At the jump, you’re thrown right into the ’53 minute of El Derbi madrileño match between Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid. Drama heats up as current Ballon d’Or holder Cristiano Ronaldo is fouled right outside the box, resulting in a golden opportunity to bury a go-ahead goal. From here, you step in and play out the rest of the tilt. This is an initial assessment test to attain your level of adeptness and selects a difficulty setting upon completion. Mind you, it’s merely a suggestion and can be tweaked at anytime, and be set differently for individual modes.
Speaking of, I still think starting with Skill Games is the best way to get acclimated to FIFA‘s “ins and outs.” Even for returning vets, these extensive tutorials serve the purpose of picking up on subtle and ostensible changes from the previous year. Five usual categories return (Basics, Passing, Dribbling, Defending, Shooting) all with several challenge rungs. Basics illustrate bare bones gameplay mechanics and practices as the others go much more in depth per the section chosen. By my estimation, the most important of these to play through are Passing and Defending, as you’ll glean crucial nuances abound those two aspects when playing matches. More than a couple of hours can be wrung from Skills Games, particularly with a concerted effort to attain a “favorable grade” on all objectives.
After breaking in the new boots in practice, it’s time to start making it count in full matches. We’ll get into all the different modes later and what they have to offer. For now, looking at gameplay differences from the past of couple years should imbue proceeding discussion in concordant reference. Right away I noticed offensive fluidity is taken up a tick or two. 16 and 17 both seemed to keep the parking brake on when it came to getting forward movement generated from the midfield through to the “attacking third.” This time, advancing up the pitch has more tact; link play between the flanks and strikers is more natural and flowing. Part of this is the buff to various lobbed passes. FIFA 15 was notorious for an OP over-the-top ball. One which could scale 60+ yards but still wind up right at the toes of a swift point man. EA Canada’s past two iterations substantially defanged said strat, arguably too much so. In 18, a more correct cord has been tuned. The Y button “through” pass doesn’t have quite the usual laser guided precision, but properly using the LB modifier of lofting the cookie in the air affords the intended receiver just enough time to separate from their marker and skirt free towards the GK. Proper “over-the-top” balls with an X press can be an effective way to flip east-west oriented direction of the play, but using it north and south isn’t as incisive. As advertised, crossing is more effectual. Whether it high hung flight or one of the darting low variety, travel is true and very playable. Driving headers and one-time shots snap with precision, making corners more lethal.
Regular A passes feel to have less automation in terms of going towards an open teammate. You will need to be judicious with close-in decision making and direction. One way to help this along is by switching the Trainer function into Movement mode. When activated, a small arrow circles the selected player reticle, offering a short reference of where he/she is pointed exactly while excluding the full in-game button hints; great middle ground. For a little more Trainer assistance, Movement & Mechanics adds pass and shot trajectory, but I found this to be a little distracting during the course of a match. With all this offensive goodness, you’ll need to get your defensive skills down pat. Proper technique usage will reward clean tackles with quick ball collection, but haphazardly flying in to address the dribbler can cost you dearly. Make sure to utilize the “jockey” stance (pulling LT) to better impede their stride. Sophomore year using the Frostbite 3 engine has yielded some appreciable benefits. As the old saying goes, practice makes perfect. Committing these changes to second nature will take some time, but should eventually afford a play experience with natural pace.
The Career modes are a great way to take in all aspects of gameplay and get a firm hold on the entire scope. Same in year’s past, a tandem approach is offered. As A Manager puts you in full(ish) control of a club. You’ll have to observe front office interests in the form of Board Expectations. These range from financial direction, to brand exposure, to on the pitch success. Attaining high marks boosts your popularity rating, keeping you employed. In-game emails informs about the “health” of each Expectation and how things are going with talent scouting. Finding young players is crucial in “the long game” as players will come and go for various reasons like injury or transfer. Before each game, you can chose to actually play the contest or just sim to create the effect of strictly controlling management aspects. If you do actually take the reins, look for the new Quick Sub system. After pivotal events like goals, a small blip shows up in the lower left corner of the screen, asking to hold RT. Upon this, it lists a suitable sub for someone who may need to tap out. Of course, the pause menu still affords all the usual personnel options, but this seamless approach does allay some guesswork. As A Player has you creating a pro or selecting one from your squad of choice. Here, the administrative aspects disappear and the only concern is ballin’ out! Objectives lean to stat tracking. Meeting or exceeding measurable performance (match rating, goals, pass percentage, et cetera) are areas of concern to keep in mind when playing. Be in control of just your dude or the entire XI, the choice is yours.
