Since about 2009 the FIFA franchise has established its credentials as the football simulator series in the market. The only competition it ever really had was Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer (PES) and it saw that off years ago.
In recent years, though, PES has staged something of a comeback. Last year it stole some of its rival’s thunder, which may explain why EA Sport has pulled out the stops this year to make sure FIFA pulls miles ahead.
FIFA 17 introduces a new mode, The Journey, a a story mode of sorts, that just makes the game that much better.
The Journey mode follows the career of fictional player Alex Hunter from a young age all the way up to the big leagues.
This isn’t the first time a sports title has tried to incorporate some kind of story mode; NBA 2K17 enlisted the talents of Spike Lee last year but failed to make the mode all that engaging,
By contrast FIFA 17 succeeds in delivering what feels like a worthwhile experience, as you guide young Alex through all the trials and tribulations from school football all the way through to playing professionally in the Premiership. But don’t think for one second that this mode as easy as just running onto the pitch and scoring a couple of goals. In order to impress the manager, you have to meet certain objectives. Deliver on those, and your profile will increase – which means more time on the pitch.
If you fail to impress, you can be relegated to serving as a substitute, a reserve or worse, being dropped by the club all together.
Then there’s the issue of handling the media and your relationships with people off the pitch, and it is here where the mode really shines. This just doesn’t play out in a series of cut scenes; on many occasions you have to respond in conversations. You have three options here: fiery, cool or neutral. Each one will have a different effect on the people you are talking to, which will in turn change the outcome of certain scenario. If you are too cocky with the media, as an example, the club’s manager won’t like that and give you less pitch time.
But the story of The Journey is also pretty cleverly crafted, as it really does convey the ups and downs of making football a career. While some of the conversation pieces do feel a bit scripted and unnatural, there are plenty of times that they suck you into the story.
FIFA 17 Modes
Apart from The Journey, FIFA 17 features all the regular modes that one would associate with a football game.
From Kick Off, you will be able to pit any team against an opponent of your choice, and is a great way to get an exhibition match going. It is the best mode (and really the only) where you can take on your friends in some couch co-op to see who is the best player.
It naturally also features the Career Mode, and while it is similar to The Journey, it has all the story stripped out.
Here you simply create a player (or you can use an existing one), select a professional team that you want to play for, and take to the pitch. Instead of guiding Alex Hunter though his career, you direct your own, and naturally you also have a number of objective that you need to accomplish in order to make it to the Starting IX and eventually win the league you are playing in.
In our opinion, it is much better to take on The Journey than the Career Mode, as you just don’t get the trials and tribulations with Career. The mode seems awfully impersonal, as you jump from one match to the next, where as with The Journey, there is somewhat meaning to what you are doing – an almost exclusive look behind the scenes.
And then of course there are the online portions of the game, where you can play against other FIFA 17 players from across the world.
FIFA 17 Mechanics
Every year developer Electronic Arts claim to have updated the game’s mechanics, but in reality it just tweaks it a bit. For FIFA 17, it is the first football game to make use of the Frostbite engine, and that we have to say makes a huge difference.
Gamers will be familiar with the Frostbite engine, as it is the same piece of technology that drives the Battlefield franchise. With it, EA said that it injects even more detail into the worlds like tunnels, locker rooms, the manager’s office, and the team plane. This again, is clearly visible in The Journey. But it also allows EA to faithfully recreate real-life player faces.
Not that it has ever been bad, it is just so much better. We are speculating that it is also for that reason that FIFA 17 doesn’t make use of EA Game Face, where you can inject your own likeness into the game.
Other than that, FIFA 17 apparently added new options in attack, a transformation in the way players physically interact in all areas of the pitch, and a brand new system that introduces constant spatial analysis.
In all honesty, if you are not a hardcore FIFA fan, you probably won’t notice all those things. If you play the way that you normally play, you will be just fine. Sure you might notice that things are a bit more fluid now, but we guess that is all part of the trick – upgrade things for the better without players even noticing that it wasn’t so great before.
One would be hard pressed to argue that the FIFA franchise hasn’t over the last couple years become a bit stale, with too many modes being similar and not enough new additions.
Yes the graphics and mechanics have been upgraded as time went on, but one can only refine the tackling aspect for so long until it doesn’t become a talking point any more. Graphically, gamers expect better visuals, so there is nothing here new either.
That is why The Journey is such a welcome addition – it introduces something new and does a rather good job at it as well. We are hoping that developer Electronic Arts spends more time refining the story mode than what it does the mechanics in the next version. Get that right, and you will definitely have one of the best football games for years to come.
FIFA 17 was reviewed on Xbox One, with a download code supplied by Electronic Arts.