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In what is the 24th addition to the main series, and the 65th addition if you include spin-off titles, FIFA 17 had a hard task of keeping old ideas fresh.
FIFA 17 has many modes to keep you occupied, from the Career and FIFA Ultimate Team Modes to Online Seasons, Online Friendlies and ‘The Journey’. FIFA Ultimate Team still provides the addictive gameplay that has supported the micro-transaction steam train known as FUT. Career fits like a pair of old slippers: Slightly worn but gives you that toasty feeling that you will always return to. More depth to this mode in the future would be greatly appreciated. Online Friendlies are good fun, with stat tracking and an Online Seasons lite feel to the on-field engagements. Online Seasons haven’t changed much, which is unsurprising giving the quick turnaround of these titles and the fact that a lot of their attention was focussed on ‘The Journey’.
The Journey follows, you, Alex Hunter, on the precipice of making it as a pro. Professional football is within your grasp, despite your first game (after a childhood penalty shootout) being an all-or-nothing trial against other up-and-comers. One neat feature to this mode is the number of fail states that are possible. You can fail the trial and there, your game can end. You can fail to win the league and any trophy and that’s how it will end. However, this mode is extremely shallow in almost every regard. After the first few hours of genuinely intriguing gameplay and cutscenes in a fresh mode reminiscent of 2K’s fairly well-received NBA story modes, the cutscenes become less frequent and the gameplay more stagnant.
The gameplay fits like an old glove. Minor tweaks to the through ball mechanics are a welcome change, giving the player a greater sense of control in an aspect of the game that has felt lacklustre for years; in FIFA 17 I think of a through ball, press the button, and more often than not it happens how I want it. Set pieces have a seen a major upheaval. Corners now let you target a space in the box and choose between a floated or drilled cross, depending on power; throw-ins allow you to walk up and down the touchline. Penalties have seen the most dramatic change in years. You can tweak your run up, alter your starting position and there are slight changes to power control. It was a risk to spice up this feature and one worth taking.
It is difficult, in most years, to quantify major differences in FIFA games due to their annual release schedule, and I would not blame many for a feeling of franchise fatigue. However, if you do not already own a copy of FIFA 17 (in which case that makes you one of the special breed of video game enthusiasts who does not contribute to the perennial FIFA and COD purchase cycle), I would highly suggest going to your local video game vendor and grabbing a copy. Although if you can afford to wait until April/ May, EA Access members will be able to play the game in full with an active membership.
EA should be commended for trying something quite out of left field for them, and playing The Journey left me hopeful of an improved and less anti-climactic return in FIFA 18. While the graphical quality and player likenesses are very impressive, it must be said that there may still be compromises made due to FIFA 17’s wide availability, releasing on last generation’s consoles. I’m excited to see what the team at EA Sports can do once they no longer have to give time to lesser ports of the game.