time comes with a new and improved mechanic which has garnered quite a bit of attention. In previous FIFA titles, all football negotiations were carried out through menus and emails. In FIFA 18, the Frostbite engine has been utilized to develop this mechanic with live contract negotiations with players, agents, and managers.
These negotiations are now more detailed; does the player want a release clause in his contract? Does the club want to offer a signing on fee? How much is the club willing to incentivize players with added bonuses for goals/appearances/clean sheets? These are all vital aspects in successfully signing a new player or renewing a contract for a star player.
At first, this live negotiation mechanic is really new and fresh but the novelty wears off really quickly. The characters don’t audibly speak, it is all text-based and the dramatic music does get really tiresome.
Other than this mechanic, the career mode is really just a copy and paste from last year’s efforts from EA Sports. You can still train specific players to improve certain areas of their game, scouting system is still the same and also the youth setup is the same.
Another new feature in Career Mode is really more superficial than anything else. In previous FIFA titles, the latest news would be displayed in the form of a news article. Now in FIFA 18, these have been translated to what are essentially just fancy gif images at the side of the menu. People have saw screenshots of these instances and let their imaginations run wild, thinking we get live press conferences and such. Sadly, this is not the case.
In terms of the gameplay itself, EA Sports have sold this game on a new dribbling system with more detailed player animations which are supposed to make the game more fluid. Sadly, these changes have come to bite FIFA players on the backside.
Dribbling is rather bobbly and glitchy, the ball seems to have weird physics where it can randomly pick up speed/power from an ambiguous animation that would never merit such a change in play. The slightest flick of a head can sometimes result in absolute bullet headers and a small swing of the leg during a shot can generate a ridiculous amount of power.
Defending is clumsier than ever, with defenders being bamboozled by the simplest of turns of direction. Tackling is a double-edged sword in FIFA 18; if the stars align, you can really pull off some cracking sliding tackles, but the majority of the time, it is players just lunging around aimlessly. Defenders who don’t have possession are somehow slower to turn and move than what they would be WITH possession, which is strange, to say the least.
There have been a few times where the new animations caused some very strange and suspicious glitches, like players who are falling over face first and magically land back on their feet in mid-air:
Referees are horrendous with their decision making in FIFA 18. I have lost count of the amount of times I either fouled a player one-on-one with the keeper or vice-versa, and not only was it not a red card offense, it didn’t even warrant a YELLOW card from the referees!
Shooting is ridiculously easy at the best of times due to the unrealistic power and accuracy. This isn’t helped by the goalkeepers, who are getting dumber by the year. At the best of times, they are extremely slow to react or don’t even react at all. EA Sports have released a patch to rectify these issues, but this really should have been fixed before release. Again, the modern day gaming experience isn’t fully authentic on release day. Developers really need to get their games up to scratch before release. The only way to combat this epidemic in the industry is to stop pre-ordering games and wait a week or so. But that is a discussion for another day.
A few positives from the change in gameplay are the crossing and the new emphasis on the physical side to the game.
Crosses in previous FIFA titles felt a bit redundant due to the potluck nature of the deliveries. Most of the time, crosses went straight to the keeper’s hands or the defender’s head, especially during corners. However, in FIFA 18 there is more variety in the styles of crosses that can be delivered. Full-backs can deliver early crosses that are more successful in getting between the line of defense and the keeper. Floated crosses and pinged crosses are also other styles that can be utilized, and the attackers in the box are more flexible now in their animations/approach to these crosses and can score in different manners from what they could before.
The physical side of the game i.e. shielding the ball, hustling and harrying defenders and strikers alike are more obvious. The FIFA series has been criticized in recent years for just being focused on the pace aspect of the sport but now they are taking a bit more of an interest in using a player’s strength to hold the ball up, protect possession, and keep defenders and strikers at bay. However, this feature of the gameplay is hampered by the feeling that players swivel and spin like they are orbiting the moon.
Once again, EA Sports has released a game that does not warrant full RRP. But this is their cash cow and who could blame them when diehards of the most popular sport in the world are addicted to recreating the excitement and competition on their screens during their off time? However, it is really difficult to justify the full price that they charge for a game that can be viewed as a regression on the previous title. Like last year, The Journey mode was a nice addition but in the end becomes a bit of a slog, career mode gets a nifty upgrade to a game mechanic but nothing more. Graphics take a weird back-step with the strange shiny look on the characters.
Next year is a big year for EA Sports. The novelty of the Frostbite engine and Journey story mode will have certainly worn off by then (if it has not already). Long-standing problems which have plagued the series for years need to be addressed once and for all (horrendous referees, scripted feeling to matches, and glitches and terrible goalkeepers). EA Sports continues to make money with the FIFA series but the overall quality of said-series continues to suffer.
This review is based on a digital copy of the game for the PlayStation 4 provided by Electronic Arts.