FIFA 18 Review
Sony PlayStation 4Also available on Microsoft Xbox 360, Nintendo Switch, PC, Sony PlayStation 3, Sony PlayStation 4 and Microsoft Xbox One
When sitting down to review a game like FIFA 18 a challenge presents itself. In some ways it’s easy to talk about it given it’s an electronic version of what is perhaps the world’s most accessible sport, football. When you recognise that the real game is simply about kicking a ball into a net it should be straightforward to detail what’s good and bad about FIFA football in digital and interactive form. But this is a game which is released each and every year in a slightly revised, updated and improved (or otherwise) version of itself. And you don’t want to just repeat yourself entirely. Although sometimes you just have to. FIFA 18 is the best football game out there. It’s been improved again. It might not play like PES and you might feel that plays more like football, but with the modes, the options, the licensing, the fun and the unbelievable level of everything just working brilliantly well, it’s just the best. Again.
The modes are probably where to start. There’s something for everyone this year, and even more than last. Headlining things is The Journey’s second season and an expanded Ultimate Team. The latter is the most popular mode by miles and the one which keeps people playing right up until the release of the next game. It’s been built upon even more than last year when EA significantly changed the game. Since it first came into being the aim has been to build a team, play matches, earn coins (or spend money, microtransaction fans) and build a better team with better chemistry. Last year a new way to play UT came into life spectacularly - FUT Champions. Here, the aim is to win a four-round knockout competition online in the week and earn the right to play up to forty games over the weekend in the weekend league. Forty games is a hell of a lot when each takes about twenty minutes, but everyone who played FUT wanted in. This was because of the rewards: the better you did, the better the packs you got and the better the players. It totally revitalised what was already the biggest mode of FIFA.
This year EA have done something rather cool for all the people who couldn’t qualify, or didn’t have time to play that many games in such a short period. They've even catered for those who have responsibilities which mean the ability to pause indefinitely is a requisite. By introducing squad battles - effectively a week-league where you play real squads which are controlled by the AI - you can pause to your heart’s content. You can play as much or as little as you can over the course of seven days and you will get the accordant rewards at the end. Yep - you get rewards here too. Again they’re better the more successful you are. The dev team have listened to the community here and built in more stuff that does what people wanted. It’s fantastic. Allied to the retained squad building challenges, it has never been easier to really make some coin and get something approaching your ultimate team. It will be interesting to see how they manage content - specifically in-form cards, hero cards and so on - over the year as last time out most people still playing had super teams by the endgame. It took some of the fun out of it by then but time will tell.
The dev team listening to those playing it daily and week in, week out is a recurring theme throughout, actually. Many changes and improvements were implemented on the fly last year and these remain - for example the five bar latency helping players better predict whether their online matchup will be a lagfest or otherwise - with the addition of other changes which were strongly requested by folks in the community (the vocal part at least - FIFA has millions of players). Perhaps the most noticeable is the change to auto-defending. Last season you were better off letting the AI control your defence than defending yourself. It was great for making that part of the game easy but it also made a bit of a mockery of it all. I mean, playing football but only having to do half the work? Not so this year. You need to defend again and it levels the playing field. Crosses have been improved such that you can add more variety into the ball you deliver and are more often going to get something from it given the individual quality you yourself have, and the target man you chuck it up to. The low driven shot still remains but its power has been dialled back a little making it more reasonable rather than an overpowered and largely guaranteed way to score. All of this is just the beginning, though. FIFA now, and especially FUT, is a service. Changes have already been made to this game this year. Part of it is about doing what’s asked but also making it the de facto competition football game. If FIFA is going to be an esport proper, it needs to work, and work well. We will all benefit from that, whether you’re ever going to compete at it or not.
The second season of The Journey is again really well done. The production values are there to be seen, as you should expect from anything FIFA. Again you take the role of Alex Hunter, a young English footballer who started last season at an FA exit trial and then, if you played his story, likely signed for his dream team, dropped to the Championship and then came back to help his parent club to glory. This year sees you carrying on where you left off only with the world now watching. In addition to more of the same - narrative cutscenes, social media, levelling up and playing games - you can customise Alex in the way he looks as you unlock that funky new haircut. There are also builds to the social media part of the game and the interactive story sections. You still get to answer questions according to a particular approach (cool, fiery and so on) but you now also get to make key decisions which impact the way Hunter grows and is perceived. The Journey: Hunter Returns ramps up the RPG-like aspects of the game with a twist of Need For Speed thrown in as well. It’s fabulous and like last year, worth getting if this is all you do with the game.
Whether or not to get this game will for many be a foregone conclusion. That’s unlikely to change with what’s written above. After all FIFA is one of those games that is a system seller and a significant number of people play only this one title on their consoles. However, what is important to many is whether to get it now, stick with the old one for a while or anything in-between. And frankly EA have hit it out of the park again. With FIFA 18 you will have the most fun games of football and the most infuriating; you’ll find plenty to do but perhaps only do one of those things. You’ll enjoy the holistic slickness of it all and the fact pretty much everything (hey Serie A!) is licensed appropriately. You’ll do this until FIFA 19 comes out, too.