Developer: EA Canada
Publisher: EA Sports
Release Date: 29-09-2016
I love football (soccer for some of you) and actually play it twice a week in real life which is great for getting some exercise but terrible because I’m awfully shite. As a big fan of the sport, I’ve obviously played a lot of FIFA games over the years with FIFA 2000 and 2003 being my favourite ones overall. 2000 because of the soundtrack and 2003 because of the wonderfully legit free kick system that was made all the better when you had Beckham taking them. To those on the outside, the game looks the same every iteration and while the majority of the games may very well do, it’s the small changes to the gameplay that makes it a vastly different game. FIFA 17, on the other hand, has not just changed the engine the game runs on but created a brand new game mode with full cutscenes and a Mass Effect like choice system. As a result, EA has marketed the game purely based on this new mode featuring 17-year-old Alex Hunter, who is trying to break into the professional sport of football. There aren’t many changes to the gameplay this time around even with the Frostbite engine so this review is mainly focusing on The Journey aspect of FIFA 17 because all the other game modes are the same as its predecessor.
The game starts with some background on Alex as well as his family life and shows us some of Alex’s character as a young boy playing football. I won’t get into the actual story too much to avoid spoilers for those who’ve still not played or finished it but I will say that the major overarching story doesn’t change much regardless of which team you pick. You still get the same amount of game time, provided you do the training and play well in the matches, and generally, break into the first team at the exact same point in the story. The story is very linear and it’s the little cutscenes in between the major plot heavy ones that give you the Mass Effect choices I was talking about earlier. There are 3 types of choices in the game: “Fiery”, “Cool” and “Balanced”. These choices reflect the type of person you want Alex to be and the reaction he gets from those around him.
In interviews picking the Fiery option – which is the douchey option – gives you more followers on social media (Twitter basically), which you need if you want those sponsorship deals, but it also brings down your manager’s trust in you. The Cool option – the nice one – lowers your follower count but curries favour with your friends, family, teammates and manager. It also makes the media more friendly towards you, I’ve found. The Balanced option is the safe option. It doesn’t damage your reputation with those close to you though in interviews it may lower your social media followers and almost always increases the manager’s fondness for you as a player. The issue with these options is that you don’t see the full dialogue and as a result, Alex goes on for a couple of pretty long sentences even though the option you chose was five words long. It’s not a huge downside, even games like Fallout and Mass Effect have those issues and they’ve been making RPG games for decades. It’s a small nitpick if anything.
The Journey is set over the course of a single season but the way the game ends leaves it very open for introducing an expansion pack or DLC to further the storyline. What I’m hoping they don’t do is release the next parts of The Journey with each new game. That would be pretty shit, wouldn’t it?
The primary focus in terms of story is your relationship with Gaz Walker who is your childhood best friend and he is also trying to break into the first team. When you choose your club at the start he also joins that team and because the two of you play in the same position you’re effectively fighting for the one spot on the team. It’s your relationship with Gaz as well as Danny Williams (another young player) in the game that are the most compelling aspects of The Journey.
I want to put it out there that Danny Williams is my favourite character out of everyone mainly because he’s got the most personality than anyone else but also because Alex Hunter is essentially a pair of pants you put on when you start your Journey to the top of English football.
In between matches you have to take part in training which consists of small mini games like taking direct free kicks or running a small obstacle course while trying to maintain control of the ball. It’s during training where you try and cement your place in the starting eleven and should you fall below a certain level you’ll be demoted to the subs bench or even worse the reserves. If your level does fall in training you can always increase it by playing well during a match should you get your game.
At the start, the training is a nice break from just consistently playing matches but after 25 odd games it does get tedious and you will start simulating the training sessions mainly to progress in the story. It’s during the middle of the story that things slow down incredibly with the cutscenes repeating themselves every time you’re in the team of the week or having to conduct a post-match interview every time you get man of the match and it’s at this time that you don’t get many story-driven cutscenes mainly because the next part of the story happens during the January transfer window.
All in all the story, the training, choices make The Journey a wonderfully compelling game mode and is a much-needed shot in the arm of a franchise that has been getting a little stale. However, as someone who has played RPG games, the choices as well as the story aren’t as amazing as I’d initially thought. I followed my brother’s career during his journey and when I played through mine I had realised just how linear the story is and how little difference the choices made throughout.
There are certain points in the story where you would think they’d change depending on your choices but the truth is there’s absolutely nothing you can do to change them. If I was naive I’d say it’s because they wanted to show you how rough the world of professional football is but after all it is just a FIFA game. Like I said before, the addition of The Journey is great and I hope they’ll continue to churn out DLC or expansions to add more to the story because this time around the game was way too linear for my tastes.
Solid but needs improvement.