FIFA has always been one of those franchises where it’s easy to assume not a whole lot changes between entries, especially if you never actually spend that much time playing the games. I’ve heard plenty of people say “It’s just new kits” or “I can do the transfers myself”, but the truth is there’s always so much more to each new entry than that. We’ve seen improved game modes, new engines, whole new systems – sometimes, jumping between entries can actually feel like you’re playing a completely different game. Sure, it’s rare, but long-term players have definitely seen an evolution across the franchise.

It’s the same in FIFA 19, the latest edition of EA Sports’ hit franchise that has not only seen changes made to the gameplay but also introduced some all new modes. Sure, from a gameplay perspective it might not have seen as many changes as other recent entries have, but there’ve still been enough improvements made to ensure it still stands tall as the best football sim around.

One of the biggest additions to the game this year is the inclusion of the Champions League licence, which is something EA haven’t exactly been quiet about since its reveal back at E3. Why not, too? It’s a big deal, and it’s one of the biggest advantages that arch-rival Pro Evo had held over the franchise over the last few years. Well, it’s in FIFA 19 and from the get-go it’s in your face. The first match you’ll play in features cover star Cristiano Ronaldo turning out for Juventus in the Champions League final against Paris Saint Germain, and it gives you a chance to get an early taste of European glory. It’s got all the fancy bells and whistles too, with authentic presentation, additional commentary, and the iconic Champions League theme. It’s integrated into game modes like the narrative-focused Journey and Manager mode, and it can be tackled individually too so it’s clearly something that EA are particularly proud of this year.

FIFA 19

I’ve seen some people knock the focus EA have put on the Champions League online, but in honesty I actually appreciated it. I’m a fan of Manager mode and I’ve always been underwhelmed by the European tournaments that have been included – having a recognised trophy that’s presented like a full-blown event not only adds realism to the whole thing, but makes it all the more exciting to compete for. Plus, EA haven’t tried charging for a separate Champions League game like they did a few years back too, so that’s a plus.

Gameplay-wise, FIFA 19 feels very similar to last year’s entry, though there have been a few additions made to change things up a little.

FIFA 19

One obvious addition is the ‘timed finishing’, which allows you to add extra precision and power to your shots by pressing the shoot button twice. It’s all about timing and trying to hit the button at the perfect moment the second time, which adds a risk-versus-reward element to proceedings – time it right and you’ll nail a perfect shot, but get it wrong and you shouldn’t be surprised to see it launched over the crossbar. I’ll be honest, I’ve not been a massive fun of timed finishing and actually turned it off for the most part, though I’ve also seen some friends score some amazing goals thanks to it so it definitely adds something unique to the experience.

Passing has also been refined, giving the player a bit more precision and freedom when sending the ball to their team mates. I’ll be the first to admit that I actually found this a bit awkward to begin with, and I sent more than a few short passes to my opponents by mistake whilst trying to adjust to the change. However, once I got used to it and figured out how to apply the right amount of power and properly set the direction, it allowed me to hit this level of precision with my passes that I haven’t had in previous entries of the game. I’ve been a sucker for short passes and through balls in the past, but in FIFA 19 I was able to take a few more risks with my passes and read the game a lot better. It’s a small change, but one that allowed me to play the game in a completely different way.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a new FIFA without new animations, so there’re plenty of those too. I also noticed that defenders felt a bit stronger, so you can’t just weave in and out of them whilst sprinting unless you’re willing to put the trick stick to use. In honesty it feels a lot like FIFA 18, but there’re definitely small differences there that ensure it’s worth investing your cash into the newest entry.

FIFA 19

One fun addition that EA have brought to FIFA 19 are the silly but fun No Rules, Headers and Volleys, and Survivor modes.

No Rules is pretty self-explanatory: there are no rules. You don’t have to worry about offsides or fouling because everything’s fair game, so you can feel free to buckle Neymar’s kneecaps as often as you want and watch him role off into oblivion. It’s a neat way to play the game and will certainly get more than a few laughs, especially when playing with friends. Headers and Volleys is also pretty self-explanatory, especially for anyone who went to school in the UK. You can only score with headers or volleys… simple.

FIFA 19

Survivor mode is the most interesting of the new game modes – every time a team scores a goal they lose a player, with the first team to score five goals deemed the victor. I’m sure everyone has had a minor break down in a FIFA game before and seen a good few players sent off, but in Survivor it happens every time you score a goal. I actually had a lot of fun in Survivor and it made for some really tense showdowns, though I would have loved to have seen what would happen if it allowed more players to leave a game. Being restricted to seven players is tricky, sure, but imagine something like four-on-eleven – it would be insane (but in a good way).

Outside of the silly additions, FIFA 19 also allows you to fine-tune your tactics in a more streamlined manner, with players able to set specific playstyles for their teams. You can do it across all modes, but I found it most useful in Manager mode – especially since you can look at bringing players into your team who fit your playstyle. It’s something that’s fun to play around with and it really shows in-game, especially when playing teams like Liverpool, Manchester United or Barcelona who have their own blueprint in real-life. It can add a real tactical edge to battles too, especially when a team’s playstyle can easily counter yours (or at least that’s my excuse for Watford ending my ten-match unbeaten streak).

FIFA 19

Besides the changes and additions to the core experience, FIFA 19 still comes with modes like Manager mode, Ultimate Team, and the continuation of Alex Hunter’s story in The Journey. The Journey is actually expanded upon a lot more this year, with the story shifting from the perspective of just Alex and including a stronger focus on Danny Williams and even Alex’s sister Kim Hunter who’s looking to be a part of the US national team. It’s still a well-presented story and the additional perspectives do add a neat twist to the formula, though I’ll admit I’m starting to tire of it a little – it certainly didn’t capture my attention as much as in previous years. This year’s entry saw a conclusion to Alex Hunter’s story though, so it’ll be interesting to see what EA do next time around.

Developer: EA Vancouver
Publisher: EA Sports
Platform(s): PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC