I don’t envy the creatives at EA Sports. Each year they have to come up with some new tag line and a new hook to get the masses on board with their football sim. Last year gave us The Journey, a story mode tackling the story of Alex Hunter, going from grassroots to premier league starlet. This year however, they have offered us.. well, The Journey again, but this time the story continues with Hunter reaching the upper echelon of European football and becoming a true superstar.
Let’s begin with the story mode then shall we. The Journey did do a decent job of adding motive and character behind what is essentially a player career mode, but fell short with a lack of diversity and next to no way of actually affecting the narrative. It felt like a rollercoaster more than a journey, which is totally fine, but I always felt like it was missing something.
FIFA 18’s offering doesn’t exactly add much dynamism to the career, but does handle Hunter and his surrounding cast a little better. With some actual story beats hitting home along the way, with a little more control of the direct your career takes. The voice acting isn’t too bad (I take NBA2K’s story as a benchmark – a fairly low one at that), and there are a few genuine moments of drama in the second act.
Overall I’d say FIFA 18’s The Journey does improve upon it’s predecessor and moves the story on in some interesting ways.
One banner change this year from EA came in the form of more realistic animations for how the more distinct players move and manipulate the ball. The most noticeable of these for me was using Raheem Sterling on my right flank, anyone who has seen him play with note his rather strange, almost velociraptor-like running stance. Seeing this for the first time in game did make me laugh out loud as his arms flailed at the elbows whilst tearing down the wing.
For the average player this may not seem like much, but it does appear with with this new capture method they’re employing that the overall feel of controlling the ball is more fluid, with players taking the ball in their stride and using whatever means they can to ensure that possession isn’t lost.
The bias towards attacking continues this year, the spectacle of a long range shot or a scissor kick seem to be even more prevalent than before. Quick passing and moving seem to leave defences stood still, with even my average players being able to carve open chances at will. EA have told us that they are addressing the eerily accurate passing in an upcoming patch, but for now expect some staggeringly large scorelines until this is looked at. A very real strategy is to shoot from anywhere and everywhere within about 30 yards of goal.
The actual package on offer here is second to none, emulating the football you watch week in week out on television with a surprising amount of fidelity. It may seem like a small thing, but having accurate kits, stadiums and faces (for the most part) adds an extra layer of immersion to what you’re playing, and seems to elevate the experience, at least for me. With the flow of a game being a priority here FIFA 18 brings quick substitutions, a very minor fix, but something that does often work, and means that you don’t have to break your momentum. Simply holding R2 during a throw in and pressing X (or A) readies and confirms the sub for a play who might have low energy at the time.
There is one very welcome addition to Ultimate Team this year, coming in the form of Squad Battles; a mode where your team will be pitted against a variety of teams from the community controlled by the A.I. The more points you amass from these games propel you up the leaderboard, where some excellent rewards await, if you can commit enough time and have the skill to win them all. This was my personal favourite of all the new features; I don’t always like playing against other people and it’s good to get some decent rewards for doing well, as even the mid tiers offer card packs with guaranteed rare gold players to fill out your team.
The inclusion of Icons is definitely something meaningful for the footballing aficionados in us all. Put simply, these are a selection of legendary players from the last 100 or so years, brought back to use within Ultimate Team. These range from flat-cap-wearing goalkeeper Yashin to the midfield magician Ronaldinho (not actually a magician). Each of these Icon cards come in three variances depicting them at different stages of their career. It’s a nice touch, with each variance taking on their distinctive look from that season (think Ronaldo’s weird just-the-fringe shaved head.. thing). I wouldn’t mind if EA adding few more of these periodically, as there are some big names missing from the list. Wether this is a licensing issue or not, I wouldn’t mind bending in a free kick with Beckham, or smashing in a 35-yarder with Deco.
For those that enjoy the simpler (cheaper) things in life, the offline career mode sees an overhaul in the way you negotiate transfers. They’re now handled conversationally, much like a scene in The Journey, and while this may seem like just a few bells and whistles, it does add a sense of drama to something that seemed a bit too workman-like in the past.
Ultimately I think FIFA 18 does add enough to warrant the purchase, with a new story and some exciting additions to Ultimate Team it shows that those at EA are still attempting to innovate year on year. It does make me wonder what they’re thinking of next however, as the well will surely run dry at some point. When that happens, expect to see FIFA-as-a-service on our consoles, never to leave.