The Empire Has Fallen
HIGH The Journey is the story mode this series has needed for years.
LOW Realizing that PES is starting to pull ahead in the race for soccer supremacy.
WTF Overdone player animations decrease response time (and increase how often I threw things at my cat.)
In 2015, for the first time in ages, soccer/football lovers were faced with a dilemma – FIFA or Pro Evolution Soccer? Not since the days of the PS2 has there been such a close race for fan dollars.
In 2016, there is no dilemma. Even with a new story mode, somewhat improved graphics, and tweaks to existing experiences, FIFA is now falling behind in a race it has led for two console generations. It’s not a bad game, but it is the one that saw developers spend so much time on extraneous content that they forgot to make improvements where they count. I don’t plan on doing a head-to-head comparison here, but suffice it to say that PES didn’t take the same approach this year. Choosing one title is no longer a “no-brainer” for footballers on a budget, and will come down to what elements matter most to them.
Let’s get right to FIFA’s most obvious addition, The Journey. Following in the footsteps of the pristine NBA 2K series, EA has added a deep, often exhaustive story mode designed to give some personality to the series.
Gamers begin their career as an 11-year old boy named Alex Hunter. This lad takes the journey from nobody to somebody to superstar in rapid fashion, beginning with a thorough gameplay tutorial. Once the player is sufficiently coddled, the mode morphs into a Bioware-esque adventure title, replete with dialogue trees, side challenges, and more.
For fans of 2K’s NBA series, this is nothing new, but they may find The Journey to be even more involving. In addition to the obvious on-field play, gamers will need to balance Alex’s endorsements, public appearances, team relationships and human emotion. It’s often silly, but it certainly adds a layer of depth to an often faceless series. (And, as an American, it will serve to educate many US sports fans about the international football lifestyle, given that most aren’t surrounded by soccer every day.)
The Journey is both more focused and more emotional than the NBA 2K narratives, and makes players genuinely care about the outcome of Alex Hunter’s journey from prepubescence to paid spokesman. It’s exactly what this series needed to regain its lead against PES… and exactly what would have happened, had FIFA’s on-field performance not stagnated (and even regressed) this season.
Though some reviewers didn’t enjoy it, I felt FIFA 16’s more deliberate pace was a strong representation of the actual sport. Hack tricks like spamming through passes and slide tackles were no longer prevalent, leading to more realistic offline matches, and more measured multiplayer contests.
However, it seems EA wanted a more arcade-like experience, and FIFA 17 immediately demonstrates faster play, easier defense, and pinpoint user passing. This is countered by dumbed-down AI and many more “lucky bounces” on both ends of the pitch. When compared to PES’ increased focused on realism, and it’s a bit too much to handle in one year.
Another thing to note is that – while it maintains the official “FIFA” branding – FIFA 17 no longer has the clear advantage when it comes to licenses. Though it’s likely only diehards will feel hindered by fewer licenses, PES secured big names like Arsenal, Madrid, Liverpool FC, and PC Barcelona, including cover boy Lionel Messi. And it continues to hold the Champions and Europa league licenses. If a gamer’s favorite squad resides in those areas, FIFA may no longer be the answer.
When it comes to modes and options, FIFA is an industry leader, and 17 is no exception. Ultimate Team, traditional career, online contests, friendlies, and all the rest are still there (and generally improved across the board). But all the modes and extras in the world won’t make up for better on-field gameplay, and this is where FIFA loses the most ground to PES this season. One can’t help but wonder what might have been if a little more attention was dedicated to fine-tuning controls, and a little less was devoted to building trading card collections.
In terms of eye candy, FIFA is still a stunner, at least on the surface. Close ups of the Frostbite-driven player models reveal freakishly accurate facial expressions, uniforms and even grass textures. The only problem is that players rarely see these details from the game’s default skybox camera. Where the new engine does play a role is in the overdone player animations, which actually cause a loss of responsiveness. In the mid-field, it’s barely noticeable, but after a third missed header off a cross, players will wish for a less-involved, snappier engine.
Things don’t improve much online. The lobbies are crowded and the matchmaking is accurate, but lag and interminable loading made online a complete disappointment. That, coupled with an endless glut of match drop-offs, ensured I spent the majority of my soccer experience offline.
I liken this year’s football shootout to musicians. In the current season, FIFA is like Madonna – aging but venerable, full of glitz and entertainment value, but ultimately lacking substance. Contrarily, PES is like a fiery independent singer, with minimal flash but much deeper soul where it counts most. In the end, both performers might put a smile on gamers’ faces, but FIFA’s bloat and wrinkles are beginning to show, especially with a younger, hungrier upstart nipping at its heels.
Disclosures: This game is developed by EA Vancouver and published by EA Sports. It is currently available on Xbox One, PS4, PC, PS3 and Xbox 360. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the Xbox One. Approximately 10 hours of play were devoted to the single-player story mode, and the mode was completed. Approximately 6 hours of play were devoted to online multiplayer.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated E and contains nothing objectionable other than the occasional rough slide tackle.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: FIFA 17 puts a heavy focus on sound effects, stadium noises and licensed music. However, none of these elements are necessary for enjoying of the game.
Remappable Controls: There are several pre-set control schemes, but they are not remappable.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.