Sports games generally have good years and bad years. With publishers releasing year in and year out like clockwork for their sports titles, sometimes it’s hard to tell if anything substantial has been added to the game because not much changes from year to year. Usually this is somewhat disguised by back of the box features that don’t amount to much more than a roster update and some tweaks to the previous year’s formula. With FIFA 19, it does seem to be a good year of improvements from a gameplay standpoint. Even if it’s pretty hard to see any huge improvements on the visual presentation, or content front.
There seems to have been a complete overhaul to the way that EA wants players to play FIFA soccer games. While they’ve done a good job of capturing the sport in video game form, a lot of the cool moves that are pulled off in real life soccer weren’t very easy to do in FIFA games, or, they were for the hardcore of hardcore players who had committed to memory a set of “Stick Skill” commands that allowed for some impressive moves in capable hands. As realistic as FIFA felt in the past, it’s never felt as free flowing and open for the player to create as it does in FIFA 19. This is mostly due to the new Active Touch system of the game which adds a combo system where players can chain touches together and flick the ball around the field with little more than pressing a button. It’s easy to pick up and allows for some incredibly fun moves without the need to commit much to memory. All you need to do is click in the Right Thumbstick and do some flicks with the Right Stick and you’ll be doing all sorts of cool moves on the pitch. It’s something that FIFA has probably needed for a while to spice things up and it instantly makes playing with your favorite players even more engaging as a world of cool moves is at your fingertips. The Active Touch systems fits in perfectly to the existing system of controls, which has been pretty much standard for many years. Not much has been culled here in FIFA 19 so much as it has been expanded on, in a good way. It’s surprising that EA hasn’t moved in this direction sooner, but hopefully this new system is here to stay as it’s going to be hard to go back to the more static stick moves from previous years.
Timed Finishes on the other hand is an interesting idea, but it’s implementation isn’t quite as good as Active Touch. It presents a risk reward situation for the player that they can either choose to use, or not. It’s basically a system on top of the existing shot system that offers the reward of a more accurate and powerful shot if a second button press of the shoot button is perfectly timed. Much of the numbers behind this system are unclear, and since there’s room to bungle a perfect set-up it’s really unclear when the best time to use this new feature is. Every shot in the game includes the Timed Finishes mechanic so the game is going to try and reward players for mastering this new feature, but even longtime FIFA fans may need to go to the Training Mode to figure out exactly how this new system works. Ultimately, in my experience during this review the game had more rhythm when I was using the Timed Finishes as I was much less liberal with my button presses for things like headers and volleys because the outcome of pressing the button multiple times was almost always a poorly timed shot. EA doesn’t force anyone to come along for the Timed Finishes if they don’t want to. The normal roster of shots from previous games almost all return here and the old mechanics of holding down the button for power and using things like Finesse and Flair all still work just fine, it’s just that this adds another layer to shooting in the game.
Gameplay has gotten better in FIFA 19
FIFA’s gameplay was rock solid before the new additions and it’s just gotten better in FIFA 19. Combined with incredible visuals, realistic player models, stadium ambiance, and great sounds the game hits high marks on the presentation front. FIFA has been looking and playing great for the last few years, and this year is no exception. EA has not decided to blow up what was working for this year’s game, not by a landslide. Instead there are some other refinements that will be found in FIFA 19. This includes things like Dynamic Tactics, which allow you to do in-depth customization to strategies prior to a match and then gives you in-match adjustments by using the D-Pad on the controller. This isn’t a revolutionary change for FIFA, but for those that are looking for that extra level of customization while in a match they will love this feature.
There’s a ton of good stuff in FIFA 19 in terms of how you play the game, even if Ultimate Team is still far and away the biggest component in terms of modes. The Journey, the single player mode where players do the whole “live the life” career mode in FIFA returns again. This mode is still one of the best career modes in sports game if just for the way that they approach the subject matter. It’s pretty clear that EA puts a good bit of work into The Journey and its RPG like structure. This year you can play three different characters, including Alex Hunter, his sister Kim, and Danny Williams. Players can swap back and forth between characters during The Journey, and each has a unique narrative to explore as these character’s careers intertwine. If you’ve been enjoying The Journey over the past couple iterations of FIFA, this one is pretty much more of the same.
The Journey is still one of the better modes of its kind
Career Mode fans won’t likely be getting a system that brings them back to the pre-FUT days, but EA seems to be continuing to try and add features for those that don’t engage in Ultimate Team. Career Mode is as robust as its been in recent years, and in FIFA 19 they’ve added UEFA Champions League integration for some added depth. Coupled with the Journey, the Career Mode in FIFA 19 has enough meat on the bone to keep you busy for those that want that deep managerial or player sim. Of course there are also still a myriad of other ways to play FIFA, with things like Seasons and head to head matches to dig into if you’re just into actually playing on the pitch soccer.
Despite this good single/multi player content that isn’t a part of their popular team building mode, FIFA 19 is once again centered around the FIFA Ultimate Team Mode. The features here have only been tweaked slightly from previous years. There are new ICON players to earn for your team, including some returning from FIFA 18 and brand new ones for this year’s game. There’s a new online Rivals mode which pits you against similarly skilled players and then let’s you earn qualifying points to make it into the FUT Championship. There are a wealth of things to do here from completing daily and weekly challenges to playing single player games or online matches. It all funnels back into doing things that earn you FIFA Coins and Ultimate Team Card Packs that can increase the quality of your team. FUT is actually a pretty enjoyable mode and despite EA making a ton of extra money out of players who want to bypass some of the grind, it doesn’t feel that egregious in its implementation. It’s a slow burn, but once you’ve sunken some time into FUT it’s hard not to get hooked on the many different moving parts of this mode that has you managing things like roster, chemistry, upgrades, and more.
A step forward, however small
Though there aren’t that many new modes to explore in FIFA 19 and there isn’t any huge quality upgrade in terms of visual presentation, FIFA 19 does feel like a good step forward for the series if just for the great new control options on the pitch. Active Touch definitely gives all FIFA players a chance to experience some of the fancy footwork that was previously reserved for FIFA Pros. As for timed finishes, I wouldn’t be surprised if it went the way of Madden’s many failed QB systems as it just doesn’t seem to have a place in the game doesn’t really improve on anything. All that said, FIFA 19 looks as good as it ever has and the new gameplay systems are enjoyable for both hardcore FIFA players and casual fans.
The FIFA series appears to have hit critical mass when it comes to the visual fidelity and game modes that we’re going to see. Outside of Ultimate Team, EA doesn’t seem to have any new ideas regarding how people want to play the game. What they did show with FIFA 19 is that they’ve still got some tricks up their sleeve on the gameplay front that can continue to make FIFA an enjoyable, albeit complex, sports sim.
- Available On: Xbox One, PC, Switch, PS4, PS3, X360
- Published By: EA Sports
- Developed By: EA Vancouver
- Genre: Sports
- US Release Date: September 28th, 2018
- Reviewed On: Xbox One
- Quote: "EA still has some tricks up their sleeve on the gameplay front that can continue to make FIFA an enjoyable, albeit complex, sports sim."