Another solid entry into the series.
FIFA 18 on PlayStation 4
During our time with FIFA 18, we were unable to find another player to try out the online servers with. Thus online play is not factored into this score. If online play is dramatically different than in previous years, we’ll update this review appropriately.
Cristiano Ronaldo makes a lot of things in football look easy. He’s scored his fair share of scintillating free kicks, leaves defenders’ legs tied up in knots with silky skills, and has won four FIFA World Player of the Year Awards since 2008. And the best part is, he makes all of this look incredibly easy. As such, there’s no surprise that EA Sports brought him on-board to improve player motion and dribbling in FIFA 18, and while this works wonderfully while you’re on the offensive, these improvements certainly aren’t seen across the board.
FIFA 17 was a pretty big step forward for the series. It was powered by the Frostbite engine, allowing for more realistic player models, stunning environments, and a more physical feel to proceedings on the pitch. It also added in an all-new mode called The Journey, allowing players to help young up-and-comer Alex Hunter break into the world of professional football. FIFA 18 continues the story with Hunter Returns, seeing the likable youngster rub shoulders with some of the biggest names in the sport as he tries to set up a move to one of Europe’s biggest clubs. The story has its exciting moments, but it does all feel somewhat overly dramatic and exaggerated.
For the most part, the gameplay in Hunter Returns here remains the same. You’ll still have objectives for each match you participate in, you’ll engage in training drills, and you’ll decide how Alex should react to certain questions or situations with a Fiery, Cool, or Balanced response. It’s an enjoyable little role-playing experience of being in the shoes of a young superstar… even if his short career is already more dramatic than Kylian Mbappe’s. This time around, however, Key Decisions have found their way into the mix, putting emphasis on significant moments that determine the fate of certain characters by the end of the story. At least, that’s what EA claims. By the time I’d reached the end of Hunter Returns, I was left feeling these decisions were far less significant than FIFA 18 had suggested at the beginning. What’s more, the “correct” decisions never feel too difficult to make.
My biggest gripe with Hunter Returns, however, came in the form of its rating system, dictating whether or not Hunter would be subbed off before the end of the game, as well as how his performance is perceived by his fellow players, manager, and critics. It’s a pretty significant part of the whole experience, yet it doesn’t seem to quite have the intelligence to give you a truly accurate rating. On countless occasions, I’d be penalized for not playing the ball sooner when I was through on goal with no support only for a defender to come in with an excellent tackle to dispossess me of the ball. Other times, I’d be applauded for a “Great shot” only for my rating to get lowered because the keeper made a fingertip save. This becomes a real nuisance during the later chapters when expectations are piled on.
There are a couple of other niggling issues, specifically in Hunter Returns, that did take the shine off this otherwise enjoyable story mode. You’ll be forced to sit through 20 seconds of seemingly nothing at the end of a game until you reach the skippable replays, the story doesn’t take your performances into account leading to some rather strange conversations that seem completely out of context, and I was literally subbed off after winning a penalty, only for my team to miss it and the game to end in a draw. EA still has some creases to iron out in this new story mode, but the Key Decisions, added customization options, and continued enjoyable (albeit cliche) story are all steps in the right direction. These are signs of potential on top of the already immersive experience crafted in The Journey last year, it’s just a shame they weren’t executed as well as they could have been.
As mentioned before, FIFA 18 boasts a number of on-the-pitch improvements courtesy of Cristiano Ronaldo’s collaboration. The best players now control the ball far tighter and in a more realistic way than before and playing with a passing maestro or a sniper in front of goal is noticeable. These improvements aren’t limited to the modern day greats. Even lower league players act more naturally on the ball, twisting and turning realistically rather than the abrupt, angular movements seen in previous years. Likewise, collision animations feel less janky and robotic. All of this makes for some of the most enjoyable buildup play in the series and for spectacular goals. An overhead kick with Pogba from a cross was my own personal favorite moment that I just had to save on my system. Button lag while playing offline felt reduced from previous years, for the most part, making quick passing feel silky smooth and responsive, though it did rear its head every now and again.
The problem is, these improvements greatly benefit offensive players over defenders. The likes of Ronaldo, Neymar, and Messi will have little trouble in weaving their way through your defenders who don’t feel quite as fluid off the ball as the attackers do on it. This makes for quite the uneven match-up and makes pace feel overpowered on the pitch once more. No matter how strong your defenders are, if they’re significantly slower, you’re gonna have a bad time.
Aside from this more fluid feel, the overall experience in FIFA 18 hasn’t changed all that much from last year’s entry. There are some minor adjustments such as the ability to choose and make Quick Subs that stop you from having to pause the game to make changes, and penalties have reverted back to how they were in 16. Aside from that, issues of switching to the wrong player or a pass going to the wrong player return once again – problems that have plagued the series for quite some time now. If EA Sports focused on fixing these minor on-the-pitch issues, they’d have a near-perfect gameplay formula. Here’s hoping for FIFA 19.
While the same gripes we’ve had with the series before return, FIFA’s unprecedented levels of authenticity and presentation remain as high as ever. Jerseys realistically crinkle and ripple as players run about the pitch, each individual blade of grass that makes up the sleek green carpets can be made out, and as the match progresses, the pitch scuffs and gets torn up. Heck, even the crowd can be seen bum-rushing the front of the stands when celebrating a goal. FIFA 18 is, as expected, the prettiest in the series yet, even if it’s just a minor improvement over last year’s offering when the Frostbite engine was first utilized.
Career and Ultimate Team have also received some new additions. Career mode now allows you to engage in interactive and cinematic transfer negotiations. Imagine the cutscenes from The Journey but between the familiar faces of world-renowned managers and players. They help to immerse you in the negotiations, but I imagine if you’re looking to overhaul your entire team these could become a little tedious. As for Ultimate Team, Squad Battles offers up a new mode for those who prefer to play in single-player. These allow you to face off against teams made by the community. The better your performance and the higher the difficulty level you beat them on, the more points you’ll get. The more points, the higher your rank which determines what rewards you’ll get come the end of the week. It’s a neat way to see how your team fares against other player-created teams without having to deal with poor connections or opponents that refuse to skip highlights or loiter in pause menus in the hope you forfeit. With a ton of different modes in Ultimate Team alone, plus the extensive Career mode, Pro Clubs, Online Seasons, and Hunter Returns, FIFA 18 offers a ton of content sure to keep fans busy for hundreds of hours.
All in all, FIFA 18 doesn’t feel like as drastic an improvement as its predecessor did over FIFA 16. Its improvements to offensive play certainly allow for some spectacular goals to be scored and help the fluidity of play. Unfortunately, these same improvements result in a fairly one-sided battle between attack and defense. This, combined with the same on-the-pitch problems we’ve been stuck with for years can lead to some particularly painful defeats if you’re unlucky. Still, fans of the series will be delighted with the updated roster, stellar presentation and level of authenticity synonymous with the series, and the dramatic next chapter of Alex Hunter’s story.
Score: 4/5 – Great
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