The end of September is like my Christmas when it comes to sports video games. While my Summer of Sports series a few years ago went from five titles to just a couple with the elimination of the NCAA Football franchise and the beating of the dead horse that is Madden, my excitement for sports titles has become singular. FIFA 18 is here, EA's signature soccer title, and while we've seen strides in the past for the long-running sports title, it may be time to pull back the reins on the hype because this year is a little bittersweet.
What's new with gameplay?
Normally a jump straight into the gameplay is the proper way to handle a FIFA title, but when presented with a version that promises a load of new content, it's best to highlight what to expect ahead of launch. This year's version is getting an overhaul in spots that have been in desperate need of change. Player Control gets some love this year with new motion technology that changes movement and how a player will approach plays. Dribbling also gets a bump as there are new mechanics and quicker motions to master in order to break down a defense. Teams now also have a specific style of play that requires understanding of the tactics and positioning for each player. Players will also be able to utilize what's known as dynamic quick subs where the AI suggests substitutions throughout a match based on performance and stamina of their players on the pitch. And, finally, a whole new crossing system has been implemented. If there was ever one thing that needed some love, it was this.
So how well were all of these new features implemented? It's a mixed bag, so let's break it down:
Of all of the new gameplay features mentioned above, crossing definitely feels better. Early crosses are easier to pull off and the ability to fire crosses in and aim for back posts more often has opened up play on the flank. Stats of the players are still going to matter in the formula of how well each cross is placed, but I've scored more goals with the crossing system this week than I probably did most of my time with FIFA 17.
The dribbling overhaul does feel different, but personally I don't think it's a great change, as well as the motion technology. It could just be several years of dealing with the same feeling that players had to go in a specific motion and weren't more free flowing. But even with this overhaul, scripted runs in specific spots are still happening and annoy me to no end. Switching players on a 50/50 ball also seems more problematic this time around, even if a player is just a few yards away. The game still prefers to prep you for the chance that player isn't going to get to it, eliminating the chance to actually get that ball. This has been one of the biggest complaints I've had about this title for about five years running. Yet even with a new engine and overhaul, scripting still happens.
The team style and positioning meant very little to me over the course of many matches. It seems to be just a quick insertion of the basic tactics for each club and how their roles go, but now Martin Tyler and Alan Smith are talking about how good a team looks when they execute. This is a non-starter for me because I just do not see the difference, other than maybe players making more runs in the midfield.
The overall gameplay with these new features and the old ones still in play results in a fairly decent experience. Crossing is, for the most part, fixed. Passing is fine but will still have those "WTF FIFA?" moments where a simple through ball means a goal, yet the pass will either go 15 yards past the running player or go to another player for no reason other than to prevent a scoring opportunity. It's disappointing that two of my biggest gripes with the simple aspects of gameplay remain a problem for yet another year.
One thing I wasn't concerned about was the atmosphere in the stadium no matter where the match was taking place. New chants have been added in and the crowds are now rendered in 3D properly. Subtle changes are good, and now there are celebrations that allow interactions with the fans after scoring a goal. The downside is that it's another year and only a handful of new stadiums have been added. La Liga side Atletico Madrid's new ground, Wanda Metropolitano, is the highlight of the new grounds and it is absolutely gorgeous, especially when getting the opening view with the 360 degree camera. Joining the list with the Metropolitano is LA Galaxy's home, Stubhub Center, giving MLS three home grounds in the game, which is pretty upsetting given the popularity of the title in the United States. And, as is tradition, the newcomers to the Premier League also get their grounds added, so Brighton and Hove Albion's Amex Stadium is here in all its glory along with Huddersfield Town's Kirklees Stadium. That's still only 50 authentic stadiums along with the roughly 30 generic stadiums that have been in the game for ages. Where is Celtic Park? How about Atlanta United's Mercedes-Benz Stadium? Where is Timbers Park? I know the horse is long dead that I've been beating about this, but there's no excuse to not have more stadiums.
The last thing to bring up with gameplay is the biggest negative I have with this title: the AI. There are some truly mind-boggling things the AI does that could drive a person playing this game to insanity. The very first game I played, I got to see the full range of AI from incredibly smart to monumentally stupid. Midfielders making runs behind the striker who is posted up? Fantastic! That's what we all want to see! And then, just a minute later, I watch a goal sit under a lobbed cross, obviously ready to snatch it up to end an attack...only to just sidestep it and watch that cross bounce into the net. This was not a singular occurrence, either. Defenders seem to whiff on some headed clearances and goalies, while good for the most part, made several of these rather questionable plays that can't be controlled. Hopefully a patch will fix this, because it was a major detractor from my experience.
The Journey is back, and it's much better.
I was intrigued this time last year when we all found out that a true story/superstar mode was being added, revolving around the story of an English youth academy player named Alex Hunter. While the story last year wasn't a bad start, it definitely felt like there could have been much more added. This year, though, the story with Alex is deeper and I feel is worth the full playthrough. I won't spoil anything for you, but trust me when I say no one will believe the direction the story takes, even with the promos saying that he's on the move and some of Europe's big guns being mentioned.
This story definitely stuck with me better than last year, and I do hope that we see more of this from EA. The Journey may not be the best superstar mode that EA has ever come up with, but the second chapter of Alex Hunter is far better than the first in my personal opinion.
Career mode gets a much needed face lift, but still lacks in key places.
I absolutely love career mode. Whether I'm creating my own player and starting in the lowest levels of England or taking my favorite club, Tottenham Hotspur, all the way to the Champions League crown, I always love playing this mode. Last year, though, was the first time it truly felt stale after just a season or two. One of the drums I have banged on for a few years now was how transfers were handled. In past versions, all that was available was simple negotiations that went like this:
It not only got boring, but it was ridiculously easy to build a super team in just a season or two with even a mid-table Premier League side. Missing from these transfers were things like add-ons, transfer clauses, signing bonuses, and direct negotiation with managers. I'm happy to say that all of this has been fixed, and I'm far more interested in career mode than I've ever been.
The new interface includes the Transfer Hub, a one stop shop where players will search for talent, add them to their shortlist, scout them, and find out their valuation. Some players will have release clauses that can be met even if their parent club absolutely refuse to sell him. Yes, even Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi can be purchased this way if you have the funds to pull it off. It's not a guarantee that you'll be able to sign them as you then have to meet their role demand, wage demand, release clause request, and add-ons that include a signing bonus as well as any requests for performance bonuses such as number of goals scored, appearances, etc. It's a much needed boost to career mode.
That being said, the player career got left out in the cold. Transfers are still done the same boring way, where it's one wage, take it or leave it based on your overall score and form, and there's no negotiation. This can't be that difficult to implement if we've suddenly seen the manager career get such a necessary change. Yet another thing to put on the back burner for another year, which is disappointing. I'm not asking for Football Manager levels of simulation here, but something new on the player side would be great.
FUT is back, and this game will remind you every step of the way.
Full disclosure, I did absolutely nothing with FUT because there's so much to unwrap with this title that hopping online wasn't in the cards. That being said, this game almost begs you to play Ultimate Team and spend money. There are little pop-ups in the corner reminding you that you earned a FUT reward and you should check it out. In certain game modes, you are almost offered a way to take a break from that mode and go play FUT for awhile to possibly spend more money.
We get it, EA: FUT is the cash cow. People are going to spend money. Reminding them constantly inside of nearly every game mode isn't just annoying, it's insulting. Let it go, because people are going to find their way to that mode one way or another.
This game has all the tools to be world class, and yet...
I want to love this game. I really do. I enjoyed the hell out of the second chapter of The Journey. I love the revamped manager career mode. The gameplay is still fine, but those changes that were promised and implemented? It isn't enough. There are still glaring problems that either haven't been addressed or may just be stuck with this game forever. Scripted runs when you desperately want to take control of a player to take him in a different direction? Yeah, they still happen. AI that makes questionable decisions? Yep, still there. Player career is as stale as ever with no real changes other than a few new training drills. Yes, the things I enjoyed are really fun, but this isn't a slam dunk by any stretch of the imagination.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
Sean is a 15 year veteran of gaming and technology writing with an unhealthy obsession for Final Fantasy, soccer, and chocolate.View Profile