FIFA 17 Martial and Hazard ()FIFA 17 Martial and Hazard () © Copyright

How good is FIFA 17?

Now that we’ve spent a good chunk of time with FIFA 17, it’s time for a proper review. There’s a lot to cover here, so we’ll break this mother down into chunks. Let’s jump straight in. 

Frostbite engine

Let’s get the obvious out of the way. The first immediately noticeable change when you play FIFA 17 is the step-up in graphics. The Frostbite engine – used in Battlefield and Battlefront – has delivered a big visual upgrade. The lighting is noticeably better, and the little details – such as the sweat running down the players’ faces – look incredible. Even the way the kits crease with movement looks better than before.

It also means the off-pitch moments in the journey polished, but that’s going to have minimal impact on most people’s paying of the game.

It’s worth noting that player likenesses are also markedly better than in any previous FIFA – at least they are for the biggest players.     

Anthony Martial FIFA 17 ()

 

Gameplay

Now for the important bit, gameplay. The biggest change – to my eyes at least – is that of physical play.

Strength is now a bigger factor than ever before, and it’s really changed how you can play the game. Using a strong player for hold-up play is now a proper viable option. Play as Manchester United and you can get the ball to Zlatan, hold LT/L2 and he’ll put his body between the ball and the defender and hold him off, giving Rashford or Martial time to make an incisive run.

It takes a bit of practice to use it effectively – and the CPU is irritatingly good at it – but it gives you another attacking option that really works. 

That physical rework has also made crossing much more effective, too. Putting a ball in the air really allows the big, physical players to shine. But while big strong players will often win the ball in the air, the mid-air challenge of a defender means they won’t necessarily make good contact with the ball – so it’ll often loop over or bobble wide of the goal. The balance feels pretty good, big players always feel dangerous in the box without being overpowered.   

The triple-tap low cross was actually a bit too effective – it rarely missed its mark – and has since been nerfed by EA. 

You can also use this physical play off the ball too – backing into players and pushing them about during set pieces.

Speaking of set pieces, they’ve been completely reworked. Now, if you’re putting the ball in the box, you can choose where you want the ball to land using a crosshair, and control the pace and trajectory of the ball with the power bar. The best part is that you can set up your set-piece, then switch to a player in the box and call for the ball when you’ve lost your marker. So you can place the ball in space, at the front post for example, then run into that space while calling for the ball. It’s a fantastic addition, and it means corners and free kicks feel far less random. You feel like you actually deserve a goal from a well-worked corner, instead of it just being a lottery.

Real Madrid corner FIFA 17 ()

 

For direct free kicks, you can now control the run-up and starting position of the free-kick taker. Changing the angle of the run up will change how the player strikes the ball. It takes some getting used to, but it’s a nice logical addition.

Penalties have also been completely renewed. You control your run up in a similar way to free kicks, changing the speed and angle etc. But you have to set the power and direction while you’re running towards the ball. It’s a good mechanic that makes the penalties feel a lot more pressured. The new system can occasionally produce odd-looking run-ups, and a few people are complaining that the ball often just rolls slowly towards the goal – but it’s not a problem I’ve encountered.

The game just looks slicker as a result of the physics update. Defending players will now put themselves between the attacker and the ball to win possession or draw the foul. The collisions look better than ever. Big challenges look impactful and I even found myself occasionally oohhh-ing at a nasty foul.

In general play, the shooting has been tweaked to allow you to keep shots and headers low with a double tap of the shoot button. It’s been a long time coming, and makes headers a far more viable scoring option.

The low driven shot is nice addition but is on the verge of being overpowered. Firing a low shot across the keeper almost always results in him parrying it into the box for an easy tap in. 

The offensive AI has apparently been updated. I didn't notice a massive difference. But if you pass the ball around, FIFA 17 does seem to reward patient play, with players making decent runs. On more than a few occasions though, I've had a player stop running just as I'm about to play them through, which is infuriating, especially when there seems to be no reason for them to abandom the run.  

The Journey

There's a few changes to FIFA 17's game modes. Let’s start with FIFA 17's headline addition – The Journey. If you ever played Fight Night Champion, it’s not hugely dissimilar to Champion mode – no bare-knuckle prison scraps here though.

It puts you in the boots of young Alex Hunter, a lad with a distant father, a single mother and a football legend for a granddad. And he’s desperate for a shot at the big time. You begin at the exit trials where you have to perform a number of drills to get noticed before being snapped up by a team of your choosing.

FIFA 17 stadium ()

 

It’s an interesting idea – having a plot and characters in a football game – and I enjoyed it, but there are some annoyances.

