FIFA 17 Review (Xbox One)
Another year, another FIFA. But wait… what’s this? A new feature in FIFA 17?
Feeling the Pressure
Konami’s Pro Evolution soccer had a good year last year. PES2016 was a quality product and another step in the right direction for the franchise in being able to compete for the top spot once more. As a result, EA SPORTS have felt the need to introduce a new game mode into FIFA 17. It’s the first major new feature since the arrival of Ultimate Team mode back in FIFA 09. But it comes at a cost.
Before I go on to talk about the new game mode we need to cover the basics. Remember when EA made their big announcement back at a press event for FIFA 14 (as well as Madden 25, NBA Live 14 and EA Sports UFC) that they had come up with the best engine possible for building sports games? EA spent a huge amount of time and effort developing the Ignite Engine, and it had made a big difference in quality for their titles over the past 3 years.
So why would they then decide to abandon it for FIFA 17, and instead use the Frostbite Engine? Largely, I imagine, due to the new game mode – The Journey. As you’ll read below, the Journey game mode features a lot of close up shots of players and TV series type shots, so EA SPORTS were required to use the engine that would give them the best possible close up, realistic renders of players, including lip syncing and facial animations. Frostbite was obviously a natural choice, having been used by some of EAs other titles, namely Dice’s Battlefield series. But you would have to assume that the FIFA team would have had to then rewrite a lot of engine code to cram a football game out of what has historically been a First Person Shooter engine?
Now it seems that EA SPORTS are planning on moving all their titles over to the Frostbite engine, with reports that this years Madden was also going to be switched. All I can say was thank goodness it wasn’t. Madden 17 did nothing but improve on the pitch over last season. FIFA 17 has not. It feels bogged down and a little clunky over last years game and I would suggest that the change in engine is to blame. And it is a real shame, because The Journey is a really good reason for them to have made the switch.
You will have heard the name by now for sure, but welcome to Alex Hunter’s life. The Journey is an experiential game mode in FIFA 17 that puts you in control of a young Alex Hunter as he makes the transition from his footballing education at the academy to fulfilling his life long ambition to follow his granddad’s footsteps into the world of professional football.
The Journey game mode is essentially career mode mixed with a bunch of sequences to immerse you in the life of the young Alex Hunter. Day-to-day you will be completing training sessions to try to prove yourself ready for first team football. You can also impress the manager off the pitch. During most sequences you are given three response choices that are categorised as Fiery, Balanced or Cool. Depending on your response in each scenario you will either improve or degrade the opinion of Alex Hunter in the eyes of his manager, and in the eyes of the fans. Getting yourself more fans will unlock new sponsors, and these will come in the form of some swish boots from Adidas and a photo-op with Nike.
For these particular sections there’s a lot of footage been captured of other football stars. These include Harry Kane, Ángel Di Mariá and cover star Marco Reus. These close up sequences are, as I said earlier, what the switch to the Frostbite engine is surely for. But even so, they are OK at best. The Alex Hunter post match interviews are possibly the worst place to notice it though. Some strange lip syncing and facial twitches in the animation break what is otherwise a good level of immersion.
I am Alex Hunter
Another annoyance with the Journey is that it’s extremely linear. Before the exit trial at the academy you need to pick which position you want to play as, but this is restricted to Striker, Attacking midfielder of a winger. Once you graduate from the academy you are given the choice of which English Premiership (second restriction) team to join. You are given a bit of info on each team if you look into them, and the game does suggest to you that pick a club that will be easier to break into the first team, i.e not one of the big four.
The one piece of info that you don’t get when picking a team is their formation. So say you chose to play as an attacking midfielder but pick a team that doesn’t play with that role. The story (with as few spoilers as possible) is that during the preseason tour for whichever team you do sign for, the key striker gets himself injured. This is the opportunity that you and your friend Gary Walker are looking for, but as the other team mates remind you, the other striker is still fit and there’s only one space and two into one doesn’t go. That’s true, but the team I chose to play with (Sunderland) played a 4-5-1 formation, so there only ever was one striker on the pitch anyway.
This oversight then becomes more apparent when your club then goes out an buys a new striker to fill the spot. For any club other than Tottenham, this player is Harry Kane. Now I don’t think I am the only one to find it hard to believe that Kane would agree to move from Tottenham at all, far less down the table to a team such as Sunderland.
Then, because you are now seen surplus to requirements no matter how well you have been playing, you are shipped out on loan to a championship side. Fairly certain there is no way to avoid this. But after Christmas you make your return to find your long time best pal has turned in into a money grabbing jackass and has signed for your bitter rivals. So now it’s up to you to team up with Kane to help your team. Oh yeah, but remember that 4-5-1 formation issue? So after making the original decision to play as an attacking midfielder that could have set Kane up all day, my Alex Hunter ended up being forced into the striker position and keeping Kane out of the team entirely.
The Cup Run
Regardless of team you choose, the league position of your team doesn’t count for much at the end of the day. The Journey is all about the run in the FA Cup, the one trophy that Alex Hunter’s granddad didn’t win himself. As a result, the only time you can fail in the Journey is by losing a cup game, in which case you are made to reload the game and retry. This is that the game can set you up with a cup final clash against your rival team and against Gary Walker. Time to put him in his place. Unfortunately the cup final is also where the Journey mode ends. I makes sense as a seasonal game that FIFA 17 covers just one year of Alex Hunter’s career, and you would hope that FIFA 18 will allow you to carry your progress over into the following season. However, I would normally get a good three or four seasons out of a regular career mode game in FIFA, so just completing a single season left me a little disappointed.
The other modes
All the other regular modes that you expect are in FIFA 17. Ultimate team mode has some tweaks to it this year that do add a little bit of depth to it. Just as the NHL team have done, the FIFA team have borrowed from the Madden idea of Sets in Ultimate team. In FIFA 17 these come in the form of Squad Building. You can get squad building challenges through the menus of Ultimate team mode, and even complete them using the accompanying mobile app. These challenges ask you to build a squad of players with certain requirements, for example: Exactly 8 Clubs in Squad, Min. 8 Players from Team of the Week, Exactly Gold Players. OK, that’s quite a top end example. A lighter one would be: Min. Nationalities in the Squad: 2, Min. Leagues in Squad: 2 and Min. Team Chemistry: 56. So you can use these Squad Building Challenges to actually make use of all the extra cards you have lying around. Completing them will also earn you various rewards from coins to packs and individual players.
FIFA 17 top of the league?
I would have to say not. The Journey game mode is great, all bit it completely linear. Just the fact that they have managed to execute well a story mode in a sports game deserves praise. But on the pitch FIFA 17 is a bit of a let down.