FIFA 19 makes some significant improvements on the pitch.
EA Sports’ FIFA franchise has been making incremental improvements on and off the pitch with each of its successive instalments for several years running, and with FIFA 19, it’s done it yet again. But while FIFA games for the last few years have been all about making the game fast and the on-pitch action much quicker in pace and tempo, FIFA 19 consciously makes the decision of slowing things down quite a bit, and focusing on other areas of the on-pitch action where previous instalments haven’t focused quite as much- and it’s that much better for it.
Not to take anything away from the pure enjoyment of the blistering pace of FIFA 18 or its immediate predecessors, but in having the pace dialled back a bit in this year’s game, FIFA 19 makes for a more thoughtful and methodical experience on the pitch. Most of that is done by de-emphasizing players’ pace stat. While in earlier iterations, bombing down the wings with a pacey winger and simply outrunning the opposition defenders often proved to be the ultimate cure-all, that is no longer the case this time around. Runners still run, and they run quite fast, but can be caught up with by the opposition much more easily now. What this means is that playing through the midfield and building an attack by passing into space and playing clever chips or through balls is much more important than it has been in years.
"FIFA 19 consciously makes the decision of slowing things down quite a bit, and focusing on other areas of the on-pitch action where previous instalments haven’t focused quite as much- and it’s that much better for it."
Not only does it make for a more realistic and authentic experience, it also simply demands more attention from you as a player. Not just because you need to build proper passing moves and steadily build up to goals, but also because doing that isn’t quite as easy as it used to be. Automated correction of passes sent out by you is reduced significantly in FIFA 19- simply tapping the pass button and pointing your analog stick in a rough direction doesn’t quite cut it as much anymore. The game requires more input from you, asking you to be more careful about the placement and power of your passes. It’s not 1:1, and doesn’t demand absolute pinpoint accuracy from you, but instead strikes a solid balance between self-correction on one hand, and skill from the player on the other.
Other areas of the on-pitch action have seen improvements as well, all of which work together to tone down previous iterations’ arcade-y feel and give FIFA 19 more of a push toward authenticity. Scoring from awkward angles or with desperate lunges for out-of-reach crosses and balls is suitably unlikely where earlier it used to happen with far more regularity, while how well a player receives the ball is far more dependant on variables such as the direction, pace, and angle of the pass, rather than on an arbitrary skill or attribute rating. Much of that also depends on the strength of the players in question, with physicality being more emphasized this time around. Players seem to be far more willing to tussle for the ball in physical battles, and are always looking to muscle each other off the ball (this works with the de-emphasized pace quite effectively, too).
Passes go wayward, shots can be inaccurate, and first touches are messed up, all with far more accuracy, introducing unpredictable moments of failure that are down to variables that mostly make sense. Goalkeepers also behave more realistically, sometimes reaching out with lunging dives to save shots with their fingertips, but in this area, FIFA 19 is still a bit inconsistent. At times goalkeepers might stand simply still and let a shot fly right past their head, while at other times they might end up making saves they had no right to make. Still, compared to what we’ve seen in some of the more recent FIFA titles, that inconsistency is far less glaringly apparent. Timed finishing is also a new element that has been thrown into the mix this year, which essentially lets you to press the shoot button a second time right before your player makes contact with the ball for a shot. Time it right, and shots become much more powerful, get it wrong, and the results are disastrous- ultimately, it doesn’t prove to be worth the effort though, because the risk seems too high, and regular shooting still seems to work just fine.
"Playing through the midfield and building an attack by passing into space and playing clever chips or through balls is much more important than it has been in years."
Presentation has always been FIFA’s strong suit, delivering the kind of loud and buzzing atmosphere in simulated games that you’d usually expect from real-life matchday fixtures, and in that regard, FIFA 19 is no different. Stadiums and players look just as amazing and lifelike as they always have (though players still all have that cold, dead look in their eyes). Stadiums in particular sport looks and atmospheres that are recreated very faithfully, and the likes of Old Trafford, Anfield, Allianz Arena, and Parc des Princess (to name just a few of the big boys, and to say nothing of all the rest), each come with chants, banners, and colours that are extremely reminiscent of their real life counterparts. Crowds still look very much out of place with their weirdly sculpted faces and limited and static animations, but at least they sound good and loud.
In big matches, when the floodlights come on and the crowds start singing well-known chants, or loudly react to screaming 25 yard shots flying into the top corner of the net, it makes for a truly immersive experience. Sadly, FIFA 19’s frame rate struggles to keep up with its solid presentation and visuals. Frame rate drops are frequent, and they’re quite noticeable too. Significant frame rate drops would be a grievance in any game, but in a game that is as reaction based as FIFA, (or any other sports simulation title, for that matter), it becomes even more of an issue. The game also has a few bugs here and there, and while most of them are of the minor kind that fans of the series would be used to by now, such as clipped and sudden animations here and there (especially when it comes to the managers on the touchlines), one in particular caused my game to freeze completely on two occasions (both times in Career Mode), forcing me to restart the game both times.
