The release of this year’s FIFA feels like a slim ray of hope is beginning to shine through the cracks of the broken game mechanics and wrongly-programmed AI defending that plagued FIFA 17. The demo had already given us a sneak peak of what we could expect from the game: better AI teams, smooth-as-silk dribbling, and the return of sorely-missed long shots. Sure enough, FIFA 18 has its fair share of flaws a few weeks into its much-anticipated release, but the gameplay feels fresh, fun and dynamic.
This year, we also have the return of Alex Hunter in the second chapter of The Journey, FIFA 17’s groundbreaking story mode. This year, the story sets a new focal point, prioritizing cut scenes rather than repetitive gameplay. Hunter’s story is narrated in 6 different chapters that polish the foundations laid by EA Sports last year, adding new customization options for Alex which are linked entirely to the way you decide to play the game.
Although the dialogues might often feel dull, there is a clear difference in the way the story was handled in comparison to its introductory season, including a vast array of new features in the menus that give you the chance to take control of Hunter in a very enjoyable and inventive manner.
There is one thing that should be pointed out before diverting ourselves towards FIFA 18’s gameplay: visuals. The graphics offered in this year’s installment are sublime; each stadium makes you feel as if you were really there and new customized crowd audio improves an already magnificent experience and turns it into a carousel of adrenaline.
Gameplay wise, passing has become more important than pace, and although the latter still plays a crucial role in the game, it is more rewarding to employ tiki-taka football than in any other installment from the last decade. As a matter of fact, passing on its own makes FIFA 18 worth a try. The passes are a perfect mix between accurate and realistic, mainly with EA’s latest patch that fixed an issue which caused players to pass the ball accurately regardless of the direction they were facing. Now, everything feels just like the beautiful game is meant to be played.
Dribbling has to be one of the most noticeable changes this year as well. Players move considerably better than ever and new animations help the user feel more immersed with the game as they no longer need to divert their focus towards controlling the infamous input lag – a recurrent issue since FIFA’s transition from old-gen to current-gen.
The introduction of new features to classic game modes also feels like a breath of fresh air. Ultimate Team has been revamped to favor those who don’t like to play online with the launch of Squad Battles, where players can test their skills against AI controlled teams in order to obtain in-game currency. Online gameplay doesn’t fall short, though. The return of FUT Champions brings back the competitive edge offered by its predecessor, although shamefully it’s still structured like it was in FIFA 17, with a time-consuming Weekend League format that is sure to change in the near future.
PS4, PC and Switch users will be glad to hear that old school players aren’t restricted to Xbox users anymore. The so called ‘Legends’ have been replaced by Icons and they are available for purchase on all consoles and PC, which means you’ll be able to combine some of the world’s top actual players with classic legends like Pelé, Maradona or Beckenbauer.
Moving on to Career Mode, it has to be said that improvements could’ve been tastier, but the introduction of cut scenes when negotiating new contracts and transfers gives that extra bit of realism that this game mode has been desperately needing for years. There’s still a lot of untapped potential within career mode, but this year definitely means a step in the right direction by EA Sports.
There is one main let down that needs to be pointed out, though.
There was a very important aspect present in the game up until the release of EA’s first patch: a clear skill-gap reflected in each match’s result. The removal of overpowered AI defending mechanics forced players to be more self-aware of the movement of both their own center-halves and the opponents’ forwards. Choosing to control a midfielder to chase the rival player in control of the ball wasn’t a viable option anymore, as forwards would simply storm through the defensive line, leaving the keeper exposed countless times per game.
The skill-gap was reduced once again after the first patch in order to help newer players adapt to the game in an easier fashion. AI defending became incredibly useful once again, and although the crazy score lines didn’t feel exactly right before the patch, they did mean the presence of a clear gap between top players and casual gamers.
Oddly enough, the decision to bring back AI defending affects pro-players more than anybody else, which has surely risen some eyebrows considering that EA had already given a statement of intent towards introducing FIFA into the eSport scene with last year’s debut of FUT Champions. It’s not a game-breaking change by any means, but the considerable amount of AI mistakes could be tweaked down in order to promote a better field of play – especially in competitive matches.
Nevertheless, the decision helps a vast majority of players that will not feel helpless anymore when trying to defend against the likes of Neymar and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Our thoughts on the game
FIFA 18 still has its fair share of flaws and it’s not ready to jump into eSports just yet, but this year’s release is, without a doubt, the best football game ever made when taking into account everything that it offers. It doesn’t matter if you like dribbles, passes or long shots, every fan of the beautiful game should get a hold of this beauty.