FIFA 19 on PlayStation 4
Over the past few years, FIFA fans have generally known exactly what to expect from each new release. The polished overall experience will be added to incrementally with small quality of life tweaks, Alex Hunter’s journey will continue, and live content will ensure that Ultimate Team only grows in popularity. However, each year also sees gameplay issues that aren’t addressed, the play can feel inconsistent and unreliable, and any on-field changes feel insignificant, leaving an impressive spectacle that doesn’t hold up under close inspection. The changes touted for FIFA 19 also seemed quite underwhelming at first, but in action they have created fluid, balanced, and challenging gameplay, without losing any of the presentation flair the series is known for, making for the best FIFA package we’ve played in years.
FIFA 19’s gameplay still possesses the series’ signature arcade feel, with pace and power being important traits in a player, but many of the aspects that have frustrated in recent years have been tightened up and refined. From front to back, the play feels smoother –the new Active Touch System clearly having an impact on how players move and interact with the ball. Midfielders and defenders feel more assured on the ball and, aside from a few stray first touches, more reliable. Instances where attackers win loose balls unrealistically and tackles seeing the ball pop back to the opposition as they’re clean through on goal are less frequent, and player intelligence seems to have been boosted across the board. Positioning is better than ever before in both attack and defense with the importance of stats like reactions and strength in FIFA 19 seeing top quality defenders play a vital role, and their ability to cut out danger safely is improved.
In attack, players make more positive runs than before. Passing the ball into your striker from the midfield will see three or four players drive on towards the opposition’s backline, especially in formations that utilize wingers to run down the outside of full backs or diagonally through the channel between them and the CB. Through-balls aren’t reliable to the degree that this tactic is overpowered, sometimes being wildly over-hit, but the runs players make clearly lean towards an emphasis on counterattacks and spreading the play quickly. The smooth, flowing nature of the gameplay opens up more options for tactics, in turn giving more weight to the tweaked Custom Tactics system. Also, with the increased importance of stamina in FIFA 19, you need to be smarter about how you use your players throughout a match.
It is the new shooting mechanics that are the biggest change to how FIFA 19 plays, however. The introduction of Timed Finishing is interesting because it’ll likely frustrate at first. It completely changes how you need to act in certain attacking situations, and that’ll be scary if you’re a FIFA fan who has shot inputs essentially programmed into your muscle memory. Since it asks you to press shoot once, and again at the right time to get the perfect connection, you can no longer spam shoot from corners or scrambles in the box because, without considered timing, your shot will be completely wayward. For a while, it’ll feel wrong. However, after some time, you’ll learn that, while it does decrease the range of shooting options slightly, it’s great for the game for a few reasons.
Not only does it finally decrease impact of low driven shots by replacing its button input, but it adds a risk/reward element to shooting that’s not really existed before. Choosing to shoot with Timed Finishing from a position you could score from without it could see your shot cannon into the top corner with more power and precision, or you could shank it out for a throw if you get the second press wrong. The possibilities for the spectacular are high, but so are those for embarrassment, and you need to consider when it’s worth using. It also adds a much-needed skill gap to FIFA, giving those that can master Timed Finishing an advantage that’ll be vital in FIA 19’s more competitive modes.
Away from the pitch, for the most part, FIFA 19’s presentation is the same as it was last year. Player faces and cutscene animations aren’t noticeably improved, and some FUT features, such as the pack animation, are a downgrade on last year’s options, but EA Sports’ acquisition of the rights for the Champions League and Europa League competitions see some variety in The Journey and Kick-off. The iconic Champions League music and the blue and white overlays are a welcome change to the usual match presentation, with the new commentary duo of Derek Rae and Lee Dixon improving the authenticity and overall variety. It’d be fun to mix and match Champions League elements into other modes, particularly Ultimate Team, but the variety is welcome nonetheless.
Some of Ultimate Team’s biggest issues from last year have also been addressed. Complaints about a lack of stuff to do during the week and an overly intensive weekend were frequent, but the mode has seen a structure rework that makes it fairer and more rewarding. Draft and Squad Battles remain, with Divisions Rivals replacing the old Divisions system. Now, you play to accumulate points that translate into rewards in a more competitive ranked ladder system, where you’re able to jump divisions, play as little or as often as you like, and attempt to qualify for FUT Champions. The competitive Weekend League and Divisions Rivals are closely tied, with players of any quality having the chance to qualify by playing enough games.
The Weekend League has also been reduced to 30 games, which will delight anyone who struggled through the 40 at any point in FIFA 18, and the rewards are changed slightly so that you’re not punished for missing a weekend. That change cannot be underestimated as it has the potential to remove frustration from the mode and reignite FIFA’s competitive scene, and EA’s excellent new Pitch Notes program shows that the development team are embracing their community by being more open about the changes and how the game works. The changes to qualification, rewards, and structure have made online FUT more appealing to players of all abilities, and it’s the perfect change that the mode needed. Ultimate Team should be about more than just live content this year.
The third part of The Journey, called Champions, doesn’t feel as refreshing, however. As Alex Hunter joins Real Madrid, himself and his mate Danny Williams are vying for Champions League glory, while his 16 year-old sister, Kim, is beginning her World Cup adventure. That story, however, isn’t an engaging one. Switching between the three characters feels disjointed, with the story jumping between parts of the season at will, but it’s the writing that’s The Journey: Champions’ downfall. It’s awkward and unrealistic throughout. Williams is self-aggrandizing to a degree that even Zlatan Ibrahimovic would cringe, and although the game tries to approach issues a player might face in the real world, such as sexism and burnout, it often feels rushed due to the amount of loading and filler content in the mode. Also, since Danny and Kim are low rated players, the mode is often not as fun as it could be. For me, Williams is Arsenal’s first choice striker and he’s slow and clumsy on the ball, asking the coach to go and practice his headers at the local park. The unrealistic nature of those scenes and others is only eclipsed by in-game Unai Emery’s insistence that Danny Welbeck should start every Arsenal game at Left Wing. The Journey’s characters aren’t interesting enough that you’ll want to see their story out, let alone step away from the more engaging modes on offer.
The only other mode to see any significant changes, with Pro Clubs and Offline Career disappointingly staying largely the same, is Kick-Off. The classic mode that’s been the home of makeshift tournaments and embarrassing your friends has embraced its fun side. You can now play with No Rules, jump into a match that sees you lose a player each time your team scores, or see long shots worth two goals. It adds fun and variety to the mode that elevate it beyond the choice for playing a quick game against your friend on the couch.
While the underwhelming finale of Alex Hunter’s story and the lack of meaningful changes seen by some of the modes will be frustrating for some fans, FIFA 19 is generally a huge step forward for the series and shines in the ways that matter most. Ultimate Team has been made more appealing by a fairer and more rewarding structure, but it’s the gameplay changes that add fluidity, precision, and reliability to the play that make FIFA 19 the best game the series has seen this generation.
Score: 4.5/5 – Great
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