Now an integral part of the football calendar, EA Sports FIFA is back in action on a gaming console or computer near you. This year’s edition, FIFA 17, is a splendid soccer gaming experience that we’ve delved into since its release. Here is our World Exclusive review of it on the PlayStation 4 console.
EA Sports has touted some of the new features of FIFA 17 more than others via their promotional material. Beyond the heavy hitters such as The Journey and Frostbite engine, the game is full of a slew of features that longtime players and soccer fans will appreciate. These are the ones that popped up to us as being the most significant.
The Journey – FIFA enters the role play sphere of gaming by letting you play as a youth player, Alex Hunter, in his quest for football stardom. Utterly addictive!
Frostbite Game Engine – The game engine behind the Battlefield series, Star Wars: Battlefront, Mass Effect, and EA Sports PGA Tour is now the code behind EA Sports FIFA. The result is both visually stunning and arguably the most realistic football simulation to date.
Real World Managers – Real life players including their likenesses and mannerisms have long been a staple of the FIFA series. EA Sports started introducing the managerial counterparts in their 2014 World Cup Brasil offering. FIFA 17 now has an invasion of them including football boss icons Jose Mourinho, Arsene Wenger and Pep Guardiola. Basic sideline antics are included in most cases.
More Managerial Responsibility – Manager Mode in FIFA now include responsibility for the club’s worth, Brand Exposure and Youth Development. Coupled with everything else carried over from FIFA 16, FIFA 17 now trends towards a football management game in Manager Mode more than ever. It’s not as in-depth as a full-fledged management game but can be played as one by beginners to that realm of gaming.
FIFA Ultimate Team Squad Building – We might be in the FIFA minority of being only occasional Ultimate Team players but we have noticed that the mode has introduced a series of Squad Building Challenges that involves tinkering with created teams to improve performance and earn extra rewards. Leicester City boss Claudio Ranieri would be proud.
Gameplay Evolution – The FIFA series has been on a six year upswing with great gameplay improvements since FIFA 10. FIFA 17 continues the trend with further gameplay evolution thanks to Frostbite. We’ll get into this later one as we delve into the title’s Set Piece Rewrite, Physical Play Overhaul, team defensive cohesiveness and updated skills move execution.
The EA Sports FIFA 17 menu maintains its very intuitive mosaic design of the past few years. FIFA regulars will be able to immediately find whatever they’re looking for upon starting up the game. Newcomers will be able to navigate through the game within minutes.
The only significant update to FIFA 17’s menu is a slimming down on what’s in the first menu screen that you see upon re-entering the game. The main mosaic contains the last mode that you played in (e.g. The Journey, Tournament Mode) and lets you continue in it. The second menu screen beyond that now has six titles containing the features that the game has noted you as using the most often.
EA Sports FIFA has had some of best graphics in the sports gaming business since the PS3 / XBox 360 days. The use of the Frostbite gaming engine in FIFA 17 has taken the title’s graphics to another level thanks to an amazing level of realness in both character and stadium appearances. Player motions and emotions have also benefitted from Frostbite to create freakishly lifelike virtual versions of many of the stars of world football.
Player faces are spot on for most well-known players in FIFA 17 thanks to EA Sports taking head scans of hundreds of players and managers from across the globe. From what we can tell the entire English Premier League has been the subject of this treatment along with the stars of all of Europe’s big leagues. Players from less popular leagues (e.g. MLS and the Scottish Premiership) are similar in appearance to their real-world counterparts for the most part and can be clearly made out about 50% of the time.
In-game overlays look great for FIFA 17’s many officially licensed leagues. The ones that stand out the most are those using the colorful new visual identity of the Premier League. EA Sports works them into matches better than anyone else of a visually appealing presentation that is colorful, assertive and, at times, informative. They’ve made use of the world’s most popular football league new million dollar look (it undoubtedly took that to develop) better than any broadcaster that we’ve seen EPL matches on.
Match play in FIFA 17 looks better than in the past thanks to its graphics improvement. Put the game in Dynamic camera view and you’ll think that you’re looking at a live match on television or online at times. Player and referee motions are extremely realistic and fluid both during play and during in-match cut scenes and highlights for a fantastic and immersive visual experience.
Available to listen to at any time on Spotify, the EA Sports FIFA 17 soundtrack brings a slew of catchy jams from a few well-known artists and a host of up and comers from around the world. Chart-toppers such as Bastille, Beck Capital Cities and Zedd have tracks on the FIFA 17 playlist. The alternative rock radio favorites Bishop Briggs, Empire of the Sun and Tourist are also present along with acts that we expect to hear more of soon. The music is in FIFA’s tradition of being new, entertaining and motivating.
Martin Tyler and Alan Smith are back doing play by play analysis for EA Sports FIFA 17. Their repertoire is very similar to that of FIFA 16 (there’s not that much you can realistically do with commentary) with some new lines thrown in. There is also an increase in relevant anecdotes regarding players and team form in the games. This includes debuts by new players, goal scoring droughts, team performance over the course of time and areas in which clubs may be excelling (e.g. top defensive or scoring records in a league).
Tyler’s and Smith’s commentary in The Journey is a combination of their typical in-game coverage and analysis of Alex Hunter’s performance, form and history. It’s a nice piece of customization for the most significant addition to the EA Sports FIFA franchise in some time.
Teams and Leagues
Think of a domestic league in Europe and it has a good chance of being in EA Sports FIFA 17. All of the big ones are there including the English Premier League, Spanish La Liga, Italian Serie A (not licensed as Serie A but with all of the teams included), German Bundesliga, French Ligue 1 and Portuguese Primeira Liga. Of these the Premier League takes top billing with all twenty of the competition’s stadiums represented in vivid detail. Chants and stadium atmospheres are also captured well for all of Europe’s big clubs and for all of the Premier League’s sides. The Premier League experience is so well done and such a focus of FIFA 17 that the game could be called “Premier League 17”. With the top four divisions in England and authentic overlays for the FA and EFL Cups all part of FIFA 17, the game is an English soccer lover’s delight.
The best known and popular leagues from outside Europe are in FIFA 17 for the most part. The one exception if the Campeonato Brasileiro Série A. The league is present in the form of the “Liga do Brasil” that has all of Série A’s clubs except for giants Corinthians and Flamengo who have signed exclusivity deals to be in Pro Evolution Soccer. Beyond Brazil, the Chilean, Colombian and Argentine top divisions are present for a slice of South America’s premier domestic tournaments.
Asia is represented via the Korean K League Classic, Australian A-League, Saudi Pro League and, finally, the region’s most popular league – the Japanese J1 League! Gamba Osaka’s Suita City Football Stadium is J1’s first ever ground to be included in FIFA.
In all there are over 30 leagues on offer in FIFA 17. Throw in no less than 47 national men’s teams (though a bit heavier of the European side) and 14 national women’s teams and you’ve got enough sides to choose from for league, cup and custom tournament action until FIFA 18 comes around next September.
The Journey was the focus of EA Sports’ marketing campaign for FIFA 17 ahead of the title’s launch. While it is not the be all and end all in FIFA 17 by far, The Journey takes soccer gaming into the popular realm of first person role playing. It’s a nice addition that follows a somewhat linear storyline with characters played by real world actors.
Harry Kane (Tottenham Hotspur), Angel Di Maria (Paris Saint-Germain), James Rodriguez (Real Madrid) and FIFA 17 cover and splash screen athlete Marco Reus (Borussia Dortmund) make cameos in the The Journey complete with dialog using their own voices. Kane and Reus action as “Authenticity Consultants” for the Journey along with Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford (Manchester United), Eden Hazard (Chelsea) and Delle Alli (Tottenham). This does say quite a bit about the research put into The Journey given the recent ascents of most of these players from the youth ranks.
In a nutshell, The Journey lets you play as young attacking player Alex Hunter from an FA trial for aspiring players and throughout his first season as a professional player (assuming you can get him past the trial). Even a modest performance in the FA audition will get you offers from Premier League club where you start in the reserves. As in real life, every practice session will determine where you stand in the club player hierarchy. Do well in the countless FIFA 17 drills that comprise practices (two per session) and Hunter can earn a spot on the substitute’s bench during a North American pre-season tour. From thereon Hunter’s practice (graded from A TO F per drills) and match (using FIFA’s usual match rating scale of 1 to 10) performances will determine if he continues to see match action or not. Despite good runs in the first team and leading the Premier League in goals it does seem inevitable that FIFA 17’s coaches will send him down to The Championship. During our run with The Journey we saw Hunter sign with Leicester City, go on loan to Newcastle United, be recalled to Leicester and ultimately earn a starting spot over Jamie Vardy. This year’s incarnation of what will probably be part of the FIFA series from now on ends with Hunter earning an England call-up.
The Journey is goes beyond the football pitch by incorporating elements of family drama (humble beginnings, a struggling mom, an absent father and a former star player’s grandfather), a strained friendship, endorsements and a stream of opinions via Twitter. From the time you enter the game mode you get engrossed in it as you carefully navigate training, match time, post-match interviews and manager interactions to keep Hunter progressing through the ranks of the Premier League and Championship. The Journey is absorbing and hard to step away from once you start it. Even though its ending is somewhat anti-climactic, the road to the end of The Journey’s maiden voyage is utterly addictive.
With the days of EA Sports FIFA 17 gameplay overhauls now seemingly behind us in favor to tweaking and evolving a solid engine that dates back to FIFA 10, the latest incarnation of FIFA brings what we think is the titles best gameplay to date. The gameplay of FIFA 17 can best be described as more refined and realistic than ever before. Let’s get into the title’s key gameplay features for more detail.
The tried and tested level system of the FIFA series (Beginner, Amateur, Semi-Pro, Professional, World Class, Legendary) remains intact in FIFA 17. The difficulty setting of each is the more or less the same as over the past three years. If you’re a neophyte them Amateur is a good place to start. If you’re a seasoned FIFA player then we recommend going straight to Professional level if you want a challenge unless you decide want to consistently win with a two or three star team. Semi-Pro is the place to go for the latter. Winning more than one off matches in World Class and Legendary levels remains only for the skilled FIFA games and definitely not for the faint of heart.
A product of what EA Sports calls its Active Intelligence System. The feature is intended to bring constant spatial analysis, increased activity off the ball, and improvements in the way players move, read, and react. The result is better support for your player when he or she is on the ball in offence. There always seems to be a decent short or lateral back pass options and a seemingly infinite amount of supporting runs. We’ve also seen dummies in the midfield more than ever before with midfield generals like Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson letting the ball pass by them to go to team mates in better positions.
Midfielders work on offence more than ever before in FIFA 17 and often end up scoring more goals per competition that forwards. Play with FIFA’s “Counter Attack” or “High Pressure” option and you’ll have at least two midfielders making smart runs in support of ever a three striker attacking line.
FIFA 17 offers the best player control via the left joystick that we’ve seen. It is a full 360 degree experience that sees players react naturally and as intended with even small movements of the joystick. Executing skills moves is still hit or miss and requires practice to pull off. Player technical footwork abilities are in line with the real world. That means that you’re more likely beat a defender with a step over as Lionel Messi instead of some random MLS forward.
In a continuation of FIFA 16’s “Confidence in Defending” update that say defenses in the game work as true, cohesive units, FIFA 17 adds what EA Sports calls a “Physical Play Overhaul”. The key features of it are a 360° shield dribble that lets defenders use their bodies to keep attackers off the balls (it also works but a little less effectively for attackers protecting the ball from defenders) and a higher level of physical play across the field. The latter sees full body jostling for the ball (hips, bottoms and multi-directional leaning included) when the ball is both on the ground and in the air.
Perhaps because of the Active Intelligence System that we mentioned above, defending is far from of a one on one affair in FIFA 17. Miss a tackle and expect support from another defender or midfielder who is seemingly anticipating your opponent’s next pass. This makes for some welcomed interceptions to break up plays. This makes FIFA 17 an ideal game for players who like to grind out matches with a solid defense and counterattacking soccer. It’s been working wonderfully for Chelsea FC in the real world this year. Why not use it in a footie simulation.
A setback or maybe realistic update in EA Sports FIFA 17 is that the new Holding Tackle move that entered the game last time out is less effective now. In FIFA 16 you would press the square button (on a PS4) to jostle with an attacker via shirt pulling and shoulder blocking. Its effectiveness was very good last time out but this has diminished in FIFA 17. The Holding Tackle now allows fullbacks to slow down attackers on the wings and sometimes strip the ball from them. However the success rate of doing so is now below 50%.
FIFA 17 has a brand new penalty kick system that is unlike any of its previous incarnations. You’ve now got to control of angle of the player run-up, the direction of the ball and the force imparted onto it. This all has to be done with the ultra-sensitive left joystick and shooting button. It is now easy at all to master and requires extensive practice. Expect lots of weak penalties that go off course or spot kicks flying wildly to the left or right of the goal until you figure the new system out.
Corners are improve via a new targeting system that adds precision to where the kicker taker delivers the ball. This is accomplished via a small yellow circle that the player moves around with the left joystick. Pick the spot where the ball is to be delivered and switch to a player in the vicinity of where the balls lands and you can score some nice headers.
There is enough in EA Sports FIFA 17 to keep even a hardcore soccer gamer busy until FIFA 18 drops in September 2017. The Journey is addictive. Career Mode will have you playing until your thumbs are sore and wanting to try multiple stints as an English Premier League manager. Tournament Mode is great for a quick run while the Women’s International Cup continues to grow. Then you’ve got a game within the game through Ultimate Team.
Visually stunning, full of licenses, immersive, possessing fantastic gameplay and a great introduction to what we expect to be a continuing saga in The Journey, EA Sports FIFA 17 continues what has become a tradition of excellence in soccer gaming.
Gameplay: 9.5 /10
Graphics: 9.5 /10
User Interface: 9.5/ 10
Realism: 10 / 10
Longevity: 10 / 10