Right off the bat, FIFA 17 throws you into the unfolding action of the ever-so-popular Emirates FA Cup match between Chelsea and Manchester United. Without hesitation, this football, or fùtbol, simulation is brought directly to the player like a greeting: “2017 is here, welcome!” With you playing as Chelsea in Wembley Stadium, one of the world’s most well-known stadiums, it’s clear EA wanted to give everyone a taste of the action immediately, mostly as a training game for newcomers and a quick dust-off for those returning to the series.
After this tutorial, you'll notice a message stating that your settings have been synchronized. At one push of a button you will be able to bring back all settings and preferences quickly. Now you can jump right into all things old and new.
Starting with the old, FIFA 17 has brought back Ultimate Team for those who are into the fantasy-team universe. I’ve never been a big FUT player, mostly because of the endless amount of time you could and have to spend in the mode, but this is the same reason others love it. You are able to take players from around the world and build a squad that shall rival no other. It’s a building process where you unlock players, kits, celebrations, and many other items by completing goals for coins used for the advancement of your squad. That said, other than FUT Champions and a few small additions, this year’s FUT looks and feels the same. Without a doubt this one is for those who’ve followed the mode and plan on continuing their play.
For the most part, EA Sports continues the usual FIFA gameplay, not particularly fixing anything that's broken but enhancing the parts that need a boost. Game planning is amazing; not only can you now sub players to your liking, the computer will suggest players and formations that will best help the squad. Also the option to physically align players is made available. If there’s a defender you want to play tighter to the keeper, you can scoot him in and be there for box match-ups. If there's a midfielder who you want to shoot more, you can move him up and get him more into the attack game. There’s even a new corner-kick aim-assist feature that's quite handy. These subtle improvements are the glue that bonds everything together.
On pitch, the game performs about average. Collisions and jockeying for the ball don’t hold up quite as well when it comes to physics. Sometimes when making a tackle or well-placed challenge, players tend to awkwardly interact when touched. Watching guys fall over and stick to each other as if they were mates on the Discovery Channel episode isn't that great, despite running on the Frostbite engine. On the good side, the way a player moves has a slightly better feel to form, making playing surface textures ever so important for traction and footing.
Off pitch, the sights are spectacular and mimicked well. After scoring a goal, watching players run around and rouse the crowds definitely illustrates how it can be at a stadium. During a random match I queued up, midway through, the camera angle panned to the fans as well as the stadium, and I realized I was playing at CenturyLink Field, the home of the Seattle Seahawks. Every little detail had been added, making it easy to identify. Along with team and player licensing, stadiums look just as authentic as the rest.
Still, there’s one aspect of FIFA 17 that looks to separate itself from the rest, and that’s the freshly added story mode entitled “The Journey.” This campaign follows the life of Alex Hunter, a young kid with his head in the footbal clouds. From tween to mega star, we are taken on his tremulous ride of ups and downs, as Hunter looks not only to make it on a pro club’s roster, but solidify himself as one of the world’s bests.
The Journey is quite clever actually, a mini-RPG in the framing of sports. It certainly isn’t a new idea but fun to see implemented in the FIFA world. While controlling Hunter, you are him and he is you. From the way you perform during training sessions, as well as in games, down to how you answer media, manager, and personal inquiries from teammates, you are in control. And it’s not just a simple run-through process; the way you interact with people will dictate your future, not only off the field but on it as well.
There are three choices you can lock Hunter’s personality under: fiery, calm, or balanced. Each option can brandish different scenarios to play off of. To this point, I have been playing balanced/fiery and the fans love me, but my manager isn’t quite so fond of my antics. Some of my minutes have dropped but I’ve gained many Twitter followers. Awesome! (Not.) Regardless of your decisions, you will immediately see the replayability of The Journey. It makes you want to redo choices you’ve made, bond with certain players, and if you play better, you may set yourself up better for a brighter future.
As a side note, as much as I enjoy listening to Martin Tyler and Alan Smith run play-by-play commentary, it might be a breath of fresh air to switch up the broadcast booth. Just a switch-up for one year would do dividends.
Overall, FIFA 17 performs well and keeps the trophy for football greatness, but it can certainly do better. But with the exclusive licensing and creative game modes, it's tough to beat. However, Pro Evolution Soccer is making great strides in competing against EA's series this year. We'll have to see if FIFA can continue its stay at the top for years to come.