FIFA 18 sees EA doubling down on The Journey - the soccer soap-opera-meets-RPG mode that debuted in last year’s game. After Ultimate Team (which actually makes EA money) it’s the biggest option on the main menu and EA has gone all out to get some of world football’s biggest names to appear in it, including Antoine Griezmann, Thomas Muller and, er, Rio Ferdinand.
It starts with a ‘previously on…’ sequence that doesn’t really do that good a job of explaining what happened in FIFA 17’s version, before dropping you into a pre-credits three-on-three game on the streets of Rio, where Alex Hunter has chosen to spend his holiday.
The Journey has undoubtedly been created by people who understand football. There are references to exit trials and cold rainy nights in Stoke, while its attitude towards the Championship is familiarly disparaging.
Manager feedback during games and training sessions is genuinely useful for people trying to get better at the game and although the interactions you control are a little too sporadic and it’s hard to get a real sense of how meaningful they are, it should provide longevity for those put off by the flow of one-dimensional opponents in Online Seasons.
Perhaps it’s just not aimed at me (it's definitely not) but the main problem with The Journey is that though Alex Hunter is completely made-up, he exists in a world where my team plays. That means it doesn’t quite align with what I want FIFA as a game to do. I’d prefer to take control of the team I support and sign the real-life players that I’d like them to buy, rather than guide this made-up millennial through his squeaky-clean career.
Maybe if it allowed me to tweet pictures of Alex covered in tenners on the floor of a casino at 5am, or set off fireworks from his bathroom window, I’d be more inclined to stick with it. Come to think of it, why has nobody made a Mario Balotelli simulator yet?
It’s impossible to talk about FIFA without mentioning Ultimate Team - EA’s fantasy football for the LadBible generation.
Very little about FUT has changed in FIFA 18: you still put together a squad of players by opening packs or winning them at auction, using in-game coins that can be bought with real cash or earned on the pitch.
The only real new addition is its Squad Battle mode, which allows you to play offline games against teams put together by real-life FUT users - a nice way of mixing the two worlds that provides yet another reason to keep coming back.
It’s hugely addictive, almost worryingly so, with its system of bronze, silver and gold level squads meaning you don’t have to chase the elite level players to put together a team that feels like your own.
FIFA 18 verdict
All of that adds up to a game that feels a little like it’s lacking a marquee signing that will make you go out and buy it, but for most people that’s not a big deal - the series has already got its claws into them.
Offline, it’s definitely an improved experience. There’s a more considered pace to the game, crossing is better but still not perfect, and there’s more intent to the passing - although those driven ones do have a tendency to go to teammates they weren’t intended for.
The new quick subs (activated by holding the right trigger) also really speed up the flow of the game, but the online trend towards breakneck attacking, almost to the exclusion of any tactical variation whatsoever, is just as offputting as Pro Evo’s mismatching.
But money talks in football and FIFA 18’s perfectly replicated badge of authenticity and myriad ways to play will be more than enough to keep fans coming back - and they won’t be disappointed.
To put it in terms that Jurgen Klopp would understand, FIFA 18 is a bit like that album Metallica made with the San Francisco Symphony - it’s backed by an orchestra, but the loudest sound coming from the speakers is very much heavy metal.