FIFA is EA’s biggest franchise. Its worldwide appeal is undeniable, the expansive feature set and impeccable attention to detail across all of its modes puts its rivals to shame. It’s not the only game in town, but it continues to outshine Pro Evolution Soccer on a year-in year-out basis. This year, the numerous enhancements to player animations, gameplay tweaks that hit on a number of different aspects of play, and a more atmospheric presentation come together to form one of the best FIFA games that EA has probably ever put out. These improvements coupled with an already feature rich series which this year includes the popular Ultimate Team mode, the return of the story-based “The Journey” mode, and numerous other ways to get your football fix, makes FIFA 18 a game that feels stuffed to brim with incredible gameplay and modes to experience it in.
The Journey is head and shoulders above other sports RPGs
While a number of publishers and developers are starting to introduce RPG-like experiences into their sports games, FIFA 18 marks the return of Alex Hunter and The Journey mode that was introduced last year. I’ve played just about all of them this year across a swathe of sports games, and there’s no doubt from a quality perspective in terms of gameplay, story, and visuals that The Journey is head and shoulders above the competition when it comes to this type of experience. FIFA 18’s sophomore effort with the Frostbite engine is starting to pay dividends. The character models and cinematic scenes found in The Journey are rivaling other narrative-driven single player experiences outside of the realm of sports games. The Journey is an enjoyable trip that feeds soccer fans both a great introduction to the many incredible new features in FIFA 18 while also serving up a story that’s worth seeing through to the end.
While The Journey might not be what everyone comes to FIFA 18 for, it’s definitely a solid addition to the overall package. This time around Alex Hunter’s Journey takes him through multiple chapters that include some dramatic moments in his professional and personal life. He’ll develop friendships and make decisions that can affect the way that this story goes. Going from the Premiere League to the MLS and then onward and upward — as the player in this game you get to see a lot of the great atmospheric changes that have been made this year. Different leagues offer different overlays for their broadcast packages. While these are limited to La Liga and MLS, they do add a bit of style to the games. While stadiums in FIFA has been pretty good for quite some time, this year they feel more alive than ever. Authentic sun positioning, debris, club and stadium banners, as well as adaptive commentary all make for an immersive experience while on the pitch. Crowds are also 3D rendered this year, so you’ll get some individual reactions and expanded unique chants for each stadium. This stuff isn’t necessarily tied to The Journey, but playing through it will allow you to experience a variety of different stadiums and atmospheres that make it stand out. The Journey allows you to play as Alex Hunter only, or as a team. Either way, FIFA 18 is looking, sounding, and playing amazing this year.
FIFA 18 is looking, sounding, and playing amazing this year
For a game that’s played by the masses largely from a vantage point where the finer points of its visuals can easily be missed, FIFA 18 sure does look and play great. A new animation system has the gameplay feeling fluid and responsive in this year’s game, even better than previous efforts with all the same signature skill moves that you’ve come to expect from the series. EA has dug even deeper for the game’s most recognizable players giving them personality traits and attributes that allow you to easily pick out these superstars on the pitch. The combination of the great stadium atmospheres and the new player animations make for some incredible matches that feel like they’ve got even more dramatic moments than previous games… if that’s even possible.
That largely stems from some gameplay enhancements that allow for what seems like better AI. As you can’t control all of the players on your team at once, you’re reliant on them making good cuts, keeping good spacing, and opening up opportunities to score. This change to the game makes the gameplay more fluid than ever before, allowing to do more than just run down the sideline, make a crossing pass and hope for the best. Speaking of crossing, this system has been revamped as well. Players have multiple options in crossing the ball, making for more dynamic chances whether that be lobbing up a pass and waiting for a player to run to the ball or straight sticks to the back side of the pitch, the crossing aspect of FIFA 18 has more options to call on depending on the situation.
Better AI and more control allow for more realistic action
From a gameplay perspective the combination of all these changes and the already solid base make a really fun game to play. Couple that with the atmospheric stadiums and incredible graphics and FIFA 18 is one the best done sports games of the year. We’d like to see these sorts of improvements on a year in year out basis, but unfortunately that’s not the case. The good news is, FIFA 18 has enough content in it to keep you busy for quite some time. From the aforementioned Journey mode, to FUT, and more — there’s a ton to keep busy with whatever mode is your favorite.
If you don’t feel like taking the pre-fabricated Journey of Alex Hunter you can certainly start your own Career with a created player. This isn’t quite the narrative-driven experience that The Journey is, but it is FIFA 18’s franchise oriented mode. You can choose to play as either the manager of your favorite team or as a player. (The player alternative also gives you the option to retire and then become the GM) While the scripted narrative isn’t there, EA does utilize the Frostbite Engine for some interesting spots in these modes such as major events during the career. Your player will be showcased in what are called Dynamic News Clips. There are also improved transfer negotiations that allow you to negotiate the process in real-time. Player development has been bolstered with a bunch of new skill games. Over fifteen new skill games allow you to improve your player through Squad Training sessions.
No shortage of modes to play in FIFA 18
FIFA Ultimate Team was the first of its kind and it’s still head of the class when it comes to these types of modes. While the core of what makes Ultimate Team unique is definitely intact, the mode continues to be built out with new options and ways to play. The core goal of this mode is to build a team through earning currency and card packs, managing your team and then taking them on the pitch to battle in numerous gamemodes. This year’s game features Daily & Weekly objectives, Squad Battles, and more. Returning modes include the Squad Building Challenges, FUT Draft, Seasons, and Champions modes. FIFA Ultimate Team in FIFA 18 is a robust offering. While some of the modes within will require you to pony up FIFA Coins or FIFA Tickets to play, there’s plenty to do here, and will most certainly keep any of fan of the mode occupied for the next 12 months if they’re to really dig in and experience all there is to see and do here.
Of course there is still more to do if neither the FUT or Career Modes are your thing. Seasons can be played Online against others, or played cooperatively with friends. There are Clubs once again that allow you to join up with others and take on other Clubs for 11 v 11 action. If you don’t have a club you can hop into a random room to play with others as well. There’s really no shortage of things to do here and with the on the pitch action so good this year, they’re all a lot of fun to play. It really is going to come down to your level of commitment in terms of which mode is right for you. A lot of them are tied to competitive rankings and leaderboards, but there are some friendly options for friends to get together and play as well.
If you’re on the fence wondering on whether this is one of those years that sees minor changes and roster updates, FIFA 18 is not that. It’s one of the best-looking, best-playing games that’s come to the series in quite some time.
While there are often many years that sports games phone it in, FIFA 18 doesn’t feel like one. From head to toe this game is both dripping in style and substance with so many compelling game modes it’s really just a matter of where should you start. Wherever it is, soccer fans will find very little to be disappointed in this year.