Fifa 17
October 12, 2016 | by Niall
Fifa 17 (PC) Review
Mid-Table Obscurity
Summary: Fifa 17 boasts some solid on-field action, but a dismal story campaign and poor optimization ultimately prevent it from hitting the big time.

3

Okay


I’ve been a football fan my entire life. Some of my earliest memories include picking out my first jersey, the epochal Newcastle United home kit with the big Brown Ale logo on the chest. Or watching a freshly-signed Alan Shearer – the greatest player in Premier League history – bang in the goals in a preseason tournament in Dublin as part of the greatest Newcastle side of all time. Every Saturday for the past two decades, I’ve sat there watching Jeff Stelling screaming on TV about how we’re losing again while cursing Mike Ashley for ruining my club, and wishing Moussa Sissoko would just fuck off (not to mention wildly celebrating when he finally did, the repugnant, odious scrote). I’ve seen bitter regular lows, and sparse, short-lived highs, but through it all, my passion for the sport has never wavered, and I’ve lived out the impossible dream countless times down the years through this, the Fifa series.

On the pitch, the action is as good as if not better than ever, feeling like years of subtle refinements have finally paid off. The game plays smoothly as you’d expect, and for the first time, there feels like a genuine gap between good and bad teams. A major issue I’ve had with previous iterations of Fifa is that every team feels the same; that it’s just as easy to play total football with Longford Town as it is with Barcelona. That’s changed this year, and I’d argue that’s for the better. Weaker teams feel significantly weaker, make less intelligent moves off the ball, and pass and shoot with considerably less accuracy.

This makes it feel genuinely good to build a team up over time in the game’s career mode. Taking a two star team and turning it into a four star team yields significant results on the pitch in terms of what you can do, and watching your team progress from merely functional, if unspectacular, to being capable of playing free-flowing slick football is tremendously satisfying. In another nice touch, Premier League teams now have their actual managers strolling the sidelines, barking instructions. Sadly, I can report that, try as I might, I wasn’t able to go pure radge on Alan Pardew as he danced his way up and down the sidelines like an arsehole, the smarmy git. Can’t even get tackled right, the useless prick.

The main draw of this year’s edition is The Journey, EA’s attempt to ape 2K’s recent basketball games by throwing the player into the shoes of a young upstart and playing through his rookie season, experiencing the highs and lows of life both on and off the field. Thankfully, The Journey doesn’t have Spike Lee’s name attached to it, and thus is devoid of bizarrely named characters or weird ghost problems. Instead, The Journey centers around Alex Hunter, the third in a line of footballers that saw his legendary grandfather break all the records, while his dad suffered a tragic, career-ending injury just as he was hitting his stride. Accompanying Alex are his aforementioned grandfather Jim, his mom, Cat, and his childhood best friend and teammate, Gareth, with whom he joins the professional ranks following their academy Exit Trials.

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What follows is EA’s attempt to fashion a classic rise, fall, then rise again story. However, because this all takes place over the course of a single season, and there really isn’t much of a fall to begin with, it all rings supremely hollow. What’s worse is that you can clearly see the trajectory of the story from the offing: Alex is going to fall from grace while Gareth sets the Premier League alight, becoming a megastar in the process. The success goes to Gareth’s head, despite the fact he plays for fucking Middlesbrough. His ego goes out of control and he eventually demands (and gets) his big-money move to your major rivals, which is played up as if he’s just signed for Barcelona, while in reality he’s signed for fucking Sunderland. The same Sunderland who’ve consistently just about held onto Premier League status every year for the last decade.

It’s obvious that EA expect people to choose to sign for one of the big clubs (Arsenal, Chelsea, one of the Manchester clubs) from the start, as effectively all the ancillary dialogue throughout the mode presents whoever you’ve signed for as perennial Champions League qualifiers, even though you play for Middlesbrough. Alex meanwhile is sent on loan to the Championship and the mighty, glorious, jewel of north east football, Newcastle United, where he gets to play first-string alongside beautiful angels like Jamaal Lascelles, Matt Ritchie, and everyone’s favourite Serbian lunatic Aleksandar Mitrovic in front of crowds far larger than those at Boro for half a season. Just a shame Shola wasn’t still around to teach him a thing or two. Alex, of course, acts like a doctor just gave him some bad news. You quickly wind up back in the Premier League and go straight into the first-team, banging in goals like the wunderkind you are, while Gareth languishes at the bottom of the table. At Sunderland.

If it sounds like The Journey’s not particularly well-written, then you probably won’t be shocked to hear that it’s horribly produced too. Voice acting is abysmal, with Alex and his main point of media contact, a faceless woman named Karen, going through conversations that sound like they were stitched together from drunken table reads. Half of what Gareth says is totally unintelligible, while almost all the rest of the performances are completely devoid of character or life, and things get really, really bad when real players like Harry Kane or Angel Di Maria show up to speak. I did like Toro though; he seemed alright.

Aside from all that, the mode is a nightmare to play, with AI teammates running around like headless chickens, terrified of going anywhere near the ball. This is incredibly frustrating when playing as just Alex. Since Alex is a forward, he’s often left isolated and alone at the wrong end of the pitch while his team scurries about, absolutely petrified of tackling opposition players to win the ball. On the rare occasion that they do win possession, they’re equally as bad. I lost count of the number of times I wanted to yell in frustration as I held the ball up, waiting for support that never came. Or the times that while advancing with a man advantage I would wait for one of my comrades to move into space… only to watch them all suddenly back off completely and leave me crowded out of possession. It’s like playing in a John Carver team at times. Wank.

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The Journey is full of bugs the rest of the game doesn’t suffer from to boot. Characters randomly freak out and flying all the over the place during cutscenes, while assets, including on one occasion the actual players themselves, simply failed to load. It blows my mind how bad a mode so highly trumpeted is. While I get Fifa players tend to skew a little more casually than many gamers, and thus may not expect quite as high a bar when it comes to the quality of the story, it shouldn’t get a pat on the back just for making an attempt, something which would only set a dangerous precedent for future installments.

By all means, do your rise-fall-rise story, but make it worthwhile. If Alex had been released from a Premier League team and had to ply his trade in far worse, barely professional leagues like League Two or the League of Ireland, that could be compelling. It’s certainly a bigger fall to line out for Grimsby or Wexford Youths than to swap the moderate environ of the Riverside for the colossal and iconic St. James’ Park. I hope EA doesn’t give up on the idea of a story element to future Fifa games, but I equally hope that in future they do things right.

The quality of the PC port also leaves something to be desired, though it’s isn’t abysmal by any stretch. There’s some noticeable but not game-breaking framerate drops, but they’re mostly confined to camera transitions while showing replays and the like. Graphically, the game looks pretty nice, and it’s refreshing to see EA have finally put a decent amount of effort into accurately representing the goalkeeper’s jerseys of teams outside the traditional powers. While some leagues and teams still have to make do with generics, it is nice to see some weaker competitions like the Korean and Japanese leagues receiving properly accurate jerseys.

If you’re a regular, then you already know whether you’re going to play Fifa this year or skip it for the rejuvenated PES (well, rejuvenated as long as you’re not playing on PC). If you’ve never played a Fifa before, or you’ve been away for a while and have an interest, now might be a decent time to jump on. It’s not radically different, and the story mode is heinous, but beneath it all, it’s still a damn good, solid-as-a-rock football game. Howay the lads. Shola hates the mackems.

Niall is the last remaining emo kid and can usually be found hiding from Michael Myers in Dead by Daylight or waiting in vain for fights in DOA6.

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