On the surface, this year’s FIFA looks quite a bit like last year’s FIFA. But, despite mostly incremental updates, it’s still one of the best sports games in the business and remains superlative where it matters: on the pitch.
It also goes a little further, making for the most feature-packed football game of the past few years. Now running on EA’s tech-fire Frostbite engine — complete with new atmospheric lighting that brings its roster of authentic stadiums to life, and subtler player animations that makes its fancy footwork even more convincing to watch — it also injects the entire game with a little more personality.
That character and charisma comes in the form of Alex Hunter — the young star of FIFA 17’s ‘we-never-asked-for-one-but-got-one-anyway’ story mode. The Journey, as it’s called, plays out pretty much like an interactive Eastenders episode — full of cheesy melodrama, clichéd character roles and hammy one-liners, which all serve to create a surprisingly compelling tale of grit and determination.
It successfully weaves the narrative into FIFA’s staple footballing, allowing you to choose a number of Premier League teams to help Alex rise through the ranks. BioWare’s work with Mass Effect and Dragon Age has been duly noted, giving you command of Alex in interviews and post-match conferences. It’s not world-changing stuff, and neither is it particularly inventive, but choosing from three different dialogue responses allow you to shape Alex into the kind of player you want him to be. Cool-headed team player or fiery, arrogant dick — it actually changes how many Twitter followers you earn during The Journey’s 12-hour runtime.
Despite its various flaws, including some sallow faces that even Frostbite can’t make look pretty, FIFA 17 is one of this year’s best sports games. It improves, refines and adds to its existing ideas, successfully bettering what was already the best football game around. The Journey is frequently strange and occasionally hilarious in a way only soap opera can manage, but it’s also got more heart than you’d ever expect. Not bad, lads.