At points, immersive and fun to play; at others, slow, predictable and utterly infuriating.
With the game now out and the initial patches released, it still doesn’t really feel fair to judge FIFA 17. The series has always been plagued with patches after a few weeks, and this tradition continues with this year’s instalment. One might say not much has changed in that aspect, and sadly, this rings true for the entire experience.
Starting on the positives, we are now moving towards a more realistic experience of matches. Your passing is much sharper and crisper, and AI movement has become a lot less forced; they know naturally when and where to run, rather than needing directions. The implementation of the strength mechanic and the entire Frostbite engine has led to more realistic collisions and impacts, and players who can successfully manipulate and skilfully control the ball will find much joy this year with the new dribbling system. The CPU has also improved significantly, in that they no longer just pass the ball around the back aimlessly when losing, like last year. However, they do sometimes get too cavalier. A balance needs to be found for this in order to really make the matches realistic.
Some merit must also be given to the Career Mode changes – ‘Total Club Management’ is the first step needed to really pep up a mode that has stagnated in recent years. With objectives ranging across a variety of categories (financial, youth development, brand exposure), differing levels of necessity dependant on your team choice, and different timescales to achieve certain objectives, it finally feels more like the overall management experience, rather than just playing or simulating games. The points based system which tells you if you are succeeding or failing, and conversely if your job is under threat is also a sensible addition. However, I do find at times this does fluctuate in an odd manner: signing James Rodriguez on my Chelsea career for example caused my rating to drop from 82 to 75, but the board praised me for signing a world class player. It clearly needs tweaking, but it is a step in the right direction. The recent patch adding Premier League Official graphics also looks very smart.
Much of FIFA 17’s fanfare came from the inclusion of ‘The Journey’ – a story mode in which your player, Alex Hunter, experiences the trials and tribulations of life at a Premier League club. At least in theory. The story is horribly predictable, far too short, and at times makes no sense. Score a hat-trick on your Premier League debut? Play consistently well for the team and score regularly? Spoiler: You are going on loan to the Championship. While I appreciate this is realistic at the top Premier League teams, it is utterly stupid that one of the smaller outfits, like Bournemouth or Hull City would loan out one of their prize young assets who is scoring goals. Hunter himself gets a tiny bit of character development, but it seems very forced and clichéd. I can only hope this is a test-run for something similar to NBA, where you can have a full story mode playing as yourself and actually have varied consequences based on your decision. The scripted nature of The Journey is possibly the reason it drags so much, and to me was very disappointing.
Finally, ‘FIFA Ultimate Team’ again gets the most attention from EA, possibly because it earns them the most money. The inclusion of FUT Champions, a new 40 match mode that sees you enter a weekday, weekend and then month league is a nice addition for the top players, with some truly incredible prizes on offer. Squad Building Challenges is an excellent idea in principle, giving players a way to get rid of players they are not using in their club in exchange for a larger prize (better players, unique kits, etc.), but it has led to some players valuations in the market becoming horrendously inflated because they are crucial to short-term SBCs. The problem of coin-selling, as well as purchasing-bots on the market, has also still not been addressed, further inflating prices.
Overall, FIFA 17 is an enigma. At times, it seems very fun to play, and immerses you in the action, but at other times it seems slow, predictable and utterly infuriating. The positives perhaps outweigh the negatives, and it is definitely better than FIFA 16 – but it is still nowhere near the pinnacle of sport simulation games.
FIFA 17 is out now for Playstation, Xbox and Windows consoles. Check out the trailer for the game below: