Is FIFA 18 the massive improvement we all expected it to be?
FIFA 18 is probably the best FIFA game I have played in the last five to six years. But what’s interesting is that it isn’t as good as it is because of a new game mode, or new headline-grabbing features, or because of extreme technical proficiency. This is perhaps the least ambitious this series has been in a long time, there’s no doubt about that, but FIFA 18 still makes a number of changes. Granted, most of them are small improvements and polishing jobs, but all these little changes and a few big ones come together in an excellent way to elevate both the on and off pitch action to an entirely new level. FIFA 18 is more of an evolution than a revolution, and chooses to build on what’s come before rather than re-invent the wheel, but thanks to a number of smart changes and small yet significant improvements, this is, at least up until this point in time, the ultimate realization of the FIFA formula.
Unlike recent years, there isn’t any single new feature or addition in FIFA 18 to speak off right off the bat, like there has been in the past in the cases of Ultimate Team and The Journey, for instance. However, both on and off the pitch, there’s still plenty to talk about. On the pitch, FIFA 18 is a much slower, much more methodical game than most of its predecessors, and this slowing down of gameplay, similar to what has been done in Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer series this year as well, actually helps the moment-to-moment gameplay a great deal more than you’d expect. Rather than being all about pace and outrunning the opposition defence, matches in FIFA 18 are now played in the midfield.
Taking your time with the ball, spotting your free teammates and stringing together passing moves is more of a focus in this year’s game, giving each match a tactical, methodical feel. No longer does a winning strategy boil down to putting speedsters such as Bale or Rashford on the wings and amping up the pace of your game whenever you get the chance. With the midfield much more important in FIFA 18 than it has ever been in the past, you now have to actually think about the way you set up your teams, about going with a combination of the best passers, the strongest players, and the fastest runners. No longer is every match all about attack- when the opposition has the ball, they’re dangerous with it, and the AI is just as capable of stringing together fluid and slick moves in build ups to wonder goals as you are.
"FIFA 18 is more of an evolution than a revolution, and chooses to build on what’s come before rather than re-invent the wheel, but thanks to a number of smart changes and small yet significant improvements, this is, at least up until this point in time, the ultimate realization of the FIFA formula."
Everything is just smoother. From the passing and the crosses to the dribbling and the shooting, FIFA 18 makes minor tweaks and fine adjustments here and there in all areas, and while none of these changes are going to make any headlines, they all come together to make the game feel truly authentic and extremely engaging. Passing is smooth and accurate, so one-touch passing moves are now more satisfying to pull off than ever, while the dribbling is probably the best it has ever been in the series till date, thanks to a number of new animations.
And that’s the beauty of FIFA 18 too- as much as the on-pitch action has been slowed down and made more tactical, the game is just as capable of providing moments of bombastic magic as its predecessors ever were- even more so, in fact. Wonder goals are much more common in this year’s game than they’ve ever been. Rocket shots from outside of the box, volleys, half-volleys, bicycle kicks, scissor kicks and what have you, are all much less rare in FIFA 18 and much easier to pull off as well. The upside is that you get to see a lot more of these goals than you normally would, both on your side and the opposition’s. Sure, wonder goals are glorious to behold and even better to score, but when they’re as common as they have become in FIFA 18, they kind of lose their value after a while.
It’s thanks to all these seemingly minor changes and improvements that FIFA 18 is probably the most engaging FIFA game in a long, long time. In the past few years, the series had become more and more about the pace in its gameplay, to make things more exciting and adrenaline-fuelled, and a by-product of this was that much of the game devolved into a single-minded drive to score and do nothing but score. Thanks to the slowing down of the on-pitch action in FIFA 18, you actually care about building up your own play, about picking the best passes, about playing football for more than just scoring goals, and as a result, you become much more involved in all the other aspects of playing a match as well. The football in FIFA 18 is authentic and addictive, and the fact that it makes you want to play beautiful football more than it makes you want to outscore your opponent is probably its biggest accomplishment. I mean, sure, the sport of football is ultimately all about outscoring your opponents, when you really think about it, but FIFA 18 makes you more involved in every second of every match than past FIFA games have managed. 1-1 matches are now just as engaging and immersive as 4-4 thrillers.
FIFA 18 follows the same philosophy off the pitch as it does on it- one of evolution rather than revolution. Last year’s game made the headlines thanks to its flashy new story focused mode called The Journey, and this year, FIFA 18 gives players the chance to play through its sequel, to see how rising star Alex Hunter’s career’s second season plays out. If you enjoyed the dramatic and charming story of the young football star’s rise to fame in FIFA 17, you’re almost guaranteed to enjoy his second season as well. There’s more of everything that made his debut stand out last year- smart writing, likeable characters, and a genuine love for the sport that has been crammed into every second of the experience.
"If you enjoyed the dramatic and charming story of the young football star’s rise to fame in FIFA 17’s The Journey, you’re almost guaranteed to enjoy his second season as well. There’s more of everything that made his debut stand out last year- smart writing, likeable characters, and a genuine love for the sport that has been crammed into every second of the experience."
