Developer: EA Canada
Publisher: EA Sports
Release Date: 29/09/2017
Format(s): PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC

Another year, another FIFA game – no one really needs an introduction to it… I mean, even my Nan knows what FIFA is.

Whilst FIFA has enjoyed domination over the video game market this generation though, PES has been hot on its heels with the last two editions of the game in particular showing that it’s more than capable of pipping EA’s superstar franchise as the ‘King of the footballing sims’. Still, a lot of it comes down to personal preference, but in my eyes FIFA 18 wins the crown of this year’s best football game thanks to its new gameplay innovations, fantastic story mode, the enhancements to transfers in Manager mode, as well as the fact it’s well-presented and fully licenced.

FIFA 18

Last year’s FIFA saw the introduction of a story mode with ‘The Journey’, and it has returned this year to see the continuation of Alex Hunter’s rise as a football superstar. It’s just as good as before and it really proves that story modes are going to be a pivotal part of sports sims from now on – I mean, even Madden has joined in on the action this year with its fantastic ‘Longshot’ story, so anything is possible.

This time around Alex Hunter has hit the worldwide stage and has to deal with the pressure of a big transfer and the repercussions when that transfer doesn’t quite go to plan. I wondered how EA could really push the story forward as a whole without it feeling forced, yet they’ve managed it by throwing a whole new scenario your way that’s both believable and tells a good story. It’s not all about the football either, and that’s what makes it so special – you dictate everything both on and off the pitch, and these decisions you make don’t just shape Alex Hunter’s career but also his life. It’s a really fantastic effort and has got me itching to see what FIFA 19 will end up bringing as far as the narrative is concerned.

FIFA 18

Manager mode has also seen some improvements, with the transfer system being completely revamped so that the player gets a more hands on and authentic role in proceedings. This means meeting up with other managers (a lot of whom are perfectly re-created from their real-life counterparts) and working out each transfer deal before meeting up with the player and their agent to discuss a contract. There’s plenty to take into consideration too, including the likes of signing-on fees, bonuses, and release clauses – it’s certainly not as straight forward as it has been in previous FIFA games.

It really adds an extra feeling of authenticity to the experience though, which is something I can really appreciate seeing as the Manager mode is my favourite way to play FIFA. The only issue I had with it was that it took away from some of the drama of seeing if a transfer would go through or not – rather than seeing a transfer saga last days and bounce between agreements and disagreements as the deadline drew near, everything could be instead sorted swiftly in one day.

FIFA 18

Outside of the new transfer system, Manager mode also has a more dynamic and streamlined news system where you’ll see all the big headlines involving your club and the footballing world in a more well-presented fashion as you progress through the calendar. It’s a minor detail, but one that I loved; as I mentioned, Manager mode is my go-to thing in FIFA, so for it to have so many small yet appreciated improvements was perfect for me.

Besides the Manager mode and the story, fans can once again take part in the ever-popular Ultimate Team mode to get their fix of card-based footballing action. It’s more of the same that players are used to, though a few changes have been brought in to spice it up. You’ve got more Icons this year for example, but rather than just having one version of superstar players you can instead use them through different stages of their career. This means being able to take advantage of how good they were at different clubs. Would you prefer the Ronaldo from Barcelona or from his 2002 World Cup winning days with Brazil for example? The options are there.

FIFA 18

Additionally, Ultimate Team now also features Squad Battles that allow you to take on other players’ teams, but with the AI controlling them instead. I actually quite liked this feature – I’ve never been crazy about the Ultimate Team mode, but this felt like more of a single player focused challenge that I could partake in without feeling too inferior to my skilled opponent’s team of superstars.

All in all, if you loved Ultimate Team before, you’ll love it again now; if you hated it before though, you’re still going to hate it. I know with its focus on offering micro-transactions that it’s a polarising feature amongst gamers, and truth be told I’ve never been a massive fan of it myself. However, I also have friends who play nothing but the mode and absolutely love it. It’ll come down to what exactly the player wants – nothing in FIFA 18 is compulsory after all, and there are plenty of different ways to play the game.

