FIFA has been the most popular football video game series for many years now and EA Sports could be forgiven for taking it easy and just making a few minor tweaks to the latest installment of the franchise. Far from it, FIFA 17 represents a huge leap forward and a complete overhaul of the game.
It’s a risky move given there was little doubt that avid fans would still flock to the shops for this release. However, it is a move they have indeed made and this year’s offering provides two major changes to what we have become accustomed to in recent times.
Firstly, there is a new Frostbite-powered engine under the hood. Originally developed for first-person-shooters such as Battlefield, the engine produces detailed stadium renders and lifelike player models. These stunning graphics are unlike anything seen before and are another example of FIFA’s progression this year.
While glossy graphics and official licensing ensure FIFA 17 retains the game’s status as the closest football experience you will get to watching Super Sunday on your telly each weekend, the Frostbite engine also provides a smoother and faster gameplay experience.
Little needed to be addressed on this front in any case as FIFA closed the gameplay gap to Pro Evolution Soccer some time ago, but there are a few welcome tweaks adding physicality to contests and improvements with shooting - although on higher difficulty settings it can still be tough to find the net.
Frostbite is the less significant of the two main developments in FIFA 17. Where the game really comes into its own is when you fire up its new story mode - The Journey - which transports gamers into a cinematic experience that lets players live out their own fairytale rise to the top of the football pyramid.
“We’re embracing the power of the Frostbite engine to bring a new immersive experience to the franchise and give fans the chance to live their football story through the life of a professional footballer,” said Nick Channon, Senior Producer. “The Journey delivers that with authenticity, character interactions, and your performance on the pitch which will dictate your story.”
You assume the identity of Alex Hunter, a 17-year-old footballer dreaming of lighting up the Premier League despite a setback early in his career. Once you’ve navigated a trial alongside fellow hopefuls, you are taking your pick of 20 top-flight clubs as the adventure begins.
There are twists and turns along the way - nothing is ever simple in football - and The Journey documents Hunter’s personal and professional life. You will cross paths with some of the biggest names in the sport as you bid to hit the big time and reach the promised land.
There are some really nice little touches which make the experience feel complete. Tweets from real pundits, journalists and sports stars add depth while all the realities of the modern game are included as you even find yourself lining up sponsorship deals and grow your Twitter following. Brand Hunter is big business.
The addition of The Journey was what really captured my imagination when I first heard about FIFA 17 and I am pleased to report it doesn’t disappoint. In many ways it is a hark back to the story modes found on the old Smackdown wrestling games on previous platforms. You won’t find anything like this on other football games.
For many people, Ultimate Team will remain the primary reason for buying FIFA 17. Of course, FUT is still a key element of the game and there are new additions to this fans’ favourite, ensuring a fresh feel to keep you busy for another year.
When all things are considered, EA Sports have clearly stepped into a brave new world with this game. FIFA 17 offers gamers a glimpse of what is to come. I have no doubt The Journey will prove a global hit and am already looking forward to next year’s game for the chance to live out another football fairytale.