In true American fashion, I’ve never been into soccer/football. Sure, I played a little as a kid (I was terrible), and have actually been to a Chicago Fire match with a friend who wanted me to experience “true” football. But it just never clicked with me to the point of having any real interest. Despite this fact, I was forced to play through the story mode of “FIFA 17” (The Journey) thanks to an unfortunate wager I lost to my co-host, Robby. I’m not exaggerating in the slightest when I say I was dreading playing so much of any sports game, much less one that has done very little but bore me to tears in the past. I went in begrudgingly, and while I wish my playtime had been spread out more than the multiple consecutive hours I spent on it, I was surprised by the amount of enjoyment I had with it.
I have a unique perspective with this series in that I’ve never played any of the previous iterations. This made for an interesting experiment for me. When playing the new Madden, I was able to make comparisons to the previous year’ additions to take notice of what changed and improved, but this is probably the first soccer game I’ve played in several generations (unless you count Rocket League). I had literally nothing to compare it to and had to learn how to play soccer from the ground up. Take that into consideration as you read this review.
I’ll start with how the game handles with the controller, as that’s obviously where I spent the majority of my time. As in most sports games, I felt like the reaction time for my player was just a touch delayed. When I move in a certain direction, it feels like it takes a second for my athlete to actually start moving where I want him to go. I get the impression that this is commonplace for sports game in order to give a sense of realism. You can’t have players zipping around on the pitch with one-to-one movement like we had back in “Pele’s Soccer” on the Atari 2600 (how’s that for a blast from the past?). FIFA obviously isn’t trying to be an arcade style game, but within a few matches, I had a handle on it. Passing works perfectly to me, although I was playing on a very low level of difficulty, so I’m not quite sure how big of a factor that was. This became my primary method of attack, as all I had to do what point in the right direction and press a button, and the ball was automatically set up perfectly for whatever situation I was in. The mechanic that took me the longest to get used to is shooting. Instead of merely pushing a button, the longer I held it down correlated to how hard the ball was kicked. The problem for me was that the unseen meter moves so quickly, and I found myself sailing shots over the goals more often than not. It requires a very soft touch that takes a while to get used to, but once I got it down, it became almost second nature. The other mechanics like dribbling, corner kicks, penalty shots, and defending required a lot of practice, and this was taken care of with training mini games that took place in between each match. Although this got annoying pretty early when all I wanted to do was play the next match, it really did refine my skills much faster than if I had just jumped right into the next game.
What really hit close to home for me was how I started playing this game as if it were a puzzle game instead of a sports game. In my mind, I started looking for pathways to get the ball through the defenders, looking for openings and lanes to get the ball through to a teammate to line up a score. I will say that the feeling you get when seeing a scoring drive play out exactly how you pictured it in your head is a super satisfying feeling. I’ll fully admit that I fist-pumped the air on more than one occasion when finally successfully scoring a goal with my own player. It’s immensely satisfying in a way that I never expected.
What’s new to this game is the story mode, called “The Journey”. I played as Alex Hunter, an English lad with an affinity for the game. I started following Alex as a kid playing at a very young age. Within a short period of time, he’s recruited for the big leagues and works his way up through the ranks to eventually get scouted for the Premier League. Along the way, he recruits fans, gains sponsorships, and heads towards the ever-coveted cup that his grandfather (a former soccer star) was never able to achieve in his younger years.
“FIFA 17” adds something I’ve never played in a sports game: dialogue choices. In between certain matches, Alex has interactions with other players or coaches as well as press conference interviews. He’s given three different responses, one “cool”, one “fiery”, and one “balanced”. Each choice has an effect on Alex’s future. A “cool” response is remembered by your coach, who obviously plays a big part in whether or not you start in the next match, but you don’t gain as many fans as you would with the “fiery” approach. The inverse works the opposite way, and the “balanced” responses leave you somewhere in the middle. I didn’t see too much effect outside of that, but I appreciated the personal touch it put into following single player through an entire season. I would just like to see that fleshed out more with a bigger impact in the next game (as well as other sports series).
At the end of the day, I have no regrets playing “FIFA 17” and am actually thankful that I was basically forced to finally experience a game that I’ve avoided like the plague for years. Would I rather have been finishing my play through of “Doom” or “Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood”? Probably, but I had enough fun with it and have a better appreciation for the sport than I’ve ever had. If I had to play next year’s version, I would probably keep from playing the 15-16 hour story mode in a single weekend and spread it out a bit to avoid oversaturation. I could also see this being a ton of fun playing with friends online. As much as I’ve talked down about playing a game I had zero interest in giving a shot, it was a worthwhile experience to play this highly polished game that is hugely popular worldwide.