FIFA 17 (PlayStation 4) Review

By Tomas Barry 23.10.2016

Review for FIFA 17 on PlayStation 4

This year's entry into the FIFA canon marks the shift into EA's new flagship game engine, Frostbite, which these days powers the majority of the EA Sports range, as well as most of its other major titles, such as Battlefield 1. With no hint of EA Canada wishing to take a year off to accommodate a more radical overhaul, FIFA 17 makes the typical array of tweaks to the gameplay and online modes one would expect, and unsurprisingly preserves the majority of last year's traits and key elements. The main way this year's instalment aims to push the horizons of the series is with the much hyped and rather intriguing introduction of the new single-player story mode dubbed 'The Journey.'

Annual football series will always have a certain accusation levied at them, that each new edition is 'the same game' and shouldn't be an automatic purchase each year. FIFA gameplay trailers certainly throw out their fair share of buzzwords, which seem to indicate something new when the reality is the mechanics are pretty similar. With each new addition, then, fans grow more interested in how the ebb and flow of matches has changed. Particularly the small gameplay matters, such as whether through-balls are overpowered again, or if pace trumps strength this time around as a general rule. There tends to be a few overarching trends to be relearnt, but on the whole the distinguishing features in recent FIFA entries have been fickle. Pick up any outdated edition and give it a try—it doesn't exactly feel like a significant downgrade, visuals and lack of up-to-date squads aside.

There is, however, a major addition to the series this year, which comes in the form of a single-player story mode entitled 'The Journey.' This follows Alex Hunter, a young hopeful, as he plots the course from a lowly reserve squad player to first team regular and Premier League star. Although this is really just an assortment of games and training sessions glued together with a bunch of cut-scenes, it must be applauded for offering something genuinely fresh for the series. While the story itself is a little stereotypical, and definitely panders to a particular type of football fan and cinematic taste, it's clearly been crafted to be broad and universal.

The Journey's gameplay loop consists of three phases: training sessions, where Alex Hunter hones his skills in a variety of the mini-games just like the ones seen in recent FIFA games; matches, where the player gets some precious game time featuring set bonus objectives that improve the player's rewards; and finally, the cut-scenes, which glue it all together, and pop up frequently enough to keep the narrative well framed in the player's mind.

Screenshot for FIFA 17 on PlayStation 4

The slight problem with this simple pattern is the story itself is quite mundane and perhaps a little too typical, so the three-pronged cycle of mechanics, which never changes, may come across as a quite lazy attempt to cobble together something genuinely new and fresh. In truth, The Journey's use of narrative is perhaps compromised a little too much. While the story was intended to be as broad and universal as possible and in principle that helps to attract a wider audience, it also limits things to a variety of atypical footballing tropes, hence dampening the overall narrative power and appeal.

This is further diluted by player choice elements, such as the dialogue wheel, which offers Alex a hot-headed, cool or neutral response to any interactions. This helps individual players imply a sense of their own character within the protagonist, but it doesn't seem to have any effect on the pathway Alex Hunter will ultimately take. This too makes the mode feel altogether a little bit shallow in some aspects, failing to tap into the real drama and story of football that some fans might have envisaged for this mode.

In many ways, then, this seems then to be a missed opportunity. Perhaps a future iteration could delve into some more specific stories, which would have more weight and meaning behind them by comparison to Alex Hunter's rather quintessentially middle-class plight for footballing greatness. For example, the journey of a footballer from afar, like a player from Ghana who ends up becoming a Premier League star, might perhaps be a more interesting perspective to explore in future projects. Look at all the biographies of retired footballers, sold by the bucket-load, that all evoke a much more powerful sense of footballing narratives. As it stands, The Journey is too lightweight or spread too thinly to achieve that sense and player perspective of a story unfolding. This can be seen in a few of the mode's kinks. For example, you can choose to play exclusively as Alex Hunter in the Be a Pro one-player format, or you can play as the whole team. Despite the individualistic narrative, it's better to play as the team, as that leads to more favourable results in general.

Another problem that illustrates the mode's lightweight impression is that the cut-scenes never make any real reference to the player's specific team's plight. There's no attempt to imply the team's story: none of Klopp's character was conveyed by cut-scene, nor the power of the Kop to change the game when it matters - only Hunter and his pals' personal goals are really given much thought, which results in a rather disjointed narrative perspective. Granted, it's not a mode players would entertain for too long if they couldn't play as the team they support, but the trade-off for being so accommodating is a diluted narrative, which is disappointing for a story mode. In this sense, EA Sports definitely has to make some tough decisions about the direction of any future iteration. Arguably, more specific narratives may be better suited to optional DLC offerings.

