Is FIFA 18, the annual release of the classic Football (or Soccer) Game from EA Sports as good as we have come to expect? Is there enough change from FIFA17 to justify a purchase and will it bring anyone over from Pro Evolution Soccer? Only time will tell. Now running on the Frostbite Engine, introduced in FIFA 17, it allows more intricate and dynamic play with crisper graphics and more immersive sound. There is also Part Two of the story campaign, “The Journey” which follows young aspiring footballer Alex Hunter.
Much the same in previous versions, the gameplay itself has not changed much. The separate drills where you can improve your skills have been tweaked somewhat but nothing much has changed in the game itself. Sure, there are small additions to bring it up to date with shiny new kits representing the teams this season and some additional stadiums like Huddersfield’s John Smith Stadium and the new main stand at Liverpool’s Anfield is replicated in all its glory but the game does not look much different from last years version. There is one significant change for the better though, which is the “quick substitutions” option thus allowing you to make on field replacements without having to pause the game. This a very welcome addition and once you get used to how it works, definitely improves the flow of games. There are other more smaller additions to the feel of the game. Certain lpayers now represent their real life counterparts more accurately. Face of the game, Cristiano Ronaldo, for instance has his trademark free-kick method and celebration although my free-kick in the opening introduction game went hilariously wide so I never got to see it straight away. He also has a tendency to hog the ball and shoot instead of pass, so very lifelike. Also speed merchants like Mo Salah and Hector Bellerin will leave defenders in their dust. If you play any South American matches there will be cat-calls and whisitles and things will get thrown on the pich like tickertape. The atmospheres range from the optimistic to the desperate depending on how your match is going. Songs of Clubs are recorded for the crowds to sing which brings a nice realism. Crowds also seem better represented with more unique supporters instead of seeing the same face with different hair holding and waving the same scarf. Oh and for the first time, actual Referees are represented.
Away from the actual matches there are the enhancements we’ve come to expect. Career mode, Internationals, Cups and Competitions. There is still no Champions League as they still don’t have a license so the jolt of hearing Champions Cup still grates. It seems strange as PS4 sponsors the Champions League and you see EA advertised in champions League matches and yet it still hasn’t made it to FIFA. There is also the lucrative FIFA Ultimate Team mode and once again the women’s game is represented Internationally. Online has improved due to Frostbite rendering quicker also.
Anybody who has played FIFA will feel comfortable with the control system as it is fairly straight forward. Left Stick to move, each of the four buttons to either pass, lob/head the ball/tackle, shoot or play a throughball. Right Trigger will let you sprint, Left bumper to change the player to control, which is handy when defending. Right Stick will allow you to muscle players off the ball, which is cool. There are combinations of triggers, bumpers and buttons that will let you do more flicks and tricks and of course the celebrations when you score. Menu’s are easy to navigate and haven’t changed much from previous versions.
So to the story campaign and here is where FIFA 18 has the edge. We pick up with Alex Hunter from where we left him at the end of Part One of “The Journey.” He is in Brazil and is soon joining in with a game of street football. There is a nice sequence where we get to play on a small street football pitch, 3 against 2 although sadly this option is not in the actual game, unless its unlocked somehow, but I never found it. Once back home Alex goes through some drills and a practice match before jetting off to America and a pre-season tournament. Here he stands next to Cristiano Ronaldo in the tunnel and the man voices his own digital representation. From here Alex continues his journey to super-stardom. Or does he? Well, you have to play to find out, no big spoilers here.
EA have pulled a really neat trick with “The Journey” as you can import your progress from Part One, keeping all the choices and skills that Alex has achieved. Whichever team you chose Alex to play for in FIFA17, you will be playing for and training with at the start of Part Two. You can of course, start Part Two from scratch, as well. Speaking of training, “The Journey” also offers drills as part of the story, which is a great way to learn how to play FIFA if you’ve never played before. Incorporated into the main story, you will improve your skills, completing objectives and unlocking new items in the customisation menu. Alex is fully customisable from hairstyles to the clothes he wears. From Tattoo’s to kit additions and it all depends on Alex’s nature through the choice system thoughout the game. Choose the more fiery response and Alex will unlock the wilder hairstyles for instance.
I’d really recommend “The Journey” it’s a good story and its fun playing and training with your heroes, seeing them interact with Alex, jumping on him when he scores, There’s a different feel than just playing one team against another as although you can if you choose, play as the whole team, you still need to level Alex up or complete objectives, which gives it a more personal feel and accomplishment.
Thanks to Frostbite the graphics and features have improved, even from FIFA 17. There is so much detail in the stadiums, that you will want to just look around them. Play is smooth and crisp.and the player representations are better than ever, with a few exceptions. I do have one criticism though is that there is no emotion in the players. Whether you score a goal or are substituted each player has exactly the same expression. During “The Journey” Alex does have these emotions so its still a bit of shame they haven’t figured a way to incoporate this, yet. Whilst they wanted to keep continuity with the look and feel of “The Journey” there are significant improvents in skin and shading textures and everything looks very good indeed.
Play as your favourite team or teams and the crowd will sound very familiar, cheering and singing the songs of those teams. In training you will hear team mates shout for the ball, and provide encouragement. Different cultures will provide different sounds. There will be a cacophony of sound in the Latin Countries whereas in the English game it will be more sporadic. The sound of the ball being hit or headed sounds realistic enough and commentary is still very much to the fore. As I reviewd the UK English version, the commentating team of Martin Tyler and Alan Smith will seem very familiar to you and its as wide and varied, more than ever. Again there are some criticisms in that sometimes the commentary does not match the action and it can often cut in unexpectedly if you take a shot, make a tackle or save. On the whole the sound brings realism to the action and that can only be a good thing.
FIFA 18 is still probably the best representation of Football in the gaming world. It might just edge it in the playing stakes over Pro-Evolution but it does bring something new to the table each year. “The Journey” story campaign is well worth investigating and very enjoyable for seasoned players and newbies alike. There is still room for improvement but that’s what FIFA 19 is for.