The beautiful game is back and better than ever in EA Canada’s latest iteration of the best-selling sports franchise in the world, FIFA 18. While not a lot has changed since last year’s game, there are certainly some quality of life improvements that are of note.
One of the most noticeable changes comes with the addition of quick subs. Before starting a match in most game modes, players are given the chance to select three possible subs you might want to make. Say you always sub a midfielder off to give some added energy in the final 30 minutes. All one needs to do is indicate who to sub in for your starting player, and you’re given the prompt to make the change during a stoppage in play, helping avoid a pause menu and breaking up the flow of the game. This is especially nice when playing an online match when pausing the game could stop play for up to 30 seconds every time. Of course, you still need to pause to make any changes not pre-determined with quick subs, but it’s still nice to make that quick change.
Another change made is with how penalties are taken. Last year, you could move your penalty taker around with the right stick, which is still present here, and start the runup by pushing forward on the left stick, allowing you to set your power in the process. Now, the runup doesn’t start until after the power is set.
Other than these changes, the gameplay feels pretty similar to FIFA 17, which is a good thing. Player movement feels great with animation taking priority over button input. The flow of the game seems a little slower, which helps with the realism factor. Ball shielding, which was introduced last year, feels better from my perspective and shielding from a defender only to take the ball around them to start an attacking run is satisfying.
Sound is also an important factor to any sports game, helping transport the player to the field, and FIFA 18 does an overall great job with some caveats. There seems to be an emphasis on supporter chants this go around with crowds loudly chanting throughout the game. Crowd reactions to on-field events help create an engaging atmosphere, but they can sometimes feel exaggerated and over the top. A ball that goes soaring over the goal by 20 feet does not need that loud of a gasp. Martin Tyler and Alan Smith are back for the commentary, although I’m not sure anything new was recorded. Story mode aside, players will find all the same and tired lines in the past few games here and they get old immediately.
The game’s look has also improved a bit over its predecessor. Running on the Frostbite 3 engine, the fields, stadiums, and character models look great. Any players that had their likenesses in the game look fantastic, and all the animations are fluid and realistic, with a few exceptions. Goalkeepers in slow motion still have that “on/off” switch when reacting for a save, but this is only noticeable in replay. EA might be reaching the end of the rope with this version of the engine, but they’re still able to make an incredible looking game.
FIFA 18 includes the return of last year’s story mode with The Journey: Hunter Returns. Hunter Returns has players take back control of football prodigy Alex Hunter as he continues his emerging career. Things begin during the pre-season with whichever Premier League team chosen to play for in the previous game, but the story soon takes Hunter to teams in the MLS and across Europe.
New this year are some customizable options for Alex, such as the ability to change his appearance both on and off the pitch. You can now change his hair style, add some tattoos, and adjust his kit options. Alex also has a greatly expanded skill tree with things to unlock as he grows his overall player rating. Also new are chapter objectives. Over the course of a chapter, players are tasked with completing optional objectives to unlock bonus rewards like hairstyles or additional followers. Some examples are “Take 10 shots” or “Do 3 skill moves”. Since they’re optional, not completing them doesn’t take away from the game, but they also don’t add a whole lot as they can sometimes be difficult to achieve depending on play style and difficulty.
Alex also has some additional choices he can make throughout the story. “Key Decisions” will come up periodically with one of two paths to take, leaving Alex to deal with the consequences of that choice. That would be a nice addition if they came up more often than they do and didn’t reveal the consequences before choosing. An example of this is a choice early on that has Alex deciding whether to forgive someone for a mistake, or kick them out of his apartment. The prompt clearly shows that forgiveness keeps them around and kicking them out means Alex will never see them again. The game spelling this out lessens the choice being made and has making that decision based on desired consequence and not what the player feels is right. It’s nice that some deeper player choice was added, but it could have been done in a better way. Having said that, The Journey: Hunter’s Return does a great job at continuing and improving Alex’s story from the foundation set in place last year.
All the other modes expected return. This includes a career mode for both a player and manager, tournament modes, Online Seasons, Pro Clubs, and FUT. Online Friendlies has a small, but welcome addition with a countdown timer while in the team management page. This was missing from previous games, so players had to hope the game didn’t start while you were still making changes, otherwise nothing would stick.
Pro Clubs, the up-to 11v11 online mode is back, and with the addition of the expanded skill tree found in The Journey, players can now have multiple play styles for their created player. Instead of having to edit the existing player when wanting to change roles or positions, three styles can be setup ahead of time where you can adjust player position, height, weight, and preferred food, and keep the existing character’s appearance. It’s a welcome addition to a mode that may require switching positions a lot depending on how many people are playing.
The main mode I expect most will gravitate to here is going to be FIFA Ultimate Team, or FUT. FUT at its core is still a trading card game where you opens packs, acquires players from different clubs from around the world, and try to build the best squad possible to compete both online and off. This is also the mode where the game’s micro-transactions come into play, allowing the purchasing of packs or in-game coins with real money.
Since everything can be bought with the in-game currency, I’ve never really felt like this was much of an issue, but saving up for the gold and rare packs (where you’ll find superstars like Messi and Ronaldo) can be a bit of a grind. That’s the thing- I don’t really care for this mode all that much. Everything requires cards. Players start to get tired after a few games: buy some “Fitness” cards. A player gets injured: buy an “Injury” card. To get a specific player, you need to buy him off the transfer market or hope to get him in a card pack. The trading card aspect of this trading card game is the worst part about it, even if it is still kind of fun and rewarding when finally managing to put together a team of favorites, simply because there’s so much upkeep required outside of playing matches.
FUT Champions makes a return letting players compete to prove themselves as one of the best FUT players in the world. Throughout the week you play games to qualify for a weekend league. Do well enough and you could be invited to real world competitions like the FIFA Interactive World Cup. There’s also the new Champions Channel which lets one watch replays of some of the best players’ recent games.
All-in-all, FIFA 18 is a great follow-up to last year’s game, adding and changing just enough to feel worth the purchase with the blemishes being slight enough to be mostly overlooked. FUT will still be the favorite game mode for most players, but there’s plenty here to keep coming back to all year. FIFA 19 will need to do something different to mix it up and justify the purchase, but we’ll see what that game has planned for the world’s sport when the time comes.
For more information about FIFA 18, check out the official website. A PS4 copy of the game was purchased by the reviewer.