Part two of the annual battle for the digital football (or soccer) crown has arrived with the release of FIFA 17. Falling behind in the review rating last year, its developers have introduced several new features – time to see how well they work out for the top selling soccer franchise.
The main innovations for FIFA this year are the shift to a different graphics engine and the inclusion of The Journey, a story-driven campaign mode that sees you track and influence a young player’s career from his younger years all the way up to professional and international success. The short version is that The Journey adds something new, while the Frostbite engine changes the game that was already there in FIFA 16 – and not just visually.
In terms of graphics, FIFA retains the lead it already had on Pro Evolution Soccer. The Frostbite engine (that’s mainly known for the Battlefield games) delivers a visual spectacle through its effective rendering of players, stadiums and crowds. Well-known players are very lifelike as well, but this can’t be said for players from the smaller European leagues out there. They’re included – FIFA still dominates when it comes to licensing – but they are definitely not accurate visually.
The visuals in FIFA are also backed by a strong audio performance – from its soundtrack to the way that commentary is handled, this is also an elements where FIFA outpunches PES, albeit slightly. It would be great if FIFA 18 takes a few cues from 2K’s recent innovation with a changing roster of commentators, but we welcome the increased diversity in the commentary as-is.
Then there’s The Journey, which shows us that EA is definitely looking 2K’s way already. It’s a mode that resembles the recent story modes in 2K’s NBA games, and it’s a fun new approach to a soccer game that we haven’t seen in many years. A really old game for the Atari ST and Amiga called Striker did something similar, and I remember it fondly. Just like in that game, training plays a large part in how you develop as a player. But of course Striker predates even the very first FIFA and the presentation and approach in FIFA 17 is much more dramatic.
You’ll encounter setbacks, you’ll have tough choices to make, and at some point you’ll encounter stiff opposition when high profile players are brought to your club who want to play in your position. It’s a fun ride and one that doesn’t just take place on the soccer pitch, but it’s also largely ‘on rails’. If The Journey comes back next year with a narrative model that makes your choices more impactful, this could be a real winner. For now, it’s a mode that is fun but also has its shortcoming – much like 2K’s efforts by the way.
FIFA’s surviving game modes from FIFA 16 haven’t changed much (or at all), but the inclusion of the Frostbite engine does have ramifications for the core gameplay – in which we haven’t seen changes this big in years. Physicality is a much bigger factor this year, and it changes the way the game is played. Shielding the ball, colliding with other players – the Frostbite engine is great as delivering these facets of the game realistically, and the developers have emphasized their importance this year.
As a result, you’re less likely to see quick passing or solo slalom runs – which makes FIFA 17 more realistic but also less dynamic than PES 2017. In a way, FIFA teaches us that realism isn’t always great. Watching a real game on television can be thrilling when a team like Barcelona is on top form, but it can also be dreadfully slow experience – like this year’s Euro 2016 final. FIFA’s new direction opens up the door to more of those types of games, while PES emphasizes a more fun experience – even if it’s a more arcade-like one.
These changes don’t make FIFA 17 a bad game – in fact, it’s a great game and it will no doubt be very successful. The audiovisual presentation is top notch, The Journey is a fun and novel addition, and the game has a ton of official licenses. The actual gameplay is also well executed, and perhaps with time players will find strategies to work around the potentially ‘slow’ games as well – just like how teams in real life will eventually find a way to break down teams like Portugal’s successful national team this summer. Until then, however, we’re going to give it to PES this year for the fun factor that it brings to the game. No matter which route you go this year though, you won’t be disappointed.