Annually released sports games face a unique challenge—every year the title must deliver something new, yet familiar. The game must play similarly to those from past years in order to maintain the brand, but must offer fresh features to make sure it’s not simply a repackaging. FIFA 17 confidently straddles this line, bringing an engaging new story mode and increased playability to the revered brand.
When I took the pitch for the first time in FIFA 17 I was surprised—the game is much more physical than any soccer game to date. My first few matches were rife with frustration as defenders stripped the ball away from me and blocked me out from corners. I felt like an MLS player that had mistakenly been put into a Premiere League game. After utterly botching a free kick, it was time to break my controller in half or try something else in the game, so I hopped into the shiny new story mode, “The Journey.”
In “The Journey” players step into the cleats of young soccer player, Alex Hunter. You follow Hunter as he makes his way into the English Premiere League along with lifetime friend Garreth Walker. From the minute pitches of Clapham Commons to the Emirates Cup, you’re in control not only of Hunter on the pitch, but also off. Dialogue choices influence how Hunter is seen by his managers, peers, and the public.
The mode is the most obvious addition to FIFA 17 over 16, but acts not only as a new way to imbibe the game, but also a great introduction to the series. Between matches, Hunter must train like any athlete. These exercises help you freshen up on rusty skills in addition to learning new ones. By doing well in training, you gain increases to stats as well as favor from your club’s manager. I found myself constantly going back to “The Journey” not only for the story, but also for the overall play experience, elevating Alex to soccer stardom.
Much like My Career mode in years past, you can play the story mode controlling the entire squad or solely controlling Alex Hunter. While squad control allowed me to set up plays more easily, I found myself enjoying playing as the single character the most. I felt more responsible for accomplishing manager tasks, and more satisfaction when scoring a goal. Additionally, I was much more aware of my stamina, and what aspects my character needed to improve on.
At the end of “The Journey,” players receive a unique version of Hunter to use in the game’s FUT (FIFA Ultimate Team) mode. This player card reflects the team, position, and stats that players achieved during the campaign, making it a very interesting cross-over within the title.
For the most part, FUT is the same as in previous years. However, Squad Building challenges have been added by the team at EA, giving players more to do with the excess items that are floating around in their club. Squad Building challenges start off fairly simple: “Exchange One Player from your club and get a reward.” Cake. As the challenges go on, though, they get more and more difficult. “Exchange a squad of 11 with nine nationalities, seven leagues, a minimum rating of 82, and chemistry of 92.” Yipes! While I’ll probably never solve the higher tiers of the Squad Building challenges, this is definitely a forward step for the franchise, giving a completely different type of player something to do within FIFA.
Within the traditional FIFA gameplay experience, a few changes can be found as well. As mentioned before, the game is much more physical than it has been in previous years. You can jockey for position and really move to defend the ball from opponents.This changes the flow of the game immensely, and makes playing defense much more engaging than it was in the past. These new confrontations make even receiving a cross or corner much more difficult, but feel much more rewarding.
Corners also have a new mechanic, allowing players to more precisely target where they want to deliver the ball and at what trajectory. I really liked this feature, and think it will go a long way in future games. On the other side of things, free kicks and penalty kicks also got revamped, but I did not enjoy this nearly as much. The controls for these are fairly obtuse, and often felt clunky, leading to missed shots and unanticipated results.
The first FIFA to take advantage of EA’s powerful Frostbite Engine, FIFA 17’s visuals are spectacular. Players are easily recognizable from distance, and stadiums are beautiful. I even found myself sitting through more of the replays than normal just to take it all in—a time during which I traditionally spam “skip” until I return to gameplay.
Finally, I’d like to mention an aspect of sports games that are often overlooked—the soundtrack. FIFA 17 has a stellar tracklist, full of titles that will get you moving. Forgoing jock-jams, the soundtrack features big sounds from a variety of eclectic artists and groups like KAMAU, Systema Solar, and more. Menus have never been so well accompanied.
Overall, FIFA 17 improves on previous titles in the franchise with much needed innovations like “The Journey” and Squad Builder. While a steep learning curve awaits new players, training games and the return of in-game tips on the HUD give you the tools needed to improve. While there is still room to grow in the game’s storytelling, this was an excellent first step. If you haven’t tried FIFA in a while, and are looking to get back into the franchise—now is the time.
|Publisher: EA Sports • Developer: EA Canada • ESRB: E – Everyone • Release Date: 09.27.16|
FIFA’s commitment to an authentic soccer experience shines with a new story mode, improvements to graphics, an approachable learning curve, and a kick-ass soundtrack.
|The Good||A fresh look at the FIFA series makes FIFA 17 more approachable to new players, while maintaining enough similarities not to offput die-hard fans.|
|The Bad||After spending hours with Alex Hunter in “The Journey,” the conclusion feels anticlimactic.|
|The Ugly||The chemistry of my FUT team.|
|FIFA 17 is available on PS4, Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for PS4. Review code was provided by EA Sports for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.|