From the mid 90’s, all the way to 2007, my football game of choice was always PES simply because it offered the better gameplay experience. FIFA had all the licenses but never quite matched the quality of play that PES offered, but in 2008 all of that changed. When EA Sports released FIFA 09, there was a huge shift in the series that offered a great gameplay experience and offered a better game of football overall. At the same time, the PES series took a bit of a hefty dip in its quality and FIFA eventually became king of the annual football games with not only a finely tuned playing experience but it had an all new game engine too. In 2014 though, it all started to shift around again, with PES finding its feet and offering an unrivalled gameplay experience, but FIFA somehow struggled to evolve its own style and became sluggish and dated in comparison, resulting in PES reclaiming its crown. FIFA 16 introduced the use of the Frostbite engine in an attempt to bring a more dynamic play style and improve its visuals but still fell short in the gameplay department. Last year’s FIFA 17 tweaked its use of Frostbite and introduced Alex Hunter and a single player campaign called The Journey to add a narrative mode hoping to engage both old and new players, but despite adding this new mode the core gameplay on offer was still falling behind PES.
FIFA 18 has arrived and with a promise, of a better more refined gameplay experience compared to last year’s entry. With the critically acclaimed PES 2018 launching a few weeks ago to high scored reviews, many are anticipating whether or not FIFA can bring it back in line with its own gameplay style. Close control has been re-introduced and is a welcome return to FIFA after being absent for a couple of years. This mechanic gives players more control over directional play and a wider use of the ball. The overall play has been slowed down slightly to coincide with the close control mechanic and they work well combined together. I do feel though, that while gameplay is improved, it still feels a little stiff and somewhat unbalanced at times. Attackers with high stats such as Ronaldo or Messi can occasionally feel too overpowered and pulling off spectacular goals with ease becomes a regular occurrence, almost too regular. While this is great to begin with, it becomes too frequent and starts to lose its appeal fairly quickly. Drastically improved from last year though is the crossing, with the flight of the ball looking and feeling more natural. If crosses are executed correctly, they can cause real problems for defenders in and around the six yard box. Floating crosses, whipped crosses and driven ground crosses all have their uses and can be the difference when counter attacking.
Through balls have been toned down and require better timing and precision to pull off successfully. Threaded through balls, if used properly can cut defences in half, especially if you have a forward with pace running on to them. Finesse shots have also been finely tuned and require a lot more skill and precision to execute correctly. The finishing stat of a player makes all the difference this time too, as before finesse shots would always find its way in the back of the net despite the players having low stats for it so this is a welcome change to the shooting mechanics. The overall feel of FIFA 18 has been improved over last year and it plays a good game of football overall, but frustratingly it still suffers slightly with its stiff and unnatural feel at times and it just doesn’t seem to flow as smoothly as PES 2018 does. That’s not to say it isn’t an enjoyable game to play, because it is and it still has those satisfying elements to its gameplay on the field. It still feels rewarding when working some stylish passing and build up play that eventually ends in a goal being scored. It definitely plays better than FIFA 17 and that added close control system really feels like the player has more control over the ball, but EA Sports still need to fine tune the overall gameplay and make certain aspects feel a little more balanced to bring it in line with PES. They’re definitely on the right track though as the improvements, while subtle are a noticeable step up this year.
All the modes that players have come to expect are present here in FIFA 18. Apart from a few minor additions, very little has changed in these modes from last year with transfer negotiations being more in depth along with added cutscenes assigned to them in the career modes. A new Squad Battles mode has been added to the ever popular FIFA Ultimate Team and this feature could be classed as FIFA’s very own looting system. It places players in an offline ultimate team tier system that resets each week with opponents refreshing daily and depending on how high you finish at the end of the week depends on what rewards you get. It is certainly a refreshing addition that will not only appeal to veteran players but it may encourage new players who have struggled to get into FUT previously decide to give it a go. FUT is as addictive as it always is and while building a team by just playing matches isn’t too much of a grind, there is still a heavy emphasis put on the dreaded microtransactions. The good news here though is that with the Squad Battles, packs can be earned more frequently and with the added challenges in there too, there shouldn’t be much of a reason to buy FIFA Points to purchase packs unless you are desperate to get the very best players and consumables sooner rather than later, but decent progress can be made without having to do this.
Online performance in FIFA 18 is pretty stable and it’s as reliable as it always is in my opinion. The EA servers tend to get a rough ride from the community and as much as I can kind of understand why, there is no denying that the servers very rarely suffer in their performance. Yes, there are times when they play up but there aren’t many games out there that don’t have the odd server issue here or there. The only time where the servers could suffer serious downtime is when there is maintenance being performed but these are always pre-announced and players are always given plenty of notice of what times they will happen. Out of all the online games I played on FIFA 18 and in various game modes too, I never once experienced any dips in performance or any lag issues. The ping bar that presents itself before a game is started gives a good indication of what the connection quality will be like so if you choose to accept a match from someone who is bringing the bar in to the red then you only have yourself to blame for accepting it if the connection ends up being bad. If you always aim to select a match that has a steady bar in the green then I have no doubt that you will have a good quality connection and a smooth online match experience.
Alex Hunter returns this year in the next chapter of the increasingly popular story mode, The Journey. Following a relatively successful first season, Alex Hunter is set for the new season but things don’t quite work out how he thought they might. Without giving any spoilers away, the story aspect this year is definitely more engaging than before and the performances from the cast are fantastic. The tasks and challenges are all very similar to last year with additional things added in to the mix. Stats can be improved for Alex by completing training drills and objectives in a match but his image and attire can also be customized this time by hitting milestones in his career and these can range from new boots to new hairstyles. There are also more rewards to be earned along the way that can be used in Ultimate Team and these can range from a loaned Icon to use in your team for a limited number of games, or bonus packs to open that can contain many different items. I like The Journey and I hope EA Sports keep it as a long standing feature as the characters are great and the story is really well written and it’s a great addition to an already fully packed game.
Where FIFA prevails though is in its visual and audio presentations along with its unrivalled authenticity. The attention to detail that FIFA showcases stands head and shoulders above PES, with its authentic broadcast packages, superb commentary, and the wonderfully realstic crowd celebrations and interactions; it truly captures the most atmospheric football experience on offer. Despite some player likenesses looking slightly dated, the overall detail in the players themselves looks great and the finer details like the creases in shirts and how they move all add that little bit extra to the overall look of the game. Pitch textures look realistic and react to wear and tear, with different weather conditions impacting the movement of the ball. Animations have always been top draw in the FIFA series and it’s no different here, there are a few little issues with clipping occasionally but overall the animations are as smooth as ever. Realistic player movement has been added in to the mix with intelligent player motion captured by the world famous Christiano Ronaldo. This allows certain players to move just like they do in a real life match, particularly with sprinting animations complimenting their dribbling style. This has been introduced to give players a sense of realism when controlling their favorite real life teams and players. As it’s a newly introduced feature, it is still fairly limited with only 6 different motions that are used, but I’m sure more will be added in future games. With that being said though, it’s a nice little touch that adds even more authenticity to an already great looking game bursting with atmosphere.