I’ve made it no secret that I’m a fan of the FIFA series. All you’d have to do is read my Pro Evolution Soccer 19 review to see that. But I feel that, because of my enjoyment of the series for what seems like an infinite amount of years, it also makes me super critical of it. Who even knows at this point, we’re just gonna dive into FIFA 19.
FIFA 19 is the latest installment in the long-running football simulation created by EA. While they’ve been on top of the mountain for a few years now, it’s been well earned, with massive overhauls to the physics engines, tackling systems and shooting mechanics. Since FIFA 17, we’ve seen the inclusion of a story mode, dubbed The Journey, where players take control of Alex Hunter, a young player who dreams of making it big. The Journey is obviously present in FIFA 19 and it’s where we’ll stop first on our journey of critical analysis.
So, let’s talk The Journey, shall we? You’ll reprise your role as Alex Hunter, but this time, you’ll also have the opportunity to play as his sister and his best friend, all on a quest to become the best players they possibly can be. While the story carries on from the previous two games, you won’t really be missing anything if this is the FIFA game you decide to jump in to.
While I won’t really discuss the details of the story (you know how I feel about spoilers), it is actually kind of interesting. There are decisions to make that’ll influence certain events, much like a Telltale game. There are decisions to make where your choice won’t actually matter in the slightest, even more like a Telltale game. Decisions will carry over from the previous games, but details will be filled in if you didn’t get a chance to play through them. It’s an interesting thing for EA to commit to, especially seeing as most players aren’t looking for a story mode in their FIFA titles.
While the bulk of your time in The Journey will be spent playing matches as all three players (who you can change to at any time, though the game will recommend who to follow so the story makes sense), you also get to knob around running training drills to improve your players, conducting post-match interviews and, of course, having a lovely chinwag with your old man. There’s also a fair few customization options if you wish to dress your characters in a specific way for cutscenes.
Granted, there have been a few attempts at plonking a cinematic story in sports games for a fair few years, with Fight Night Round 4 probably being the best (don’t quote me on that, goddamnit) attempt. Most boil down to cutscenes that outweigh the actual gameplay, but this is where The Journey actually differs. If you lost a fight in, say, Fight Night Round 4’s story, you’d just have to redo it until you actually won. in FIFA 19’s The Journey, you can lose as many football matches as you want and, for the most part, it’ll make some changes to the story. It places you in a position to really influence the career of the players you’re controlling, and while it may ultimately make little difference in the complete story, it’s still a welcome feeling.
But enough about the story mode that’s been lovingly created that you’ll almost definitely ignore. Let’s talk about the mechanics.
So, it’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me, and I’m playing FIFA 19. New to the series is the ability to press shoot twice. Now I know what you’re thinking. “Josh, pressing shoot twice isn’t something new”. Ah, intrepid reader, there’s now a reason. See, with previous FIFA entries, you’d shoot and that would be that. Now, with FIFA 19, if you time the second press to just before you connect with the ball, the shots are more accurate and way more powerful.
This seems grand at first when you’re rocketing them in from outside the box, doing your best Frank Lampard impression, but it absolutely sucks when you get a little impatient in front of goal. You’re down a goal in the Champions League final, the clocks ticking, you’ve played an amazing through ball through and you’ve belted it. Except you cocked up the timing on the second press so you’ve spooned the ball into Row Z, knocking out a small child in the process.
Obviously, cocking it up actually leads the game to feel way more realistic than if you’re just smashing the ball in whenever you want and it causes some hilarious moments when you’re playing with a friend who seems to have their banana boots on.
There have also been some subtle changes to the way passing works, allowing you to control the ball differently depending on where the ball came to you. I’ll be honest, I didn’t actually notice this, so it must be really subtle.
Graphically, FIFA 19 is impressive. Granted, there’s only so much you go do with a football game, but it’s the little things that FIFA 19 gets so right. If your players are tired, they’ll be visibly sweatier than a fresh player. Football shirts (for the most part) look like the top dollar and seem to ripple in the wind or react to a ball hitting them. There are a few little issues, mostly with player faces. Sometimes players will grimace in strange ways, or look slightly possessed. Maybe that’s just a realistic portrayal of a footballer, who am I to judge.
You’ll occasionally get a shot of the crowd when you score, which is a neat little touch until you start to recognize the same guy in the middle of the crowd. Makes sense if you’re playing at home with the same team, makes less sense if you’re away from home with the same team, makes fuck all sense if you’re playing for a team in a completely different country and you spot Jim from accounting cheering in the crowd. Crowds have always been an issue in football games, but they’re getting better. How much better? Not an awful lot.
FIFA 19 also officially has the Champions League license. Stolen from the rotters down at Konami, you can finally play through a fully fledged out Champions League mode. You get the music, you get the graphics, you get the commentators. Honestly, it’s quite interesting. It’s a feature that you’d never know was gone from previous FIFA entries, but (and I imagine it’s because they just got the license) it does almost feel like you’re watching a Champions League game when you’re playing the mode. Obviously, it’s integrated into The Journey and almost everywhere else because, if you’ve got it, flaunt it.
All other modes are back. If you want to create your own player and take him to greatness, you can. If you want to manage your favorite club, you can. Interestingly, there was a change made to Kick Off mode, that basically adds some mutators to the game. There’s a bunch of presets that you can select from, such as no rules, long shots only as well as the ability to customize the match and make it unique. It’s there for when you’ve got a few mates round and want to have a bit of a silly game. It’s a nice inclusion that I hope doesn’t fall by the wayside. But let’s be real, all other modes take a backseat to the juggernaut that is Ultimate Team, though.
So what’s Ultimate Team, I hear you cry because you’ve almost definitely been living under a rock. Ultimate Team is where you build your own squad and take on the world, my good friend. The catch is that you can only get players via packs. This boils down to my favorite analogy that I’ve used for years. Ultimate Team is Pokémon for football fans.
Naturally, there’s an arseload of controversy around this mode at the minute due to its gambling undertones as you have no idea what you’ll get out of a pack. Sometimes you’ll get something amazing that you’ll want to build a whole team around, other times you’ll get total shit that won’t even sell for anything. Of course, it’s not just players in packs, which adds to the “fuck you” you get when you unpack something shit. You get contracts, injury cards, position changes, managers and a huge amount of other stuff. This leads to you dropping some coins, or the premium FIFA Bucks, on a pack that ultimately has nothing in that you want.
I have my opinions on Lootboxes (which the packs literally are), but there are many ways to get these packs for free. Does it excuse it as a shitty practice that EA seems to refuse to do away with? No. But it does mitigate some of the scorn, especially when the vast majority of players are almost definitely kids.
FIFA 19 has its issues, don’t get me wrong. There are multiple times where the AI stops on a dime instead of making a run. Passing, although reworked, occasionally doesn’t do what you want, which always ends with “I didn’t pass the ball there, you fuck!”. More often than not, the physics engine will result in players falling over randomly or because they collided with a teammate and they’ll be down for the count. It’s not perfect by any means and it’s a shame these issues don’t seem to get resolved, because they show up year in, year out.
So, is FIFA 19 the best football game on the market? Yes, but lack of competition doesn’t do it any favors. The same issues I have with FIFA 19 are the same issues I’ve had with the past X games. I long for a new football game to pop up and really give EA a run for their money, because although FIFA 19 is a really fantastic game, if there was a competitor, I reckon they could’ve made something really amazing.