It’s the journey, not the destination, that matters in FIFA 17

Another year, another FIFA. Like death, taxes and other metaphors that talk about what will inevitably happen, there’s another EA Sports football game on the market this year, but is it any good?

Well that depends on what you’re looking for. If you want a more realistic experience that gives you more options that previously but still isn’t perfect on the AI end or for team personality, then really look no further.

Or at least look at it because, at times, it’s a very pretty football game. The facial recognition on popular players in the Frostbite engine is fantastic, although you are still pulled out by those slightly less famous that look like potato mashed into a face, and the presentation on matches is excellent.

Bundesliga games in particular, where they have the rights to use the branding of the league, really brings it to life in a way that’s never really been done by the series before. More of this in the future from other leagues if possible, please.

Gameplay has been tweaked along with that new engine, sometimes in subtle ways but also in some quite substantial ones.

Set pieces have been completely retooled, with corners and free-kick crossing now allowing the player to either float or drill a ball into the box while also give them the option to be a player in the mix and call for the ball.

It’s very hit and miss, floating it works much better than drilling it and the movement of the reticule to make it harder is more of an annoyance than making it a nuanced skill. There is also some balancing needed on the magnets in player’s heads as it’s too easy for them to win in the air, especially on corners, but at the same time it’s rare that it results in a goal.

Penalties have also been altered, although it’s not the best change. You now move and aim with the left stick and choose power with the shoot button, much like taking a shot at goal, but it does take some getting used to and it’s not as responsive as the previous incarnation.

The more nuanced changes come in terms of defending and passes, that have been tweaked in interesting ways.

Those that charge you when you are in possession or just hold onto the A button are severely punished. Jockeying has become more effective, keeping position rather than running out like the DJ has just announced that the buffet is open in the changing rooms.

Passing has had its power pushed a little further down, meaning short passes and quick passes need to be a little sharper than previous years. Inventive passes are also more encouraged because of better AI movement, creating those beautiful movements that adorn every KSI YouTube montage over the past five years more frequently.

Then there’s the usual balancing between pace and strength, with the latter coming out on top this year. The good thing is speed isn’t completely killed off but the physicality of some of the best players really comes alive in this one, which makes it feel that much more real.

The biggest innovation outside of the actual football is The Journey, possibly the series’ biggest addition since Ultimate Team or being able to move in every direction like a real human being. It is immersive and well stylised, the story it is trying to tell is at least intriguing and relatable compared to something like NBA 2k16’s awful Spike Lee ‘joint’.

While some may have thought the fake players would have been the reason to pull you out of the experience, it’s the lack of variety and puzzling decisions that stop it from really hitting the big heights. Harry Kane signing for Bournemouth only to play once, Hunter the centre-forward repeatedly being brought on as a defensive midfielder and a goal of winning from 3-1 down at Manchester City in 15 minutes are just some examples that bring the bright star story back to earth with a bump.

Other modes have been touched but there’s been very little movement. There are Squad Challenges in Ultimate Team, that work similar to Madden UT’s trading system, but you can give up so much for a random chance that it feels like swapping all your shiny stickers for a full team photo, it just doesn’t have the right weight.

All in all, it almost feels like the current incarnation of Manchester United. It’s at least a step in the right direction after what has felt like a few aimless years, wandering around and not sure of where the next step is. There’s much more of a foundation to build on here than before and while that won’t satisfy everyone, there is still a lot to love.

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