On September 27 in North America (and September 29 for the rest of the world), we will get to see one of the biggest FIFA editions ever, so many gamers no doubt are wondering how it stacks up. If you are eager to get a taste of The Journey, Alex Hunter’s story in FIFA 17, download the demo now. More on that in a moment, let’s talk about the overall game first.
Presentation and graphics
Based on what we can see in the FIFA 17 demo, the presentation has slightly improved over past iterations. The new Frostbite engine has done a lot of justice on the likenesses of the footballers. Best yet, the stadiums look so much more vibrant in either day or night cycles. I am really eager to play an evening game to see if it gets progressively darker as you play a la Madden games. The manager likenesses finally add more immersion into the game although since the Madden series has been doing this for years, it makes me wonder what took EA Sports so long for the FIFA series to catch up to this innocuous feature.
Another enhancement with the Frostbite engine is that the lighting of the stadiums at night looks a lot more realistic as smoke, fog and a few other factors come into play.
So far in the course of the game, I am noticing slightly newer nuances in the commentary as well as new overlays. In one match, I was playing as Bayern Munich vs. Real Madrid. A nice extra touch was seeing an overlay of Cristiano Ronaldo having too few ball opportunities because Bayern had done a great job of keeping him off of the ball.
With all that is happening during the course of the game, it’s great to start to hear more commentary about how the match is developing, and which players are shining and those that are not.
Gameplay and controls
The gameplay and controls on the FIFA 17 demo is where things take a bit of a turn. I spent all of last year playing Pro Evolution Soccer (PES), and while I was able to get the controls to mostly mimic the commands of FIFA games, I did notice with PES that I felt like I had more control of my team in terms of control of players and how they handled the ball. Returning to FIFA honestly feels like a few steps back in some respects. While it’s still great from a pick up and play point of view if you have played the FIFA series, I did feel like in a lot of instances that my players had to be corralled in. For example, in a lot of cases, I almost felt like my players were on ice skates. It took a few games to get re-acclimated to how FIFA handles but the control scheme isn’t so messed up that you can’t control it. The new button controls for the most part feels like what EA has done on the Madden series. EA is adding some extra things that you may or may not use during the course of the game. Diehard users will go out of their way to figure out the controls and how to make the most of them, while most casual users may never bother.
As far as gameplay is concerned, while EA touts an improved AI, I still noticed a few old issues that plague the demo that will hopefully be addressed by the time the game is released. The biggest is getting players to move forward during attacks. I noticed a few times that my midfielders were dropping too far behind defensively as I was pushing ahead, especially on counter attacks. One of the biggest problems that has plagued the last several iterations is that many times, the AI will rarely attack a loose ball especially for shots in the box. Many goal opportunities were missed because even if I missed a shot that bounced off the woodwork or I had a volley coming back in my team’s direction, the AI did not always react to procure the ball. In the PES series, I can say that the opposite has been true. If the ball is loose, all AI players will fight to get it.
The Journey was a feature that was introduced at the E3 this summer, and so far it looks to be exciting. Players get a chance to see Alex Hunter and his childhood friend Gareth Walker debut with Manchester United playing at Stamford Bridge versus Chelsea. The game plays very similar to Mass Effect as you get differed dialogues to choose from in certain situations and your answers have an impact. Funnily enough, however, no matter how many times you play the scenario, in some cases the outcome may not change. As Hunter and Walker find out their assignments, no matter what dialogue choices you get, you realize that Walker is an idiot as he seeks to get the glory and snubs Hunter at a crucial moment. Gamers are then given a choice to play as Hunter or control the whole team.
As the game loads, you get to see the current table (somehow Leicester was still atop the table after 2 games) and then you see an impressive cut scene. Walker has just scored his first goal for Manchester United but Chelsea scores the equalizer. Hunter is put into the game in the 76th minute, and just before you go into the game, you get a few objectives to achieve. One of the neatest parts is that as Hunter is warming up, there is a hostile crowd shouting “Who are ya, who are ya” over and over. After that, it’s showtime.
After the game, you get an interview. And just like before, you get a choice of answers and depending on your choices, your followers and manager may approve your statements. I played the game three different times with different results and I was amazed that in those three games, the reporter didn’t say exactly the same thing. After the interview, you get a glimpse as to what’s to come in The Journey.
While I like what a refreshing mode The Journey is, I still don’t like the idea that I am stuck playing this predesigned player. As someone who enjoyed the Virtual Pro mode a few years back where I could put my own face on my player, this would have served well with allowing that. Again, this is a feature served up in Mass Effect which makes that series that much more personal. Maybe we will get that feature next season? No offense to the actor, but I really would have liked to make this journey much more personal.
Overall, I don’t feel like I missed much in between FIFA 15 and FIFA 17. I am intrigued to see how much more gorgeous the Frostbite engine can make this game and I really want to see how The Journey ups the ante between FIFA and PES. I still hope before release some of the AI issues can be worked out, but overall FIFA 17 still feels like the same FIFA games I have played for a while and that’s not always a good or bad thing.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
You can pick FIFA 17 up on September 27 in the US and September 29 for the rest of the world (the game is available for pre-order today from Amazon). Also if you have EA Early Access, you can download and play it a few days earlier than the release and all of your saves will transfer right over to the retail copy.
Please let us know in the comments below if you’re excited about this release.
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