FIFA video game fans, your wait is almost over. On September 27, gamers will be able to pick up FIFA 17 and begin their mini game featuring The Journey with Alex Hunter. While this mode was hyped a lot, gamers really want to know if it will be worth it. And, so far, my answer is mostly yes.
About the new graphics engine
Before I get into The Journey, let’s highlight some of the overall visual improvements of the game. Recently, I reviewed the FIFA 17 demo and told you how some of the improvements are really starting to help the FIFA series pull away from PES 2017.
One of the biggest inclusions was the Frostbite engine which really separates previous iterations from this one. In a nutshell, the Frostbite engine in FIFA 17 makes this one of the most gorgeous looking sports games I have seen in a long time. There are still a few tiny hiccups but finally a 5:30pm game in the spring looks totally different from a game played at the same time in the fall.
The demo seemingly gave us a peek at what’s coming but now having a full version of the game at my fingertips, I can truly see how stunning the visuals are. Many of the player faces look so much closer to their real life counterparts, and the field lighting looks so much more realistic. This is something that must be seen to be believed. The game doesn’t feel static whether it’s played day or night. Even the wear and tear of the pitch looks a lot better this time around.
My advice is before you get into any gaming mode, experiment with the day/night settings at different points of the year and at different stadiums and you will see what I mean.
Taking the first steps
So, let’s look at The Journey. When I talked about it in the demo, you were just a little further along the road than where you actually start in the finished version. Your very first steps actually start with you as a child watching a rift develop between your mother and father during a kid’s league game. You are set up for a crucial key point of the game and regardless of how you do, it seems like it’s not enough to keep them from arguing.
Skip ahead a few years and you are on the verge of getting your professional contract. The player has to play a few skill games as well as some 11-a-side before advancing. As you accomplish these tasks, you find out more about Alex Hunter’s life and his relationship with his best friend Gareth Walker. All of this is presented in the same style that has been done in other EA Games such as Mass Effect and Dragon Age: Inquisition. You are given a certain set of dialogue responses that shapes your story and the people around you, all of which is fully fleshed out. Further along as you go, your path may put you in a team where you have to work your way into the starting XI or start in it right off depending on the team’s situation. Even after spending four hours in, I still feel like I am still taking baby steps. What’s really nice is that even the commentary is tailored to Alex Hunter, providing bits and pieces about his progress, his family and bonding with Gareth.
The best part of this is that as you play, like previous virtual pro modes, you earn skill points as you go except this time around it feels like you are earning them a lot faster than you did in previous years. So far, it seems like it makes no sense in making a player languish on loan spells while waiting for them to develop but to be fair, I haven’t made it far enough in for my manager to decide to send me off to a backwoods team for extra development. Also another good feature is as you go, for each game that you play, you gain Twitter followers (in-game of course), and your valuation can increase or decrease depending on your play.
After nearly each game, you see Alex’s story advance as he interacts with teammates, brushes up with current greats such as current FIFA cover star Marco Reus, and interacts with his training coach and of course his family. I have yet to play far enough in to see what starts the split between Alex and Gareth but I am sure that it’s coming.
As I alluded to before as I played the demo, while this mode is a breath of fresh air that FIFA needed, I still feel that this mode would have been a lot more personal to gamers if we had been allowed to make our own characters. Not to take away from the actor whose likeness was used, but in past iterations, I really enjoyed the fact that not only I could create my player and control his destiny but in the past, I could also download my face and make it that much more personal. Again, we have seen games like Mass Effect and Dragon Age, in which you create characters in the style that you like and play with them. Here, I still feel like I am playing someone else’s story. On the flipside, as other games have opted to give you an RPG-like such as what NBA2K16 did last year and what Madden attempted to do in years past, FIFA 17 is making a push to tell as authentic a story they can to give players a reason to care about this mode. The biggest question I have however is how far along does this story go? Will I still have a reason to play one year after Alex’s career begins? What if I make it three years in? Will there still be enough of Alex’s story going around to keep me playing? It looks like I may have to give an update as I go along. So far, in the early hours, it’s enough content to keep players involved.
Overall, I am mostly impressed with The Journey. There seems like there may be enough freedom of choice to either become a great star or make some boneheaded decisions and crash and burn. I do have a few notable concerns about the longevity of this mode and if EA Sports will be able to top it next year. The question is, of course if gamers will take to it.
The above is based on the FIFA 17 EA Access version of the game via XBox One. This is the full version of the game except players are only allowed 10 hours of play time. All saves will transfer over to the full version on release day for the XBox One only. These saves will not transfer to the PS4 version.
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