The undisputed goliath of football games returns for another annual update, one that promises plenty of new features as well as tweaks to formats which have become regulars of the series. The additions are a mish mash of changes that primarily serve as sweeteners for current fans of the series, rather than game-changers aimed at bringing in a wider audience.
However, FIFA’s biggest addition of last year, The Journey, certainly serves as the most newbie-friendly aspect and this continues in The Journey: Hunter Returns in FIFA 18. The mode features a plethora of cutscenes featuring entertaining yet quite over-the-top melodrama. Thankfully, the grounded and likeable main characters make it digestible, and with the game available not only on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One but PC and Nintendo Switch as well (as well as last-gen consoles like the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3), there are a huge number of ways to play.
EA have put a significant focus on fixing gameplays issues from recent iterations this time out. Nothing is revolutionary but changes like the passing feeling more accurate and crossing being an effective tool are tweaks that players have been longing for. Like passing, long distance shooting feels similarly honed, giving the player more of a feeling that their intentions have been realised. The new tool ‘Quick Subs’ feels like a real attempt by EA to enhance the fluidity of the gameplay by allowing players to make subs without having to pause the game. This aim is somewhat accomplished but whilst it does help slightly, it’s a tad cumbersome and requires planning substitutions before kick-off.
The regular FIFA game modes (Career, Ultimate Team and Online Seasons) make a return, with Career Mode featuring the most interesting changes. Much of the mode is the same but EA’s attempts to improve the negotiations fall flat. There’s the new Transfer and Player Hubs, which seems to be an attempt to add more detail to player signing and contract negotiations. This change separates processes in the menus that, previously, were much closer together and adds clutter rather than nuance to what was already a streamlined process.
Nothing is revolutionary but changes like the passing feeling more accurate and crossing being an effective tool are tweaks that players have been longing for.
The new cinematic negotiations are another sore point in FIFA 18. In an attempt to bring together the dialogue options of The Journey and transfer negotiations, this iteration includes visual interactions between the manager and agents. This non-verbal dialogue mechanic gives a completely unnecessary and outdated looking downgrade to a process that was perfectly fine being in the menus. Luckily, these negotiations can be avoided by delegating to the assistant manager.
Ultimate Team returns for more of the same pack-opening antics, providing hours of new content for those avid FIFA YouTubers. Squad Battles are the primary new addition, allowing the player to test their UT squad against AI squads specifically put together by actual footballers or FIFA influencers.
Much of the Career Mode is the same but EA’s attempts to improve the negotiations fall flat.
The underrated online mode Seasons also makes a return. This is a fun ‘pick up and play’ online mode that gives some meaning and progression to the matches. Rather than playing standalone friendlies, you advance through leagues and can participate in knockout tournaments.
FIFA 18 does a lot more to address issues with gameplay than it has between most recent iterations. Whilst these changes are welcome, they ultimately refine an all too familiar formula. Consequently, newcomers and fans in love with the series won’t be let down but if you are looking for a radically updated experience then you won’t find it here.