If you really love FIFA, it probably doesn’t take much to sell you on EA’s global flagship sports title year-to-year. I’m admittedly one such culprit, so it’s fair to take my vote of confidence with a grain of salt. I will confess that I logged more hours of last year’s game than anyone should probably ever do anything. That’s actually an important preface: all that time spent made the tangible improvements to the series immediately noticeable upon picking up FIFA 18, the latest installment releasing September 29.
At surface level, FIFA 18 returns with the same primary modes games have come to love—an impressively deep career mode with endless replayability; the second chapter of FIFA’s The Journey, following protagonist Alex Hunter into the next phase of his career as a European star; and the increasingly popular Ultimate Team mode, which utilizes card-based team building and strategy to let players effectively create their own clubs. And while there’s room for simulation lovers to simply operate a front office, all three modes function primarily as different ways to thrust gamers into the actual-on-field action. If you’re coming in looking for radical changes to the game’s structure, you’re out of luck—but the details are where FIFA 18 shines.
ATTENTION TO DETAIL
EA has doubled down on all aspects of game presentation this season—a greater majority of players in the world’s top leagues have uniquely rendered facial likenesses, surfaces, textures and stadiums pop immediately and the game’s pregame commentary is more television–like than ever. 3D-rendered fans populate the stands, the lighting varies even more from pitch to pitch, and things border on photorealistic as usual. The visual product comes across as polished as any sports title on the market, no small feat given the breadth of the game itself. In that sense, the appeal is obvious for returning players and newcomers alike.
The gameplay itself also pops: the speed of play has been paced down a bit to make things more fluid and allow players more time to make decisions on the ball than in years past. The passing has been fine-tuned, allowing for greater variety of balls and control, and while realism demands room for error, the overall number of frustrating turnovers has been reduced. As always, experienced players can add another level of skill by turning down the level of assist on passes and shots. The intuitive addition of quick substitutes (banishing the pause menu in most situations) is a godsend.
More than ever, the sheer number of shot and dribble animations and player collision outcomes makes for a game you can truly feel. For example, 5’6” N’Golo Kante will handle noticeably different from say, Chelsea teammate Gary Cahill. The individuality of each player has been upped to great effect, as has the quality of the AI—defending is certainly more of a challenge. These nuances were where FIFA 17 fell behind at times, and 18 effectively remedies these issues (however nitpicky those issues truly are). There’s no one calling-card improvement, but the game is more well-rounded than ever.
Career mode returns with a more streamlined interface, more active computer transfers, and intuitive player negotiations that add another level of realism (let’s just say it’s a little intimidating to negotiate when Cristiano Ronaldo and his agent are staring back at you on screen). Pre-agreed transfers and loans can now be negotiated outside their designated windows, allowing the improved mechanics to take center stage. Although the mode hasn’t been overhauled, dedicated managers will appreciate the small tweaks that make the game feel even more real.
As someone who didn’t play much of The Journey in FIFA 17, I’ll say that the first few hours of 18’s Hunter Returns are a good deal of fun—the plot is pretty juicy, Hunter himself is now customizable and it provides another fun entry point into the series that younger gamers may appreciate the most.
Ultimate Team requires time and dedication but offers a great platform for competitive online play and creates a game within a game. Like many sports games, FIFA has fully adopted RPG elements in its various modes—and it wears them well, per usual.
All in all, FIFA 18 is a shined-up, standout chapter of the world’s most popular series. The variety of ways to engage with the core product are outstanding, and there’s certainly something for everyone—even anguished Swansea City fans looking to scout their way into a future Premier League dynasty. Not that that’s me, of course.