After months of deliberation, I decided to go ahead and buy FIFA for the PlayStation 4, and why not? My obsession with football grows year after year, and despite my initial hesitance to buy FIFA 18, I couldn't help myself. I just hoped that it would be better than last year, and up to par with its competitor.
The first point that was noticeable to me was how much quicker this game was than recent FIFA games. I've played every game in the series for well over a decade now, and the pace and fluidity of games is definitely as smooth as I can remember it being. It's enjoyable, sure, but it feels too arcade-like to be taken seriously. What I love about PES 2018’s gameplay is that it picks up on all the little subtleties of modern football - the tactical battles, controlling the midfield, organising your defence, and utilising the in-depth tactics to your advantage. It feels like all of these nuances of the beautiful game are missing in FIFA in favour of unparalleled, yet unrealistic attacking flair. Passes feel far too assisted and midfield players lack the discipline to do their jobs. If I was to compare a player like N’Golo Kanté on FIFA and PES, I would be confident in saying that he feels special in PES, and that his defensive midfield role actually matters, whereas FIFA makes him feel like your average run-of-the-mill midfielder. Could you replace him with two attacking midfielders and not miss his influence? Probably, yeah.
Shooting is also a huge problem for me. You can score some absolutely remarkable goals from all kinds of improbable distances and angles, and therein lies the problem: realism. Goalkeepers are beaten numerous times with a finesse shot from the edge of the box, and the defensive setup feels somewhat compromised when the game is heavily unbalanced in favour of attacking play. This will certainly cater to some people and there is no doubt it can be great fun to play with mates as the 4-3 and 5-4 scores lead to some nail-biting and intense moments. When I play Pro Clubs as a centre-back, frustration comes from the difficulty in keeping clean sheets, moreso the manner of not being able to keep them.
The menus are more of what you would expect, and have been so for a few years now. I don't have a problem with this, I think they look sharp enough and are certainly head and shoulders above their competition. Everything EA touches when it comes to presentation oozes class, they have a great track record in recent FIFA games and rarely get it wrong. The pre-match animations are superb as well, by far the best I've experienced. There's a new pre-match animation where instead of seeing player names on the screen, your selected players will walk up to the camera and present themselves as if you are watching a real match. The lighting and stadium detail is a large part of that, and EA have stepped up in this regard. Night games feel special, and the level of detail in things like the grass, the vanishing spray, and skid marks from sliding tackles are all minor details that cannot and should not be overlooked.
My favourite game mode over the last four or five FIFA games has to be Pro Clubs, and has sometimes been the only reason I've continued to persist with the series. It's a fantastic game mode but it always leaves me wanting more. This year, you can add an away kit to your created strip, and the pre-match menu system has had a huge overhaul where you can select set-piece takers before a game. Perhaps the biggest change in Pro Clubs is that you have three ‘play styles’ to choose from. For instance your first play style could be a 6’2” powerhouse striker, your second a zippy 5’8” winger, and the third could be commanding 6’4” centre-back. Each will have points and traits assigned by yourself, and it makes things so much easier than before, where you had to go through the player menu to change positions. All of these changes are welcomed, but I would love to make the club feel more authentic by having a transfer market, where you can buy computer players to fill your team. I would also like to see a creation suite where you can create a stadium, build a fanbase, make money as a football club, and really feel like you're building a team from scratch. Maybe that's a pipe dream, but how cool would that be? And it wouldn't be impossible to implement, either.
EA’s cash cow, Ultimate Team makes a return once again, and it is by far FIFA’s most popular game mode. Trading on the transfer market and buying packs never fails to be exciting, and picking up a Team of the Week player, or getting packs by winning tournaments gives players plenty of reasons to progress. Building a great team with 100 chemistry is very rewarding, and challenging your mates to games to see who has the best squad is what football games should be about.
Going on from the off-field positives of Pro Clubs and Ultimate Team, I now have to mention the CPU and how infuriating they can be in this game mode. They can't pass you the ball unless they are facing you, and what appears to happen on a regular occurrence is that they'll end up jockeying the opponent while they are the ones in possession! They lose the ball far too frequently and the goalkeepers can be put in the same category when it comes to giving away needless goals. Chipping the goalies when they're off their line, or goals coming from finesse shots from outside are the chief flaws with goalkeepers.
However, for fans of The Journey, you’ll be pleased to find out that Alex Hunter returns in The Journey 2, offering players the chance to continue the story from where it left off in FIFA 17. The story does have more depth to it, but in certain situations the dialogue is vague and meaningless. All in all though, EA have taken steps in the right direction as the overall experience with Alex Hunter feels more intense and global. You can choose to continue from where you left off last year, or start from scratch. There are also interactions with the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, as well as voice acting from Rio Ferdinand in a sequence where he interviews Alex. You can also sample Brazil and the futsal style of the game when FIFA Street makes a return. On a side note, I would love to see FIFA Street return as a solo title in the future.
FIFA 18 (Reviewed on PlayStation 4)
This game is good, with a few negatives.
FIFA 18 is certainly an upgrade on FIFA 17 and undoubtedly the franchise is going in the right direction, but with the same flaws still remaining it is hard to solely focus on the positives. The game needs balancing out as far too much of the game is focused on attacking, rather than the grittier and more tactical side of football. FIFA 18 is superb to look at with the slick menus, pre-match changes, vast licences, wonderfully represented stadiums, and player images, but changes to its gameplay are a necessity for me. Having played PES 2018 and FIFA 18 this year, I can comfortably say PES takes the award for being the best football game, but FIFA still has the greater depth to it, and is the more sociable game of the two.