It’s taken a hell of a long time, but the good news is that EA Sports has at long last has injected something fresh and new into a FIFA title. While all of the usual suspects like FIFA Ultimate Team, Pro Clubs and Manager Career still populate the FIFA landscape, it’s The Journey that steals the show on all fronts – even if it suffers from a noticeable case of underperformance.
There’s no doubt that The Journey is a long-overdue game mode, and by adapting the highly-acclaimed Frostbite engine, FIFA 17 allows a more cinematic and narrative-style approach to becoming a professional footballer. You play as Alex Hunter, a 17-year old lad looking to crack the big-time and represent a football club in the English Premier League. He is joined at the hip with best mate Gareth Walker, who’s been playing football with him since their under-10 junior league days; Gareth is also hoping to make a name for himself.
Even though The Journey comes with ailments, there genuinely is something special about it. The player senses how important football as a career choice is to young Alex, as well as the burden of rejection that comes with failing to make the cut. This is evident through a coach’s pep talk during Alex and Gareth’s Exit Trial for Premier League consideration. The coach reiterates that, even if they aren’t selected this time around, they should never give up; it’s pretty powerful.
Your steely determination will pay off, albeit in a fairly underwhelming way. The Journey’s leap from Struggle Street to all-round success happens at an astronomical pace, as Alex is approached with a transfer offer from every current Premier League club. It takes the wind out of a rags-to-riches story where offers from lower-league teams would’ve made for a far more interesting and satisfying climb to the top flight.
Alex begins as a mere substitute player but must fight his way into the main squad for more game time and exposure. Training sessions, graded on an A to F scaling, help solidify your place in the team, but it’s the actual football matches that dictate your role and importance at the club. As a substitute, you’ll be given a series of objectives that should be completed with the remainder of time left in the match. In the position of central attacking midfielder (CAM), linking up play with 10 passes or creating three scoring opportunities were a regular occurrence. However, some of the manager’s targets were downright outlandish, like draw the match when 3-0 down, or create four chances with 10 minutes left. One of the biggest downsides is that, when you manage to break into the main squad, these objectives are taken away; turning every full match into a standard game.
The Journey gives players chances to mould Alex Hunter into a particular type of player; especially when talking to the media. The Balanced, Fiery or Cool responses available from a Mass Effect-style dialogue wheel affect public approval of Alex’s off-field persona. The manager’s opinion, as well as those of your social media followers, will fluctuate depending on these responses and may trigger new sponsorship deals when certain follower milestones are reached.
These choices may trigger cutscenes reflective of your post-match interview choices, but they’re mostly inconsequential – which is a great shame. The Journey lacks that soap opera-inspired lifestyle, where playing football almost comes second to public opinion and media scrutiny. There’s no player-controlled interactivity with any teammates, family members or even social media identities outside of playing football, and this takes the gloss away from what could have been a very fleshed-out section of the game.
But The Journey is not the entirety of FIFA 17. There are a few gameplay tweaks, as expected, that add a lot more enjoyment to FIFA’s seemingly forgotten Manager mode. When you are signed to a new club, there are a raft of financial, league and youth development goals for that club. One such example sees the game provides a breakdown of memberships and jersey merchandise purchases from your team’s supporters, and adds that extra hit of realism and satisfaction when you edge closer towards those big bonuses.
Before each match, you can focus on five of your players and take them to a closed training session. These special skill games not only go towards improving a player’s stats or helping them gain lost form, but are a valuable way to increase their overall value should you wish to use them as ‘trade bait’ later in the season. Taking control of each player during a chosen activity is a far wiser option than simulating every drill; it’s far more satisfying to get As and Bs than being randomly rewarded with Cs and Ds.
However, I found that a manager career still lacks that sense of consequence and extra dimension of customisation. Your responses in press conferences have next to no effect at all on media scrutiny, team morale or verbal ammunition for teams in upcoming fixtures.
When it comes to the nuances of football in-game, FIFA 17 also switches up a few things. There’s more of a slow, studied build-up to getting the ball through the midfield and into that final third, where jockeying for position and protecting the ball has been given higher importance. It may seem unrewarding and quite difficult at first, but it’s made much more satisfying if you can incorporate a few trademark tricks into your routine. Another major improvement is the introduction of an overdue, low-driven shot, which now means that you can add power at will without having a shot go sky-high over the crossbar; all it takes is a regular power shot with a follow-up tap just before you strike the ball.
FIFA Ultimate Team has remained much the same as the last iteration in the series, with the exception of Squad Challenges, where players can sacrifice a series of cards to acquire high-tier rewards. Ultimate Team is one of the most solid online game modes I’ve ever played; there simply isn’t a whole lot to complain about on this front. It’s clear these annual, minute updates have manifested into something addictive (and profitable), making FUT more accessible to newcomers with increased drop rates for those higher-skilled footballers; in only a few matches, my Team layout transformed from a squad full of bronze players to a mixture of bronze, silver and gold.
FIFA 17 sees the franchise in a state of transition. From a familiar but new graphics engine and a first attempt at a story mode, FIFA 17 delivers and under-delivers in numerous areas. As an experiment, The Journey is a blend of infrequently powerful storytelling and underwhelming gameplay. It tells that tale most young kids dreamt of living – a Cinderella story about rising to the top, finding glory and all that jazz. It’s clichéd, but it still works. A few nips and tucks from other game modes don’t overshadow the enormity of The Journey, making for a relatively similar game to the last.
Want to read more about The Journey? Read all my thoughts about the FIFA17’s new game mode.
It's All About The Journey
FIFA 17 is built around The Journey, a story mode that serves as a microcosm for the game as a whole: it has great presentation but ultimately lacks innovation.