Football is back! Hurrah! And after the fairly barnstorming start to this year’s Premier League and EFL, plenty of fans’ thoughts will be turning to the digital recreation of such classic moments as Etienne Capoue’s stunning volley for Watford against Bournemouth… just me then?
Whatever your team or inclination, EA’s footballing phenomenon will be close to your mind. Unless you are more of a Pro Evolution Soccer kind of player, of course. With Konami’s super sim upping its game in recent years, it is up to EA Sports to strengthen its always fulsome effort with FIFA both on and off the pitch. So what can we expect from FIFA 18?
When is it released and what platforms is it on?
FIFA 18 is released on 29 September for PS4, Xbox One, PC, Nintendo Switch, Xbox 360 and PS3. For the avoidance of doubt, everything listed here will apply to the PS4, Xbox One and PC version. The Switch has its own features, which we will cover further down, while the older consoles’ offering will be more limited.
What can we expect from the gameplay?
FIFA 18 is the series’ sophomore year on Frostbite, following its shift to EA’s proprietary game engine last year. And after getting hands-on with the game, you can really see how the FIFA team have grasped the engine’s quirks. There is a definable difference in both look and motion. It is stunning to look at, with a vast improvement in lighting and texture.
But of course its all in how it plays, and there is an unquestionable improvement. Games are more fluid, natural and, perhaps most importantly, unpredictable. A new animation system sees the ball bouncing and bobbling in a more realistic fashion, while players will move and shape their bodies in a host of different ways that opens up options in both attack and defense, while EA has also promised more control over both crossing and dribbling. Where FIFA has compared unfavourably with PES in recent years, is that EA’s game can often feel a little automated as fancy but overlong animations play out. Obviously how that plays out long term remains to be seen, but in the short term that looks to have been addressed in some style.
The other area in which FIFA was behind PES is in terms of player and team personality. Teams and players felt more individual in PES, allowing you to adjust tactics and counter better teams with smart tactics and physicality. It seems this is something FIFA has taken to heart, promising more defined player personality. EA are promising even individual players will feel like their real-world counterparts, but the important thing will be if this idea filters throughout all of the teams and players to make for compelling, unpredictable match-ups.
Will there be another Journey?
Yes! FIFA 17’s story mode following the debut season of Premier League starlet Alex Hunter was way better than anyone expected. Its boy-done-good storyline was written with good natured humour and enough refined sports movie cliche to entertain. The inevitable sequel, Hunter Returns, looks to address some of the criticisms levelled at the mode. There will be more decisions and branching storylines, as you guide Hunter through his career amid transfer speculation. You will also be able to customise Alex’s style.
Is Career Mode being improved?
It certainly seems so. You might forgive EA for focussing on the headline-grabbing Journey and golden goose Ultimate Team, but for many FIFA players the career mode, in which they can take their club to glory, is the most important mode. On the surface, it looks like this is the biggest revamp of the career mode we have yet seen, overhauling some of the UI and bringing in elements from The Journey.
The new squad hub pulls in information about your players that was clumsily spread out in previous games, while transfers are a lot more involved. You will have face to face meetings with players and need to deal with agents, with a dialogue wheel giving you options in conversation. You will also have to consider more contract options such as sell-on clauses and the like. You will also get to reveal new players to the press in cutscenes, while fees seem to be closer to the craziness of the real-world.
It feels like EA are trying to inject more involvement and personality into the mode, which is most welcome, as long as it doesn’t distract too much from the action on the pitch.
And what about Ultimate Team?
FIFA’s phenomenally popular Ultimate Team mode, in which you build up a team using trading cards bought with in-game or real world currency then pit them in on and offline matches, is arguably the most important mode for the developer. The amount of money and time investment its players put into building their teams is incredible.
So its no surprise to see EA put the hard yards in here, with a slew of tweaks and improvements. There will be a new mobile app to tweak your team on the go, and new daily and weekly challenges to keep you playing.
The headline for this year is the introduction of ‘Icons’. Last year Xbox One player had access to ‘Legend’ cards, being able to collect classic players for your team. This time Icons will be available on PS4, Xbox One and PC, allowing players to buy and trade Legendary players such as Pele, Maradona and Ronaldo (the Brazilian one), presumably for a hefty amount of currency.
How about that Switch version?
FIFA 18 on Switch will be somewhat different to the other home console versions. Most importantly, it will not run on Frostbite, but its own custom-made engine. This is almost certainly a simple power issue, with the Switch unable to handle EA’s beefy engine. However, while it might not be quite as impressive, the early signs are still of an excellent game of football running at 60fps. The Switch version will not feature The Journey, but will have a slightly more limited version of Career mode and Ultimate Team.
There are a couple of neat Switch tricks too. You can still snap off a Joy-Con to hand to a friend to play on the go, or connect Switch consoles for bigger local multiplayer. There is also a quick mode to get right into the action.
The short of it is that while FIFA 18 on the Switch might not be as fully-featured as its high-fidelity cousins, its no slouch either. Particularly when you can play it on the loo.
Credits: The Telegraph UK