Rounding off a September full of sports titles, FIFA 18 is set to once again become the dominant seller this year. Is its likely commercial success justified? We certainly think so.
After covering Pro Evolution Soccer 2018, NBA Live 18, NHL 18 and NBA 2K18, it’s been an extremely busy month for sports games. Like clockwork, FIFA follows a few weeks after PES hits the shelves – but it will still very likely outsell the Konami title by a wide margin thanks to its loyal audience. Luckily, it’s also a quality title that’s worth the price of admission.
One of FIFA’s strongest assets in the yearly confrontation with PES is its strong roster of licensed teams, and this year is no exception and even ups the stakes. Since pretty much all the major leagues and teams were already included in last year’s game, the difference is mainly in the details – which this year includes more accurate representations of Spanish and American stadiums as well as a bigger role for some of the more famous managers in the game. Try to negotiate a deal for a certain player and you’ll sit down with their manager to try and pry them from their current team. This means that trying to persuade Bale to return to the Premier League will require a talk with Zinedine Zidane to try and make it happen. The same dynamic applies to lower level transfers as well, but a lot of the managers there are being represented by generic models. Doesn’t matter at all if you don’t know the actual manager anyway, but a bit unfortunate when dealing with a local favorite.
The way players are visually represented is definitely superior to what we saw earlier this month in PES 2018. The Frostbite engine that was introduced last year does an amazing job at getting the faces of some of the game’s biggest stars just right – with some of them appearing in cameos during the game’s The Journey story mode as well. One of them is this year’s cover athlete Cristiano Ronaldo – a bit of a polarizing choice since fans either love him or hate him. Thierry Henry also pops up, which no doubt pleases fans on both sides of the Atlantic.
My personal opinion is that Pro Evolution Soccer 2018 does still offer a slightly better in-game experience, but it’s FIFA 18 that’s made the biggest step forward. As predicted in my review of PES 2018, this probably has to do with the “second year effect”, where introducing a new engine means we have to wait a year before the game itself is properly polished to make use of it. FIFA 18 does just that – it adds a lot of polish to the second Frostbite-powered edition of the game, and this includes a ton of gameplay and control tweaks.
Crossing the ball into the box has become a more dominant tactic than it was last year, thanks to a simplified control system. Not too unlike the system that PES uses, the difference between a button press and a double-tap is the difference between a high and a low cross – with the game taking care of the rest. This results in more crosses heading in their intended direction, which results in more excitement in front of goal. Get too close to the goal with your cross and you’ll find a fairly dominant goalkeeper, but if you have a striker who can duke it out in the air then crossing frequently can be a deadly strategy.
Goalies aren’t just better at dominating their box when crossing, they’ve been improved when compared to last year’s version in many regards. Scoring goals feels tougher than before, or at least you’re not as likely to be gifted a goal thanks to some horrible goalkeeping. There’s still room for improvement though, because shots that a normal goalkeeper would push just past the outside of the post now often fly close to the corner flag – which isn’t very realistic and makes me think Robo-goalie is guarding the net.
Team tactics have also been improved, especially on the computer-controlled teams. Every team now has a go-to attacking style and a default defensive style – and they’ll use them based on the score and opponent. This means that Barcelona’s playing still will look very different from Manchester United’s – as they do in real life. It’s a big step forward from last year, when computer-controlled teams pretty much all played the same way – just at different levels.
I briefly mentioned The Journey earlier, and it’s a game mode worth mentioning again. FIFA’s approach to a story campaign was introduced last year, and it’s grown into a mature and much more polished effort this time around. The quality of the writing and (voice) acting is a lot better than last year, and if you’re into cosmetic changes for your character then that’s been implemented as well. It’s a career mode that provides well over 10 hours of gameplay – impressive for a sports title and something Pro Evolution Soccer 2018 doesn’t even come close to.
If you were already planning on picking up FIFA 18 this year, you won’t be disappointed. EA is starting to bridge the gap with PES again and has a definite lead when it comes to presentation and story mode implementation. Next year will be an interesting one.