We go hands-on with the latest iteration of EA Sports’ beloved football franchise.
FIFA 17 is different. When EA Canada announced that its flagship series would be making its way over to the Frostbite Engine I had a feeling that this would potentially change a lot of things about how FIFA fundamentally plays, and that seems to have come to fruition. FIFA 17 being different from its predecessors isn’t a bad thing, though, and it’s one of the biggest change ups in the series’ long-running history. I only played a couple of exhibition games, but as a hardcore FIFA player, the changes in this year’s entry quickly became apparent – and they’re mostly great.
The most obvious change in FIFA 17 is, of course, to do with the introduction of the Frostbite Engine. Players look much more detailed than ever before, from the texture and style of Anthony Martial’s hair to the highly detailed fragments of Cesc Fàbregas’ beard – this is by far the most realistic depiction of football players I’ve ever seen. That transcends to the pitches and stadiums, too, with everything extremely detailed all the way down to the individual blades of grass you consistently run over throughout a match.
The introduction of Frostbite has heralded a lot of gameplay changes as well, and for hardcore players it will definitely take some getting used to. I don’t say that lightly either, because while every new yearly iteration of FIFA takes some getting used to before you hit that ‘sweet’ spot, FIFA 17 is the most progressive and major change up that I’ve experience since FIFA 10 and FIFA 11. Even with the pace of a match turned to high, gameplay feels much slower and more methodical than before. Quick breakaways can be swiftly defended if you keep your focus, as defenders take up positions that are much more realistic to their real-world counter parts now – something FIFA 16 attempted to do, but to varying degrees of success. It’s harder to lay off that perfect through ball too, with defenders picking up on your actions and constricting your options before you can more-or-less examine the field. It’s exhilarating, really, to be presented with intelligent opposition that continually makes you think on your feet – all the while looking out for the potential of a player taking the ball off of you and initiating a quick breakaway themselves.
While FIFA 16’s introduction of the driven ground pass was a great new mechanic, it was often abused as a perfect option to play low crosses into the box due to the fact the ground cross was often extremely unreliable last year. It seems like EA Canada have picked up on this, with passes failing to reach their targets much more often than before. Similarly, I found that passes I’d usually be able to nail would spray wide of their target area a lot more often due to the situation I was in with defenders and my position on the field. And remember those Rooney-esque switch balls you could do from one side of the field to the other? They’re much harder to pull off now, with switch plays often ending up closer to the middle of the field rather than the opposite side. This change is understandable, of course, as it feels much more realistic, but I found that even while playing as both Manchester United and Borussia Dortmund — both fantastic teams with great passers of the ball — my passes and switch attempts often ended up at opposition feet or were at the very least wildly inaccurate. It was a bit frustrating, but I believe more time with the game is needed to fully understand how the passing system will work this time around. However, in saying that, what is clear is that passing in FIFA 17 has had a huge revamp, and I really like it, minor frustrations aside.
As you’d probably expect with a yearly iteration, EA Canada have introduced some great minute aesthetic and gameplay changes into this year’s FIFA, and they cumulatively make the game feel much closer to resembling the real game of football. The first of these is the fact you can now move your player a couple of metres to the left or right while taking throw ins – a tactic that is regularly seen in the modern game. Further, something I’ve truly been hoping for has finally come to fruition, and that’s dynamic crowd interaction to events that happen in-game. Crowds now get excited when a team goes on a break, they despair when the ball’s intercepted or a key pass is cut out, and they realistically react to crunching challenges and smaller events during a match. It makes it feel much closer to resembling real football, and I absolutely love this addition. It adds another degree of enjoyment to the game.
Something that also took me by surprise was the inclusion of a new stadium announcer. The matches I played were at Old Trafford — Manchester United’s home ground — and the announcer you’d hear during a Premier League match was lending their voice in 17, announcing substitutions, crowd attendance, and, as another new notable addition, who the man of the match award was going to just before the final whistle sounded. As a Man United fan I quickly picked up on this little detail, and I hope it’s something that is utilised with, at the very least, some of the other big clubs in the game.
While FIFA 17 is still raw and I experienced a few glitches here and there, I generally came out quite impressed with what’s going to be on offer for football fans this year. The new additions are great, coming together to create a much more realistic depiction of the beautiful game than ever before. The introduction of the Frostbite Engine has made the game much slower and more methodical, in turn making for a bigger learning curve than previous entries, and combined with the inaccurate passes and through balls I can see myself getting a bit frustrated in those early hours. However, even with those notable changes I had a blast playing this year’s entry in the series and I’m definitely keen to hear more at Gamescom in August, especially on the game’s The Journey mode, which I didn’t check out during my playtime. Here’s hoping there will be another push on the women’s side of the game, too, but we’ll have to wait and see. What’s established here, however, is a great base for the future of EA Sports’ flagship franchise.
We conducted this preview on early code of FIFA 17 at EA’s EA Play event in Los Angeles.