FIFA‘s bread & butter for the lion’s share of participants is Ultimate Team. Item “packs” are acquired with coins earned by playing games, or biting the bullet and purchasing points. Player “cards” range from bronze to gold depending on attribute ratings. The Chemistry mark makes a return, as you’ll need to focus on linking up squad mates of similar nationality, league, IRL clubs, and so forth. Having good players is all well and good, but top Chem makes execution more accurate and dependable. You’ll also need to keep a surplus of Consumables like fitness increases and contracts to ensure healthy, usable footballers. In truth, not much has changed at the heart of FUT, but there are a few things of note. A Starter pack is given the first time the selection is launched. Pick a country from which the RNG will be skewed to draw guys; providing some agency with building the team’s foundation. Daily and Weekly Objectives offer new coin grab opportunities that refresh every 24 hours/ 7 days. Returning FUT veterans will get nice rewards like all player packs that may make moving on from the previous year’s meticulous construction effort a little easier.
Personally, the mode that retains me for months after release is Pro Clubs. A few friends and I have gotten comfortable with our usual positions over the past three seasons, but sometime those can change based on how many of us are slotted in at a given time. As if clairvoyant, EA Canada introduces Play Styles. Modulating the Skills tree and points aspect, you’ll be able to build up to three loadouts and select different unlocks within each. For example, I play as a forward, but in some formations I make a better wing than center striker. Therefore, I have a Style dubbed “Up Top” and another “Wing.” When being on point, it’s important to have some muscle when fighting for position, so I spent more of the initial 15 points given to improve physicality. When on the outermost portions of the pitch, pace and stamina rule. With that in mind, I made sure I had second wind and faster feet. Points earned from playing can be used as you see fit. My suggestion is to prioritize which one will be your “primary” and try to improve that one most often. The pre-match menu has gotten a much appreciated face lift. Managing Play Styles, tweaking formations, and even selecting Roles like corner and free kick assignments are all possible right before the match. Once everyone is locked into a contest, things seem much more free flowing in comparison to 17. The aforementioned tuned aspects of 18 translate greatly to this, and all play options.
Probably the best pleasant surprise from last year was our introduction to prodigy Alex Hunter. The score first, ask questions later phenom is back in The Journey: Hunter Returns. Things pick up where the ’17 campaign left off. After becoming a star in the FA Cup final, you find Hunter relaxing in Brazil while on summer “holiday.” When he returns to Great Britain for training of the upcoming Barclay’s Premier League season, he’s faced with a litany of questions. How can he top last year? Is the beef between he and once close friend Gareth Walker squashed? Has he reconciled with his estranged father? After a pre-season tournament in Los Angeles, the most pressing concern becomes is Alex on the move? 18 can sync data from 17, affording the option to retain stats and club affiliation or start from scratch. After selecting your starting point, a “Previously on. . .” cutscene segment runs, showing crucial narrative happenings from 17. Each of the six chapters offers old and new progression tools. Conversations with other characters still feature the chance to select pre-cooked responses that shift Alex’s demeanor from Fiery to Cool or somewhere in between. An addition to this is Key Decisions, in which choices you make are said to have a salient effect in the story from that moment forward. Objectives like putting a certain amount of shots on frame among a number of games nets unlocks like boots and other cosmetics when met. Advanced abilities such as weak foot affluence and standing tackle buff are attained with earned Skill Points. I siphoned an unexpected amount of enjoyment and interest in playing through Alex’s path last season, so I’m glad to see it back with worthwhile enhancements. And for posterity sake, I should mention all the usual drop-in modes of the single game and tournament variety are also present, including ladies international tourney.
Soccer isn’t the only “beautiful” thing about this game. In step with the series so far this generation, 18 looks great. Character models are detailed in-close while congruently featuring believable movement tendencies when seen with a zoomed out camera selection. Progressive degradation of the pitch from opening kick to final whistle is one of the cooler mechanics I’ve seen in a sports title and is an appreciated addition. An improvement that struck me right away was from crowd “interaction.” The gallery of hooligans sounds more emotive; they react with different inflections and tone to match developments. Fans cheer and jeer for and against the home side. Yet another dash of panache adding to the positive tally. Commentary duties are again bestowed upon Martin Tyler and Allen Smith for league play with Clive Tyledsley and Andy Townsend blessing the mic in international contests. Geoff Shreeves gives injury news while Alan McInally interjects score updates. Prestigious organizations like EPL and La Liga feature the television broadcast presentation packages for a heightened sense of realism.
There was nothing outright “wrong” with last year’s product, but there was room for improvement. It seems EA Canada was receptive to what could alter things for the better, as many beneficial changes proliferate 18. Gameplay feels much more natural and welcoming, equating to more accessibility. The ways to play are well thought out and varied, adding to replay value. And the garnish of presentation scores big, leading to a pleasant sensory experience. If you like soccer and video games, give this serious consideration.