Overall, then, on the pitch, FIFA 19 is a marked upgrade. It’s a more realistic and immersive experience, demanding more involvement, thought, and input from the player. But while the on-pitch side of the game has benefited from obvious improvements, off the pitch, those improvements are harder to find, which is quite surprising for a FIFA game. The obvious additions have to be mentioned first and foremost, of course. The UEFA license has crossed over from Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer games to greener pastures over at EA Sports, and FIFA 19 does this behemoth of a license the justice it deserves. Champions League matches seem like proper events, with all the pomp and panache you’d expect from the competition to go along with them, and the new commentary team assigned to all UEFA games, comprising of Derek Rae and Lee Dixon, also does great work.
"While the on-pitch side of the game has benefited from obvious improvements, off the pitch, those improvements are harder to find, which is quite surprising for a FIFA game."
Beyond the marquee signing of the European license, however, FIFA 19 doesn’t make too many headline additions. Career Mode, disappointingly enough, remains virtually unchanged. It’s the one area where EA Sports’ annual franchise has been lacking for several years running now, in spite of the fact that so many people pour dozens upon dozens of hours into the mode. After a few steps in the right direction over the last couple years, many would have hoped that EA Sports would continue improving Career Mode further still, but at least for now, they seem to have plateaued.
The other major pillar of FIFA in terms of modes, The Journey, returns as well, with Alex Hunter and company taking their final bow to wrap up their story, and it’s pretty much what you’d expect after the last two years. In terms of writing and what it shows and where the story takes you, its love and devotion for the sport is clear for all to see. Things such as good acting performances and genuinely interesting and often dramatic turns in the story continue to be The Journey’s strengths, but by that same token, other things such as inconsistent pacing and off-field narrative choices that don’t really make much of a difference at all are still its weaknesses. If you enjoyed The Journey in FIFA 17 and FIFA 18, you’ll like the final chapter in Alex Hunter’s story- just don’t expect it to blow your socks off.
The one area where FIFA 19 does make notable improvements is in its Kick-Off mode. While earlier it amounted to little more than cut and dry exhibition matches, things have been spiced up quite a bit this year. Not only can you play in Champions League or Europa League matches of any stage as one-off games as part of Kick-Off, or even play a Best-of series of games, the addition of the new House Rules also ensures that you can make things a bit more whacky in regular matches if you choose to do so. Thanks to House Rules, one variant of Kick-Off, called Survival, makes it so that every time a team scores a goal, they randomly have a player sent off, while No Rules matches let you play an entire game of football without having to worry about offsides, fouls, or anything else FIFA considers “illegal”. Then there’s a variant that only counts goals that are scored from headers and volleys, yet another kind that only counts goals that are scored from outside the box, and a final one that allows you to set “First to” rules (first to x number of goals wins).
"The one area where FIFA 19 does make notable improvements is in its Kick-Off mode. While earlier it amounted to little more than cut and dry exhibition matches, things have been spiced up quite a bit this year."
Each variant is unique and an absolute blast, and brings completely different styles and elements of play to the forefront. No Rules matches are absolute chaos, with bone-breaking tackles flying lose left, right, and centre, and players making ridiculous runs with no offsides to worry about, while Survival adds actual tactical thinking to the game in unique ways, where sometimes, for instance, it’s advantageous to concede a couple goals early on to then have the advantage of having more players on the field for the rest of the match. House Rules add much needed variety to Kick-Off games, and prove to be perfect pick-up-and-play experiences for when you’re not looking to jump into FIFA 19’s meatier and more time-consuming modes. The fact that the duo of Martin Tyler and Alan Smith has also recorded lines of commentary specific to each of these kinds of matches is an added bonus, with plenty of hilariously analytical and serious remarks coming from them about things that are completely outlandish in the world of professional football. The one disappointment that needs to be mentioned is that these matches can only be played offline- their lack of inclusion from online matchmaking, especially considering how much of a blast they are, is nothing short of baffling.
In many ways, then, FIFA 19 is what most people would have expected it to be. It’s an incremental upgrade over its predecessors- but it’s in how it makes those upgrades that it differs from what’s come before. While in the last few years, FIFA games have been focused on making flashy, headline improvements in terms of modes or presentation, FIFA 19 instead chooses to make those improvements on the pitch. Off the pitch, there’s not quite as much to talk about (other than the excellent House Rules Kick-Off matches and the inclusion of the UEFA license), which is obviously a little disappointing, but thanks to a consciously slowed down pace, and much more involved and methodical on-pitch gameplay, FIFA 19 proves to be a solid upgrade, and an excellent simulation of the beautiful game.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 4.
Slower on-pitch gameplay makes for more authentic and involved matches; Demands more thought and input from the player; On-pitch action is more realistic than it has ever been; UEFA matches are brought to life wonderfully; Typically solid visuals and presentation; House Rules Kick-Off games are an absolute blast; The Journey is well-acted and mostly well-written.
Not a lot of major additions or improvements to speak of off the field; Career Mode is practically untouched; Pacing issues and illusion of choice in The Journey; House Rules matches not available online; A few bugs and technical hiccups; Frequent and noticeable frame rate drops.
While in the last few years, FIFA games have been focused on making flashy, headline improvements in terms of modes or presentation, FIFA 19 instead chooses to make those improvements on the pitch. Off the pitch, there's not quite as much to talk about (other than the excellent House Rules Kick-Off matches), which is obviously a little disappointing, but thanks to a consciously slowed down pace and much more involved and methodical on-pitch gameplay, FIFA 19 proves to be a solid upgrade, and an excellent simulation of the beautiful game.