When it was first revealed that FIFA 17 would have a story-driven single-player mode for the first time in the series’ long history, plenty of eyebrows were raised. Not just by FIFA fans, but also those that regularly write off sports games as nothing more than yearly roster updates. Although clearly taking inspiration from NBA 2K16’s MyCareer, it was a brave move to put so much time and effort into something that basically sells no matter what each September.
Now that’s it here, does it live up to the unit-shifter that EA Sports have made it out to be? In some ways, yes, but for the most part, it feels more like a prototype than what the mode should ultimately become in later editions.
Playing as Alex Hunter, a point of contention for some shite human beings, you have to very slowly make your way up the footballing ladder, making enemies and friends along the way. One of the standout characters is Gareth Walker, an undeniably shite human being, with your friendship turned rivalry providing a major driving force for the narrative. While you make a name for yourself on loan at a Championship club, he’s capturing the headlines with ease at your parent club. Couple this with the expectations of your own hype and the heartwarming dedication shown throughout by your family and you have a great tale unfolding as the hours tick through its sixteen-hour playtime.
However, just like any great video game story, the content needs to be able to back it up. There have been many games with great stories that have been let down by its fundamentals, and The Journey is no different. An all too familiar pattern emerges before too long.
Perhaps it’s trying to be as realistic of the life of a rookie footballer as possible, but The Journey feels like a grind after any extended period of play. It’s a routine of training drills (sometimes two in a row) followed by a match until a cutscene is triggered that doesn’t always move the story in a meaningful direction. Hunter’s momentum is often killed and there’s a pervading sense that no matter how many hat-tricks you score or press conferences you sass your way through, nothing changes.
The Journey simply needs more. Alex Hunter seems like he leads a very sheltered life, unable to send out tweets, go to functions, or anything that might change what’s going on. Your wages are worthless as there’s no interactive hub for you to add useless clutter collectibles to to show off your achievements to date, or even somewhere to put a sweet 40″ plasma. A rotating image of where you’re currently staying, whether it’s a hotel room or your teenage bedroom, is all that awaits you between matches.
The dialogue trees were much vaunted in The Journey’s marketing with plenty of comment sections across the web being set ablaze with complaints and compliments about a football game daring to incorporate RPG-lite mechanics. Similarly to NBA 2K’s MyCareer, however, whatever you choose doesn’t greatly change the course of events. They instead very minorly impact how your manager perceives you or the amount of social media followers you accrue, which then unlocks cutscenes unrelated to the main narrative. In the end, it doesn’t figure much into the game’s plans whether or not you want to be as brazen as Ronaldo or as reserved as Messi in front of the camera.
As easy as it is to nitpick The Journey, there still remains plenty to write home about. Visually, it offers some of the best mo-cap in any game, let alone a sports game, and has exceptional voice acting that you would only expect in something that Naughty Dog has to offer. When the story does want to move things forward, it does so with gusto, offering cockney-accented drama that enraptures – the seeds of a great rivalry in gaming has been sewn with Alex Hunter and Gareth Walker.
The Journey itself feels like a seed, the starting point off something that will grow and grow into something spectacular. Judging by its outcome, EA Sports still have more to say about Hunter’s career with the the expectation being that FIFA 18 will see things moving forward. Hopefully the year between editions will give them plenty of time to flesh out sports games’ most intriguing new mode and give it the depth it deserves.
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