Developer: EA Sports Publisher: EA Platform(s): PC, PS4, XB1, Switch, PS3, 360 Review code provided
It’s almost fallacy to think that FIFA will tear up the script one of these days and become something that feels truly fresh, rather than just an incremental “improvement” with each year. It’s a sentiment I have echoed in my years of reviewing the franchise for Cultured Vultures, even if FIFA 18 swayed me for a time. I had hoped that FIFA 19 would finally show innovations instead of renovations.
While its brand of football is as solid as ever, FIFA 19 sadly falls into the same camp as the last three, arguably four, FIFA games where the changes are on a surface level and almost immediately lose their sheen. Couple that with an over-dependence on Ultimate Team at the expense of single-player modes and you have a package that’s difficult to immediately recommend to those left jaded by the recent FIFA experience.
On the gameplay front, the tweaks are small but welcome. Players feel more like their real-life counterparts than ever; Ronaldo’s Naruto-meets-Road-Runner sprint replicated in remarkably realistic fashion. Players jostle with serious ferocity thanks to the updated 1v1 mechanics with the likes of Lukaku able to pretty convincingly sweep aside the nimble but lightweight modern full-back. Shots, too, have an interesting quirk to them this time out. Pressing shoot and then again at the right time will make your shots more accurate, though it is a tricky thing to master.
There are also appreciated changes to the general flow of a game, particularly in the pace department. Fast wingers are still the bread and butter for most attacking teams, but there’s less emphasis on simply being able to hold down R2 and blitz past defenders. The game seems to have counteracted this over-dependence by slowing down players when they’re on the ball, which may inevitably rankle Aubameyang and Sané fans. It makes it a far more tempered and measured experience overall, one that rewards thought over primal bursts of adrenaline.
It’s clear that EA Sports were trying to promote the view of FIFA as a more thinking man’s brand of simulation football over its arcade-y image, especially with the introduction of customisable game plans. Mapped to the directional buttons, the default versions seen in previous games would allow you to change your players’ attitude and positioning to either be more defensive or attacking without much deeper control beyond that. FIFA 19 allows you greater detail by giving the option for you to set formations and more for these game plans in a simple but worthwhile addition.
Once you’re settled in with FIFA 19 and have come to grips with these updates, it all becomes rather familiar. Having barely touched FIFA 18 in months, I was expecting some rust and to be roundly battered by the AI and other online opponents. I was wrong: my muscle memory kicked in pretty quickly, allowing me to play more or less the same way I had in last year’s entry. The changes are nice, but they just aren’t big enough to justify spending dozens and dozens of hours with — more or less — the same game we’ve been playing since FIFA 16.
It doesn’t help that long-term solo players have been left out in the cold for FIFA 19 with its pitiful additions to Career Mode barely even registering. The adoption of Champions League is valued, but it’s effectively just an aesthetic flair over anything meaningful; the format remains largely the same as FIFA 18’s off-brand alternative but now with bad commentary and that famous theme song. It seems like EA Sports have banked mostly on the appeal of the Champions League for FIFA 19 and will (hopefully) change things up more drastically for next year for solo players.
Even The Journey suffers some missteps this time out. While it’s the most ambitious to date, allowing you to switch between three different narratives, the pacing is the price to pay for its ambition. It’s a slog, making you play through dozens and dozens of (often pointless) matches when all you want to do sometimes is watch Danny Williams awkwardly hold some fish and chips. You have to play through two separate Champions League campaigns as well as the Women’s World Cup, which is a lot of football, even without considering the random peppering of league matches here and there.
The story itself might be good enough to keep you invested, however. The unrealistic melodrama is still present but certainly toned down, crafting a story of ego, fame, and family. Alex Hunter’s thread is actually the least compelling of the trio with Danny Williams’ and (particularly) Kim Hunter’s stories being the more interesting. While Alex struggles to balance his career with his “icon” lifestyle, Danny’s likeable underdog routine serves as the perfect counterpoint. Kim, meanwhile, is trying to make history in the shadow of her brother. With more customisation options and player choice than seen previously, it’s a shame, then, that The Journey feels so bogged down by trying to make you feel a part of every second of the story it’s trying to tell.
Elsewhere for offline play, the addition of House Rules for Kick-Off mode seems tailor-made for you and your friends being several sheets to the wind. There are a great deal of variety and twists on the typical football formula, so whether you want to throw the rules out of the window or score only with headers, there’s enough here to serve as a fun distraction — House Rules may even give non-FIFA fans a decent excuse to pick up the controller and mess around.
Ultimate Team is where the majority of the FIFA community congregates, but it’s a culture that I’ve always been on the outside looking in of. Despite having played every FIFA game since the new millenium, there’s nothing about it that appeals to me, even when it was the Hot New Thing for the franchise. With it embracing controversial monetisation practices and being one of the last standing bastions of the loot box fiasco, I was trepidatious but intrigued by Ultimate Team for FIFA 19.
I really shouldn’t have even bothered trying. Having been led by the hand for what felt like a bible’s worth of tutorials for the mode to try to rationalise itself, I started spending some time on building my squad. I grinded for what felt like forever offline with some truly terrible players to earn enough coins to spend on packs or on the market, but barely “earned” anything worthwhile. When the best you have is Michael Keane as the pity player the game throws at you for just starting off, you know something’s wrong.
Still, I persevered and with a couple of loan players and a trio of 70+ bargains at my disposal, I decided to brave online play. It was the most sobering experience I’ve ever had in a FIFA game. My opponent (who had “shadow” in his name somewhere) somehow already had some of the paciest wingers in the game and ten out of eleven players in his line-up were rated 80+. Pace isn’t as important as previous games, but it certainly still shows when you have Kingsley Coman coming up against Yeovil’s second-choice RB. I gave up shortly after my 5-1 mauling with me having neither the patience to toil away for a smattering of pity coins or the loose enough wallet to make things easier.
I often say that you can tell the importance the developers place on the content of their game by the way they present their trophies and achievements. FIFA 19’s trophy list is largely for Ultimate Team with Career and just general gameplay achievements barely being represented — I actually don’t think there’s a single Career-specific trophy in FIFA 19, which is reflected by the lack of emphasis on the mode itself. There is also virtually no change to Pro Clubs, which may actually have been more neglected than Career over the years. FIFA 19 has all the modes any football fan could ever want but neglects so many of them to focus on the thing that makes it its money long post-release. With the amount of money generated by FUT, you would think some of that would be invested into revitalising some of the franchise’s misbegotten offerings. Apparently not.
If you haven’t played FIFA in a few years and want to dive back in, FIFA 19 might be a good entry point. It’s visually stunning with it looking every inch like and replicating the feeling of the beautiful game itself — Everton’s Goodison Park is as much a graveyard as it is on match days, for instance. It also treads a fine line between being a simulation of the real thing and a light arcade experience, so while the learning curve is certainly present, it’s not something you can’t overcome with some effort.
However, for those who’ve been playing FIFA for years and are looking for some rejuvenating new ingredient to the formula, it’s difficult to call it an essential update. This rings doubly true for offline players with the attention (again) all being given to Ultimate Team. The introduction of the Champions League offers some neat theatricality, but that’s essentially all it is and just comes across as a way for EA Sports to buy some time until next year. If FIFA 20 is more or less the same deal as 19, I might just give up the ghost and dust off my copy of Pro Evolution Soccer 6.
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While still fun, FIFA 19 feels like a familiar stopgap until EA Sports figure out how to start innovating with its flagship once again. Microtransactions: Yes. Players can spend real money in FUT to purchase chance-based player packs. Prices start from 79p.
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