Screenshot for FIFA 17 on PlayStation 4

In gameplay terms, FIFA 17 is more of a refined affair than a drastic overhaul, building on the foundations of FIFA 16 with minor tweaks, for the most part. The most significant changes are to set-piece situations, which now offer the more convincing full arsenal of options available to the pros. It's possible to take curved and angled run-ups in free kicks and penalties, and the weight on a shot feels heavier and more convincing. This more emphatic speed and curve also helps corners tremendously; whipped, dipping and lofted crosses all pose much more of a distinct threat to defences. They certainly feel a lot more fluid and dynamic, and are a much more useful form of attack than in previous years.

There are some other notable adjustments to FIFA 17, which help its flow quite significantly. Firstly, slide tackles are no longer as overpowered as recent iterations. Although when playing online, one might still find other players who frequently spray reaching and risky slide tackles out toward the ball and get away with it, for the most part, a slide challenge has to be meticulously timed, now. Most referees have learnt to recognise a kamikaze attack from behind when their opponent is through on goal and punish it accordingly. Pleasingly, the refs also tend to catch and punish the naughty slide challenges in congested midfields that often occur when two flustered players are chasing possession and pushing for a late win. Previous games all too often would not be able to identify the increased cost of such a late and ill-timed lunge. This helps the sense of fairness prevail online a little more, as more tense 0-0s end up being decided by tactics and good play alone, without the annoying sense of injustice when someone scores a winner after an onslaught of questionable challenges, which, if punished correctly, would change the dynamic of the game.

Something else that certainly helps in a subtle but drastic way is the way that players engage in physical contact with others on the ball. In previous versions, the controls for protecting the ball and to engage in physical duels have always been a bit unclear. This often led to frustrating situations like a striker being through on goal, then pressing the trigger intending to keep the defender at bay, only for the player to ease back into a wrestling match with the defender when he should be keeping him at a distance. Finally, in FIFA 17, such moments have become clear and coherent because the left trigger will always indicate the player wants to engage in a physical battle with the opponent, making such duels an enjoyable affair!

Screenshot for FIFA 17 on PlayStation 4

It's also clear that possession matters more than ever before. Against both the CPU and human players, it's much harder to win the ball back, requiring even more patience than last year. This is especially true since passing seems nippier and through-balls (including the old lobbed kind, but not on such a ridiculous scale) will penetrate the backline with relative ease.

If a team starts aggressively chasing the ball at the wrong moment, it seems easier to get picked off, making patience even more of a virtue. In this sense, though, FIFA 17 must be applauded for accentuating and improving how the element of timing works in the game. This is illustrated in the well-pronounced characteristics of teams like Liverpool and Borussia Dortmund, who do seem to read the passes like their real-life counterparts, and then pounce in packs when one receiver looks vulnerable. Although not every play style in the game is as perceivable as gegenpressing, each variety of style seems to come across quite convincingly, compared to previous entries in the series.

On the whole, though, it's very difficult to say that the Frostbite engine enables anything new or revolutionary. The graphics do seem to be slightly improved, with a noticeable bump in details, especially when it comes to crowds and the stadiums. Aerial shots look very convincing for the first time, and the extra fidelity certainly helps the live TV aesthetic presentation. However, considering all of the other new features touted by EA Sports year in, year out, they just don't amount to much because they really are minor adjustments no matter how their trailers dress them up. Ignore the buzzwords, always ignore.

Ultimate Team is much the same, failing to address general balance and fairness issues that seems to have plagued it for a few years, now. It's hard to see how this mode appeals to the real football purists these days. There a few minor additions, such as squad building challenges this time, but in truth, it's just another mode that could really do with some whole-stock changes. It's too difficult to justify spending money on packs, pouring hours and hours into the mode when it still doesn't match the gamer with other players or teams of the same ability. EA seems to ignore the large-scale criticism of how it all works, which is unclear at best. While this year's focus on The Journey was undoubtedly a very welcome change of pace, perhaps next year there might be an opportunity to breathe new life into this repetitive and all too often frustrating mode.

Screenshot for FIFA 17 on PlayStation 4

Cubed3 Rating

7/10
Rated 7 out of 10

Very Good - Bronze Award

Rated 7 out of 10

FIFA 17 is still an incremental step up in the series, but considering the bold assertions about what the power of the Frostbite engine would make possible, it is a somewhat underwhelming package overall. While The Journey must be applauded for attempting to offer something genuinely new, it's also not particularly brimming with any new content, either, besides its cut-scenes. With Pro Evolution Soccer 2017 looking very competitive, it's disappointing that this year's FIFA couldn't do more. It rather settles for the top four, instead of illustrating its title credentials. There's always next year, though.

Developer

EA Sports

Publisher

EA

Genre

Sport

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  7/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

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