But if you’re expecting The Journey Returns to capitalize on the amazing potential of its predecessor and turn into a beast of its own, then you might come away disappointed. Many of the flaws that plagued the mode in last year’s game are still present here, while not many demanded improvements have been made. A lot of the cutscene animations are choppy, lip syncing is often hilariously bad, choices made by players still mean next to nothing, and a lot of the times the dialogue choices are meaningless, with all of them ultimately saying the same thing, but in different words and different tones. The end result is that while this year’s The Journey still feels like a story worth experience for any and all football enthusiasts out there, it also feels like a serious letdown. Having set up a solid foundation last year, EA Sports could have made The Journey something truly special in FIFA 18, but rather than making some much needed improvements and fixing a lot of significant issues, Alex Hunter’s second season plays it disappointingly safe.
Don’t get me wrong, The Journey is still a blast, and FIFA 18 gets a lot of points for weaving a genuinely interesting story around a well-written and likeable protagonist, with appearances from superstars such as Rio Ferdinand and Cristiano Ronaldo to keep football aficianados hooked as well, but then again, that was all true a year ago as well. Sometimes more is indeed better, but after such a strong debut season, maybe I just expected something even more, something truly special from Alex Hunter’s second season.
Perhaps the most significant improvements in the entire game – at least off the pitch – can be found in the career mode. The one element that is perhaps one of the most fundamental to the career mode is transfers, and thankfully, transfers have received a major facelift in FIFA 18. In earlier installments of the series, transfers were mostly about having to read through drab and repetitive boxes of text, and gave players very limited and rudimentary options while negotiating deals. This year, though, while trying to sign a player, FIFA 18 puts players in the middle of actual cutscenes showing negotiations and conversations between managers, agents, and players, and gives you many more options to customize or renegotiate your offers. You can now add sell on clauses or release clauses, for instance, and all of this back and forth is done through dialogue choices in actual cutscenes. This is, of course, ultimately a very superficial change, as the basic mechanics of the transfer system are fundamentally very much the same, but this upgrade elevates the sense of immersion and authenticity, which is something that the entire manager mode benefits from a great deal.
Being part of actual face-to-face negotiations and seeing yourself seated in the same room as superstars such as Raphael Varane or Neymar while being locked in intense transfer dealings with their agents adds a great deal of authenticity and excitement to the proceedings. Of course, after having sat through four of five of these negotiations, things might start getting monotonous and lose a lot of their initial appeal and shiny splendour, but the improvements are appreciated nonetheless. Regardless, it needs to be pointed out that the quality of these transfer cutscenes it often below-par, with choppy animations, weird facial animations, and the lack of voice acting (which, of course, is understandable, given how many players and managers and agents these cutscenes have to portray, but the lack of it still cannot be ignored).
"You’ll be seeing everything from flags and banners to scarfs and flashlights and hear all the best as well as the newest chants and shouts in all the stadiums, and all of it contributes greatly towards making FIFA 18 feel as authentic, exciting, and flashy as it does, while the commentary remains as fantastic as ever."
On the presentation side of things, FIFA continues to be the absolute master in terms of flashiness and technical proficiency in the sports simulation genre. The menus, which already looked sleek and sharp, have been cleaned up even further, while FIFA 18 also continues to benefit from the extremely powerful Frostbite engine, just as its predecessor did. The visuals are sharp and uncannily lifelike at times, with excellent lighting, generally good character models, and brilliant animations. You get to see all the camera angles and replays that you would expect to see in an actual football match on the television, while the crowds themselves are much more involved and realistic than ever before. You’ll be seeing everything from flags and banners to scarfs and flashlights and hearing all the best as well as the newest chants and shouts in all the stadiums, and all of it contributes greatly towards making FIFA 18 feel as authentic, exciting, and flashy as it does. The commentary, too, remains as fantastic as ever.
Unfortunately, players will still come across the kind of glitches and technical issues that the FIFA series has come to be known for over the years. Everything from miscued commentary shouts and instances of jerky and abrupt animations to frame rate drops and collision bugs is still very much an issue in FIFA 18, and these are all immersion-breaking moments. In a game that is as well-made as FIFA 18, you’d expect such issues to be the least persistent, and yet that doesn’t seem to be the case. Of course, these aren’t issues that happen often enough to break the game, but they do happen often enough to stand out in memory and bring down the experience a notch or two.
Unlike many FIFA iterations in the past few years, FIFA 18 doesn’t have any marquee features to boast of, no new modes to advertise, no major new mechanics to change the way you play the game. It builds on what’s come before, and what it does have is a number of improvements and changes, most of them small, some of them big, all of which comes together for an experience that is not very dissimilar from what we’ve already seen in the past years, but one that is undoubtedly better. FIFA 18 won’t change the way you look at FIFA games, but if you’ve been playing and enjoying the series for a long time like I have, then you will definitely grow to appreciate FIFA 18 as the ultimate realization of the current FIFA formula.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 4.
A number of changes big and small all make for a truly refined experience; The Journey portrays an interesting and well-written year in the life of Alex Hunter; Transfers in the career mode have received an incredible overhaul; Beautiful visuals and top-notch production values; Presentation is as stylish and authentic as ever; Matches are much more engaging and tactical than ever before.
The Journey is a solid sequel, but plays it too safe; Wonder goals have lost some of their value thanks to how common they are now; Frame rate drops and technical bugs and glitches.
Several changes big and small come together in a game that may not be the most revolutionary, but is probably the best FIFA we've seen in years.