FIFA 18

Besides the game modes themselves, FIFA 18 has also seen some refinements made to gameplay, though not to the same degree that it has been in previous years. This is a good thing though – I think FIFA 17 almost perfected the formula, so the fact that EA haven’t changed things drastically is ideal.

One of the most obvious of changes is the dribbling system, which allows you full 360-degree freedom in how you glide along the pitch with the ball. It’s no longer focused on fixed directions, but instead lets you hit almost any angle you want. It makes it easier to weave around players with the ball, but also looks a lot more realistic on the pitch. Crossing has been changed too, allowing the player to swing in balls through a variety of different ways. It feels a lot more accurate than ever before, with the player able to choose not only where to deliver the ball to but also how they do it. Footballers’ first touch has also been revamped to allow them a bit more control, giving the player a lot more freedom to decide what they want to do as soon as the ball is at their feet.

FIFA 18

Whilst these changes are fairly diverse, they don’t change gameplay up too much but instead just make everything feel a lot… well… better. Over the last few years EA have really managed to nail the way the footballing feels, so by making just a few changes to the formula rather than trying to re-invent the flow of everything they’ve managed to present the most refined and enjoyable entry in the series yet. I know that’s an easy statement to make when FIFA releases on a yearly basis, but it’s something I really believe.

Of course, with these changes comes my biggest bugbear with the FIFA games: defending. I’ve never been great at defending thanks to the authenticity and depth it offers (I grew up with just the two button defending, and by god I don’t want to change from it) but with the new flexible dribbling and crossing options you’ll quickly find yourself leaking in goals when up against silky attackers like Cristiano Ronaldo and Coutinho. Obviously, there are measures in place to combat it, but they’re not as accessible as the attacking options of the game; there’s a lot to defending and you’ll really need to get used to the controls if you want to hustle other players off the ball. This isn’t really a flaw though and after a few hours (an understatement) of playing the game I’m finally adjusting to it. Be warned though: you’ll really need to learn how to defend properly if you want to succeed in this year’s more attacking-focused edition of the game.

FIFA 18

One new feature of the game that deserves a mention is the Dynamic Substitutes. Now I’ve often found myself lazy when playing a match and only make substitutes when I absolutely need to just because I can’t be bothered to go to menu and sort it. I’m awful, I know. However, FIFA 18 allows you to make substitutions during breaks by simply pressing the R2 button to bring up recommended changes – it’ll show the energy levels of the player and makes a suggestion as to who should replace them, with the substitution then made with the simple press of a button. It’s such a small touch, but one that streamlines the process so much and makes it a lot easier for lazy folk like me to keep on top of their team. I’m sure I won’t be the only one to think this, but it’s actually one of the best improvements made to the game this year, if only for the convenience of it all. Bravo, EA!

As expected, everything looks fantastic visually with the players, stadiums, and overall match presentation itself looking incredibly authentic. It’s insane how much effort EA makes when presenting matches, with each one feeling like it’s coming straight from the TV – the Premier League, La Liga, and the MLS all have authentic presentation graphics in place too, so it’s almost as if you’re tuned into Sky Sports on a Saturday afternoon. It all looks fantastic though and proves that FIFA is once again the top dog when it comes to the presentation side of things, with the fully licenced teams and stadiums the highlight of the show.

Conclusion

I absolutely love FIFA 18 and genuinely believe it is the best entry we’ve seen in the series so far. It manages to absolutely nail the gameplay side of things thanks to its improved dribbling and crossing, the story mode shows off the human side to football with its on and off the pitch action, whilst the new transfer system of Manager mode adds a whole new level of authenticity to the experience. Did I mention the Dynamic Substitutes too? It’s all absolutely fantastic.

It’s basically more of what you’d expect from the FIFA series but better, which is all a fan like me needs. I can appreciate that football games come down to preference though, so even though I’ll happily sing the praises of FIFA 18 all day long, there’ll still be players that prefer PES. That’s fine – you do you.

For me though, FIFA 18 is simply the King of the footballing sims.

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