In the real world of football, even the best teams need to constantly strive for improvement in the hopes of staying at the top of their game. In the battle to be the best football game on the market, the same can be said about Konami and EA’s annual releases. Last year, while FIFA improved the overall presentation with a switch to the Frostbite engine and an added story mode in the form of “The Journey”, PES focused on the pitch, and those changes helped to make PES 2017 the most authentic game of football available. With PES 2018 focusing on refining its on the field experience further, can FIFA 18 do enough to draw level?
The most important aspect of any sports title is how accurately it replicates its real-life counterpart. Overall, FIFA 18 feels like it does a much better job than last year’s release; however, it does seem to be heading in a completely different direction than PES. In PES 2018, games often feel like a technical chess match where even 0-0 draws can still feel exciting, whereas FIFA 18’s matches excel in high scoring affairs, much like a match involving Newcastle United when Kevin Keegan was in charge. Both approaches are completely fine and have their pros and cons, but it will be down to the individual player to decide which one they prefer.
In terms of the on-field gameplay, FIFA 18 does have some small but still noticeable improvements over previous years. Last time around, it wasn’t uncommon to feel like you’d been dispossessed because players reacted too slowly and turning was laboured. Thankfully, FIFA 18 introduces a new animation system that makes everything from basic movement to shielding the ball, and intricate passing to dribbling, feel much more responsive and fluid.
Crossing has also been overhauled, making it a much more viable option compared to last year where it often seemed impossible to put the ball where you intended. This has been especially noticeable now that using players with pace works as it should. Previously, it was a source of bewilderment how much slower defenders could keep up and even overtake speedy wingers such as Gareth Bale and Anthony Martial. In FIFA 18, faster players will breeze past slower opponents, making through balls against high defensive lines seem much more realistic.
The improvements to attacking scenarios, player movement and dribbling makes defending in this year’s iteration of FIFA seem much harder to master than last year. The actual mechanics are still the same, but jockeying and timing tackles perfectly seems to be tougher now that the attacking player's control and movement are that much better. Series veterans will likely adjust quite quickly, but for newcomers, there’s a chance it will feel too unbalanced in the favour of the attacking team, especially against some of the game’s more skilful players such as Ronaldo and Messi. The shooting also feels overpowered to the point that it’s not uncommon to see multiple goal of the season contenders in every match.
The overall result of this year’s changes is positive, making FIFA 18 feel more immersive than any other release in the series previously. It’s still got some catching up to do to be on par with PES in terms of overall authenticity, but what FIFA does wonderfully well is constantly recreate those wow moments that make football the sport it is.
While the gameplay might be a little bit behind the opponent, the overall presentation of FIFA 18 is light years ahead. The pre-match build-up is designed to look and feel just like a televised game. Crowds sing the songs that you’d hear and stadiums feel alive with atmosphere. The commentary is detailed and informed with much more variation and better overall tone than PES. Most importantly, while it may seem superficial, there’s something much more exciting and engaging about playing as your favourite team in FIFA over the teams with generic names in PES. There’s also a level of detail in FIFA that makes it look and feel like you’re watching a real game as the pitch will begin to tear up, players begin to sweat, and kits become dirty — it’s like every minor thing is recreated in amazing detail.
Off the field, the same game modes from last year’s FIFA title return, although there are a few improvements and additions to help freshen things up. For many, the transfer window is the most exciting period of a manager save. In FIFA 18, this process is highlighted further with real-time transfer and contract negotiations. When buying a player, you’ll take part in an interactive cutscene where the selling team’s manager enters your office to thrash out a deal. It’s a nice little addition that feels much more engaging than submitting bids and then progressing the time to discover the response, although if you have a busy transfer window it can quickly become repetitive and annoying.
We also see the continuation of Alex Hunter’s story in “The Journey: Hunter Returns”. You pick up where FIFA 17 left off, with Alex established as one of the world’s most exciting youth prospects. With talk of a big money transfer abroad, Alex is turned by the prospect of playing for one of the world’s most prestigious clubs. Unfortunately, the move falls through and Alex is left attempting to rebuild his career. While much of the story is highly improbable, there are some surprisingly strong moments surrounding Alex’s family that will really pull you in. This year also includes the ability for you to customise Alex’s appearance, with hairstyles, clothes and tattoos.
Ultimate Team has been a winning formula for a few years, so it’s no surprise that it has received a few significant updates this year. The basic formula of collecting cards to build the best team possible is still as exciting and enticing as ever, but this year EA has added more ways to play and more rewards for regular players. First up, there are now daily and weekly challenges that will reward players with coins, cards and packs for completing different actions within the game. The rewards are relatively small, but it’s a welcome addition that will keep your coin balance ticking over.
There’s also a new game mode for Ultimate Team called Squad Battles, an offline mode where you compete against other players' squads that are controlled by the AI. Over the course of a week, you earn points that are awarded based on the quality of the team you’re playing, the difficulty level at which you play and how you perform during the game. At the end of each week, you’re ranked against other player’s scores with rewards unlocked dependent on the tier you finish in. For people who don’t want to play online, Squad Battles is a great addition to the standard season format.
FIFA 18’s achievement list offers a nice spread that will require players to take part in each of the different game modes on offer, with 800 – 900 Gamerscore easily available for players of most skill levels. Thankfully, the achievement from the past couples of years that required you to win an online FUT draft has been removed, although it has been replaced by an achievement that will require you to reach division one in Ultimate Team.
SummaryFIFA 18 offers the best game of football that the series has seen in some time and provides the best overall package for fans of the sport. It might not be up there in terms of authenticity with PES on the pitch, but this year's release has made up some ground, excelling at providing those wow moments that gets fans of the real sport on their feet and punching the air. With an interesting return of Alex Hunter, new game modes to try, and a level of presentation and detail that can’t be found anywhere else, FIFA 18 is easy to recommend to long-running fans of the series and is a solid jumping in point for people who might have skipped a few years.
- Improved gameplay on the pitch
- Amazing attention to detail in players, kits and stadia
- Solid return for Alex Hunter
- Ultimate Team is even more addictive thanks to new modes and challenges
- Transfer negotiation cutscenes can become repetitive
- Defending might seem tough for newcomers
EthicsThe reviewer spent approx 40 hours playing through each of the various game modes, earning 38 of the game's available achievements. An Xbox One copy of the game was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.
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