I don’t envy the weight that rests on the shoulders of EA when it comes to FIFA, or any one of their other sports titles for that matter. Year upon year they’re tasked with convincing millions of players to invest in their latest addition to a franchise, and for FIFA 17, much of that relied on the inclusion of The Journey, a new (albeit short) story mode that followed Alex Hunter as he climbed through the league. It was in an interesting implementation that showcased the power of the Frostbite engine, whilst offering up a few solid hours of worthwhile fun. FIFA 18 sees the continuation of this story through The Journey: Hunter Returns, but outside of the new plot chapter, what does FIFA 18 pitch forward to truly convince you to jump ship from FIFA 17?
Releasing on the back of PES 2018, which saw a tremendous amount of improvements to the visuals and the gameplay, FIFA 18 boasts some of its own improvements in comparison to the predecessor. Are these tweaks and refined mechanics enough to justify an investment? Most definitely, yes! FIFA 18 is certainly a step up from the predecessor. There’s no denying that PES 2018 houses better visuals and more fluid gameplay, but FIFA 18 manages to take the series one step further thanks to the small but noticeable fine-tuning of its own formula, as well as the general polish that sits elsewhere in the experience. That’s not to say that PES 2018 outshines FIFA 18, in fact they’re quite inline with each other when it comes to quality and execution, but when you weigh up both games side by side and take the features and content into account, FIFA 18 takes the lead.
The Journey: Hunter Returns picks up where it concluded in FIFA 17. Last year Alex was on the rise and worked hard to achieve greatness. Now, Alex broadens his determination by wanting to play with the best of the best. You’ll see him bantering with Cristiano Ronaldo and getting some Q&A’s with Rio Ferdinand, all whilst giving you more control over Alex on the pitch as well as his presentation. That’s right, you can customise our football hero via hairstyle, clothing, and even tattoos. It’s hardly a game changing addition but one can never argue with customisation, am I right or am I right? You will of course be given the option to use the same Alex Hunter that you played with in FIFA 17, but you’ll still need to hone your skills to make it through the story, which lasts a handful of hours in total.
Once again the Frostbite engine shines bright in the story mode and really shows what the engine is capable of. There are times in which players will look somewhat shiny, especially when they’re close to the camera but you cant really knock the visuals in FIFA 18. Despite my suggestion that PES 2018 houses better visuals, there’s a remarkable amount of detail across all aspects of play here. That being said FIFA 18 manages to stomp PES 2018 into the ground when it comes to the atmosphere. PES 2018 is known for its notoriously crappy commentary, which doesn’t do much to excite or excel the experience. FIFA 18 on the other hand is a sensational representation of the much loved sport. The commentary, the pitch, the animations and everything in between is quite simply unmatched.
Speaking of the animations, they’re much more relaxed in FIFA 18 in comparison to previous entries. You’ll no longer be tethered to having to wait for an animation to end before executing your next move, and even though this is a small tweak that doesn’t sound like much on paper, the difference it makes is amazing. You’re given that extra layer of control which goes one step further to gifting you with more freedom over the fields of play. The same can be said about many other factors such as turning, which feels more precise and swifter than ever before. Pace and sprinting also allows you more breathing room for error, being that you don’t have to constantly run and hammer the ball dead ahead to lose it to an over-excited AI that’s been on your ass like a T-1000.
As already alluded to above, PES 2018 wins when it comes to fluid gameplay and control, but there’s no doubt whatsoever that FIFA 18 is beginning to close the gap in this regard. It’s clear that EA are finally listening to the feedback that matters, and what that leaves us with is a game that plays just as well as it looks. It helps of course that EA have given players traits and attributes which makes them much easier to identify on the pitch. The crowds are now also rendered in 3D which goes that extra length to further bolster the aforementioned authentic representation of the sport. It has to be said that if this is EA’s turning point, I can only imagine what FIFA 19 will be like when that arrives to bribe us with even more fine-tuning and tweaks based off the few complaints from this installation.
FIFA 18 offers up a great deal of longevity when it comes to the diverse selection of modes on offer. The likes of Career mode, Ultimate Team and Pro Clubs make a return, all of which have enjoyed some care and attention from the devs in one form or another. Career mode now has interactive transfer negotiations and a brand spanking new hub to keep on top of your progression. The addition of cutscenes when meeting real world managers to negotiate makes for some interesting moments of play, and although the immersion doesn’t meet the same level as The Journey, it’s a fun addition nevertheless. Here you can discuss and barter the terms of your (eventual) agreement, to which your opposing manager will counter dynamically.
Ultimate Team hasn’t been changed that much. Instead of Legend Cards that were exclusive to Xbox, we now have Icons. They come in three different flavours that collectively depict a player at different points throughout their career. Pro Clubs on the other hand has a collection of subtle changes to the way you can customise and upgrade stats, as well as offering up updated versions of the kits. Tournaments as well as the Women’s International Cup has also made a return, which as I’m sure you’ll agree is a welcoming sight. Online play enables you to take to Pro Seasons, which allows you to craft your own club and go head to head against a rival. Online Friendlies is a simple case of quick-play with nothing on the line, whereas Seasons and Co-Op Seasons has you and your opponents competing for trophies. If online play isn’t your cup of tea, you can take to the Squad Battles. These matches give you the option of competing against other players’ squads (much like Drivatars from Forza) that are controlled by AI, in return for rewards. Needless to say that FIFA 18 provides the content that PES 2018 lacks, which gives this game a sharp edge over its competition.
Where PES 2018 excels in regards to the fluid gameplay and marginally better visuals, FIFA 18 brings the licenses and a vast amount of content. EA really needs to fine-tune the controls and tweak the gameplay if they aim to contend with their direct competition, but that’s not to say that FIFA 18 doesn’t handle well at all. This game is a massive step up from every entry in the current gen, and the subtle yet noticeable improvements offer a solid gameplay experience in comparison to previous iterations. FIFA 18 is a gorgeously created representation of the much loved sport that houses a more authentic atmosphere than any other football game to date. It doesn’t matter what you’re coming into this game for, everything from the campaign to each of the well structured modes will easily keep you satisfied until this time next year, and then some.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.