The first is the illusion of choice. When you first choose your team, your agent suggests that signing for a smaller club will result in more play time and help you to develop more quickly, while a bigger club will be harder to break into. I chose Bournemouth, thinking that this would let me improve Alex more quickly, but ultimately the story is the same regardless of which club you choose. It makes no difference.

You can also choose what to say in conversations, and it’s a nice touch, but again, ultimately has very little effect on the game – Fiery answers will please the fans but not the boss, while cool answers will do the opposite.

The gameplay is just like the old be-a-pro or pro clubs mode, and you can choose whether to play as Alex or the entire team. You’ll also get objectives for each match – score a goal, get an assist, make 10 passes etc. Your match ratings affect your standing in the club and whether you’re in starting eleven or on the bench.

You also get training sessions, in which you play two drills that are suggested by the manager. Doing those drills will keep the manager happy, and boost your team standing, but if you aren’t worried about keeping the boss sweet, you can change them to whatever you like. The training sessions boost your stats – just like the training sessions in manager mode from the last game – so you can focus on dribbling, finishing etc. And you can also pick traits, which will give you new skills, like swerve pass or 5-star skills.     

This is great, but the problem is The Journey is a rather short one. It covers just one season. So upgrading Alex feels a bit like a waste of waste of time – there’s just not enough time to make him great. He was rated 73 by the time I finished.

I’m aware I’m sounding quite down on The Journey, but it was an interesting addition and still worth a play. The narrative is fun and you also get a 75-rated Alex Hunter FUT card for completing it.

FIFA Ultimate Team

Ultimate team is much the same but with a few new bits to keep it fresh.

Squad building challenges are an interesting new idea. Essentially, you’re tasked with putting together teams of certain clubs/nationalities for various rewards – usually decent players. 

This is great because it makes getting decent players possible, but it still feels difficult/near impossible early game – you may need to build four different teams to win one card for example. 

Perhaps more exciting is FUT champions. You play in daily tournaments during the week to fight for your place in the weekend league (those who win a high division in league play can also enter). Gain entry, and you can bag some decent prizes depending on how many wins you get over the weekend. It certainly adds a bit of spice and urgency to games, and makes it feel less like and endless grind of matches.

Marco Reus FIFA 17 ()

 

Career mode

There’s some new stuff in career mode, some good, some pointless.

You can make an avatar for your manager, which is fine, but do you really care? Every now and then I see him on the sideline and it takes me a few seconds to remember that it’s supposed to be me.

More intriguing are the club objectives. Every club will have different focuses and objectives of varying importance. I took the helm at Newcastle, where domestic success was critical – they wanted me to win the championship and get to the round of 16 in the FA cup.

Developing the youth was of a medium priority – I was tasked with signing two youth players who had a potential greater than the players in their respective positions in the starting 11. I also had to bring in a player from the youth squad and play him at least 10 times.

There are also financial, brand growth and continental success objectives with varying degrees of importance.

Some are slightly unexplained and seem incidental. I had to x number of shirt sales for example. Which I did, but I don’t know how. Presumably because I made a couple of signings? Maybe player form has some bearing?

This gives manager the mode a little more depth, though, which is welcome.

You’re also given a detailed look at the clubs finances, which contributes to your overall club worth. Ultimately, though, it’s  pretty pointless.

Jose Mourinho FIFA 17 ()

 

Pro clubs

Pro clubs is still good fun. If you’ve not played it yet – you really should – it pits 11 players vs 11, each controlling one player. In reality though, you often get around 5 vs 5.

You create your own pro, choose their position (which you can change) and get cracking. You can start your own club, design the kit (from 24 templates) and crest etc. Or join a pre-existing club. Or even just play drop –in sessions with randoms.

If you get a good team that’s willing to pass the ball and play football, it’s tremendous fun. Get stuck with an idiot that shoots every time they receive the ball and it’s much more frustrating.

Your player growth is based on your match rating. Play well, get better. You can also get traits with skill points, much like with Alex Hunter in The Journey.

Eden Hazard FIFA 17 ()

 

Verdict

How much you enjoy FIFA 17 will probably depend on what sort of player you are and what elements you enjoy. To me, the changes bring new variety to the gameplay and it feels like there are far more viable attacking options. All things considered, the game has moved on meaningfully from 16, and big strong players are finally properly useful. It’s telling that Mitrovic has outscored Dwight Gayle and Kelechi Iheanacho in my career mode. Would that have been the case in FIFA 16? I doubt it.

Is it better than PES? That’s the question everyone seems to be asking, and it’s a pointless one in my book. They’re very, very different games. Try them both, play which one you enjoy. For what it’s worth, picking up PES after a FIFA 17 session makes PES feel very dated in my book. The physics seem ancient, the players have no weight or momentum – Messi can seemingly turn at 90-degree angles when at full sprint. It’s a great game, the best PES in a long, long time, but my money still goes on FIFA.

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