Friday September 30th, 2016

The first FIFA game I ever popped into a gaming console was FIFA 97 for my Nintendo 64. I only ever played with Brazil, I don't remember any of the game modes, and there was only one song on the soundtrack—“Rockafeller Skank” by Fatboy Slim. 

20 years later, I'm tempted to give FIFA 17 a positive review if only because I don't have to hear "Right about now" in a robotic voice every time I boot up the game. Fortunately, there are plenty of other reasons to highlight why FIFA 17 is very much a fun game and, ultimately, a worthy edition for the best-selling sports video game franchise ever. 

The star of FIFA 17 is Alex Hunter—the character you assume control of in a game mode touted as The Journey. Basically a souped-up version of Be A Pro, The Journey follows Hunter through a season of the Premier League, complete with cutscenes, dialogue and a storyline to keep things at their soap opera best. At the beginning of the story, you (as Hunter) choose to play for one of the 20 Premier League clubs, and then you must navigate the choppy waters to stardom, which includes unsupportive teammates, a lovable mentor and a loan stint with a lower division club.

For those who are fans of NBA 2K's MyPlayer mode (or even the old NCAA Football Race for the Heisman mode), The Journey is certainly an engrossing and welcome addition to the game. Though it's fairly linear, players are given Mass Effect-esque options during certain parts of the mode that ultimately impact the end of the story. The mode also includes sponsorships and (albeit very stock) supporting characters, making the entire package worth your time. 

Outside of The Journey, all the hallmark game modes are included in FIFA 17, including Ultimate Team. I've never been a huge Ultimate Team guy, but that mode has also been enriched with new squad-building challenges and FUT Champions, which lets you compete for in-game rewards. Career mode is still the unsung star of the FIFA series, and with no major overhauls, it can still keep you sucked in for hours. 

Of course, game modes only go so far—what about gameplay? Truthfully, FIFA 17 doesn't play remarkably different from its predecessor. The game touts itself as featuring much more physical play, which really only manifests itself in the new shielding tactic, which allows much more controlled possession of the ball. Shielding sounds great until the CPU dominates possession for 70% of a match. The tactic will hopefully get some fine-tuning via a post-release patch (and hopefully before some friendships end over a game of keep-away.)

The new Frostbite engine doesn't change the way the game is played, though player models look more realistic than FIFA 16, with the game going so far as including the likenesses of all 20 Premier League managers. Another tweak includes letting players adjust their run-up before penalties and free kicks, which is a small but thoughtful adjustment, even if the feature probably only works best for seasoned gamers. 

Seasoned gamers will also recognize another series staple: The importance of speed on offense. Though FIFA goes out of its way to produce realistic physics, it's still not a game where strategies across teams always feel distinct. FIFA 17 does do a good job, however, of letting stars stand out, and you can really feel the difference in attributes between great players and average ones in often subtle ways. 

Overall, FIFA 17 doesn't reinvent the wheel, but it’s a feature-rich game that's fun both on your own and to pick up and play against a friend. While the actual play on the pitch still has room for more sophistication, longtime FIFA fans, as well as series newcomers, will both find plenty of ways to enjoy FIFA 17 for a long time.

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.