This year’s obligatory FIFA release is more worthy for attention than any in recent memory. That’s important for me, as I have not purchased a FIFA game since 2013. Simply put, they rarely do enough every year to justify a purchase. They update the graphics slightly, tweak the gameplay slightly and slap the latest footballing superstar on the cover and then release it into the wild. It’s not enough for me to shell out £50. Every year, I play the demo, each time all reaffirming my position.
FIFA 17’s demo is still so very familiar:
- Roster of fully licensed teams? Check.
- Mocap from real professionals? Check.
- Licensed commentary from Martin Tyler and chums? Check.
- Alarmingly well rendered face of Wayne Rooney and his new hairline? Check.
There are some differences though. This years game is running on the Frostbite engine, the same one used to power Battlefield and FIFA has never looked healthier for it. Bright, smooth animations give players a sense of weight allowing them to move and react to each other’s presence in very believable ways. So far, just a slight fancier update than the usual.
Then, you look at this year’s marquee signing.
“The Journey” is a single player story mode where you assume the identity of a young, up and coming star and his rise to one of the world’s elite footballers. You play Alex Hunter, the quintessential (he would have a potential rating of 200 in Football Manager) youngster and guide his on and off the field decisions. 2K have done this style of story mode once before in NBA 2K16 and while the basketball game took the first brave steps into the concept, it was lacking in refinement. The Journey feels like EA have worked out the formula, even in the short amount of time you have with Alex Hunter in the demo.
The new tweaks to the football of FIFA 17 are also interesting. A new set-piece creator enables you to choose how a player receives the ball. Be it a long far post cross to the giant centre-back or a near post drill for a first time Sheringham volley. It is a little ambiguous however, yet with a little practice became very effective.
EA also are championing something called “Active Intelligence System” in which the AI is constantly monitoring its special awareness and the way AI players react and make runs. FIFA’s singleplayer AI used to get lots of negative feedback however, the fact that I didn’t notice any AI failings is a sign that it’s working as intended. Nothing the AI did felt unnatural during my playtime.
Passing can feel a little difficult to be precise with the analogue stick. A fair few times I wanted to pass to one player and it ended up at another’s feet because they were closer. “Be more precise then!” I hear you roar, but it is difficult and is the area that needs the most improvement. Shooting on the other hand feels lovely. Thunderbolt shots have a weight and true thump about them and feel wonderful when they crack against the bar.
For years I have been begging for a game to have the same feel as Guy Ritchie’s first person Nike Advert “Take It To The Next Level”. Nothing has ever excited me more than the concept of a video game showing the experiences of real life footballer has. Being discovered, getting an agent, dealing with the press, the money, getting transferred all of these things seem to be present in The Journey the demo version was very enjoyable and I cannot wait to experience it fully.