This review starts back when the 2017 edition launched. For the first time in nearly a decade I started playing the latest iteration of EA’s footballing juggernaut and it just didn’t click. Gameplay wise the whole experience was a chore. Passing felt stiff, players turned so slowly, yet burst into superhuman speed with a simple flick of the right stick. It didn’t feel like a game of football, it felt like game play adjustments to cater to the FUT and YouTube community. Or like the NHL and FIFA teams had switched roles for the year to freshen things up.
I was gutted. I had invested so heavily in EA’s career mode over the last few years, buying the game on both PS4 and then on PC due to the superb modding scene that spent the year adding real scanned faces for literally hundreds of players. Part of my disappointment in the game probably stemmed from the extensive time I had spent playing the PES 2017 demo, which seemed to have finally perfected passing.
I began trying to implement my passing style of play from the PES demo in FIFA and it just didn’t mesh. I then realised that I hadn’t used the long pass in FIFA for about three years, and there was a reason for this; it basically doesn’t work. I’ve since noticed that very few people even attempt long passes in FIFA. A whole way of playing, a ‘different option’ in attack, sidelined due to poor implementation. What else had I been missing out on?
The two other glaring things that I discovered was that crossing was severely lacking and the reliance on sprinting. In FIFA you are almost trained to hold sprint the entire time. Defenders, midfielders, strikers… it didn’t matter. How often in a real game of football are central midfielders found sprinting flat out? Rarely. Now PES 2017 did go too far in the opposite direction I felt, making bursting runs down the wing a little too rare, but the emphasis on build up play, slick passing and an excellent flow to the game made it the only game for me that year.
With the 2018 edition of FIFA, they have attempted to fix some of these issues. The pace of the game has slowed down and is at it’s best with the game speed set to slow. Players receive the ball and turn a little better, although the responsiveness still isn’t quite right and you end up with a sense of input lag for a split second while gaining control of the ball. Passing unfortunately seems almost identical to last year, most disturbingly with the same, tired animations.
Crossing has been improved and is a major addition, giving you another more viable method of attack. Shooting feels good, but is let down by what can loosely be described as goalkeepers. I’m not sure who pressed the wrong button over at EA, but goalkeepers have basically been powered down and are almost mannequins hovering around the six yard box. Occasionally from distance you’ll see the odd good save, but when it comes to one on ones, they dive down rather than left or right.
Presentation as you’d expect from EA is superb. They capture a real match feel better than anyone. Licences, stadiums, commentary, transitions during breaks in play; it’s all there and better than ever. Graphics have went up a notch as well. Player faces look better than they ever have, and what really impressed me this year was the attention to detail given to players without real scanned faces. EA have made a notable effort to match those players as best they could via the in-game editor.
There is one issue with the graphics though. The lighting. It appears EA has either hired a new lighting guy, or found a new technique for lighting, and has decided to make FIFA 18 the showcase for what it can do. Unfortunately, this leaves kits looking like they are made from tinfoil during daytime matches. A crying shame when you consider the excellence of the jersey animation EA began implementing last year.
For the sake of this review, I reached out to friends who play online extensively and they assure me that while not much has changed in Pro Clubs and FUT, they are as fun as ever. So if that’s what you’re into, I’m sure you’ll be pleased. Likewise, The Journey, which I have spent a little time with, seems like a worthy season 2 of Alex Hunters story, if you enjoyed last years installment.
I’m here to talk about manager career though. This is why I buy football games. Offline, manager mode. This year they have introduced interactive transfer negotiations, which are a really nice touch. Unfortunately my immersion was instantly ruined as the manager model I chose (Yep, you can only choose between the same small group of pre-set models again this year) met with the RB Leipzig boss, who was in fact my twin. After agreeing a £13m deal to buy Yussuf Poulsen, I met with the player and his agent. Can you guess what happened? The agent was another long lost twin of mine.
This took a feature that was genuinely cool and ruined it for me. I honestly have no idea why EA wouldn’t just enter you into the create a player menu during setup and let you design your own manager. Later, buying Joe Gomez from Liverpool, I was treated to meetings with Jürgen Klopp and able to experience these cutscenes like EA had intended. In this setting, it was a real addition to the mode. The problem is that immersion in the new transfer mechanic comes at a Premier League premium.
Outside of transfers, nothing has really changed with career mode. It’s the same stuff as the last few years, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Sure, it could do with a lot more love, but it’s a solid mode that many gamers, myself included, love. I do find it a little disheartening that the menus have looked the same since FIFA 14 though.
In closing, FIFA 18 is a better game than it’s predecessor. Presentation has stepped up a notch, there’s sprinklings of new additions in most game modes and while I find the graphical updates a mixed bag, they are on the whole an improvement. The series is going in the right direction, but I spend 99% of my time with football games on the pitch, and unfortunately despite AI fouling thankfully being a thing in FIFA, it’s lagging behind PES for a second consecutive year.
If I could give EA one bit of advice, it would be to study the passing and RealTouch+ that PES has mastered lately. Passing is the foundation of a good football game. It’s something you have to nail. In the end, the marketing behind both games is telling. PES advertises with teams, FIFA is almost exclusively seen with a picture of Ronaldo. A player who considers himself an individual, and that’s what FIFA is, a game where you see pieces of individual brilliance.