FIFA 17 is a series known for its incremental updates. Each year, we get tighter physics, more accurate tackling, a slightly improved dead-ball mechanic , and so on (in fact these yearly tweaks would’ve resulted in The Perfect Football Game by now, were it not for FIFA’s frustrating tendency to take several steps back every few games).
This year is slightly different. There’s a new thing. A different thing.
That new thing is a game mode that they’re calling The Journey, which is basically that film Goal – you know, the one where the guy rises from humble beginnings to become the next big thing in football.
You play Alex Hunter, a kid with the talent to succeed. You job is to guide him through the world of professional football match-by-match, cementing a place in a team, choosing which position to develop in. There’s dialogue choices that affect the way you’re perceived by your manager and fellow players.
One reason why we’re seeing this now is undoubtedly EA’s move to the Frostbite engine. There’s a fidelity to the textures and a complexity to the models now that makes it feasible for the player to care about the characters in this kind of storyline.
But there’s another reason, and I think that has more to do with the competition.
FIFA’s nemesis, has always been Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer (PES) series, and most football gamers are split on which they prefer, siting different reasons for choosing one over the other. Many swear that the mechanics of PES game have always been better. Some maintain that FIFA’s ownership of the official league licenses will always tip the odds in that series’ favour.
I think it’s true that at different periods of time, one series or the other has had the edge over its rival, with the start of a new console generation often being the factor that leads the developers to scramble to implement the expected level of graphical upgrade, causing a loss of some of the progress made by previous iterations. Currently, most agree that PES has the slight edge in terms of gameplay, although there won’t be many who expect this to remain the status quo.
I think with the introduction of The Journey, EA are attempting to rise above this yearly scrap over the tiny gameplay details of the actual simulation. As they did very successfully with Ultimate Team, they are attempting to implement a difference-maker — a game type that they feel they, with their limitless budget, and real-world sponsorship, can do better than Konami ever could, and a feature that gamers will look at as a deciding factor when choosing between the two games.
But if The Journey is as well received as EA undoubtedly hope it will be, the real trick will be maintaining it as a feature that people will want to return to each year. As we’ve seen recently with huge franchises such as Assassin’s Creed, and, some would argue, the Call of Duty games, there is an inherent difficulty in keeping a yearly-iterating, story-centric game fresh and appealing to fans. There are only so many times gamers will be entertained with the same old rags-to-riches storyline. It’ll be genuinely interesting to see what EA can come up with next.
FIFA 17 is released with the usual tweaks to its formula with no mention of any sort of story mode. Critics are happy with how the gameplay has evolved…but generally agree that this year’s Pro Evolution Soccer edges it. FIFA’s fanbase is eroded slightly, but not so much as to cause any serious concern. As least not this year, anyway.