Ultimate Team is still the best mode in sports games
New negotiations in career are superb
Career mode improvements may not go far enough for some
Review Price: £41.99
Available on PS4, Xbox One (version tested), Nintendo Switch, PS3, Xbox 360 and PC
FIFA 18 is the best FIFA game EA has ever made. It’s that simple. I cannot believe the huge leap the series has produced in one year. This is streets ahead of FIFA 17, let alone any that came before that. The football on the pitch is more fluid, passing is improved, close control better, and we finally have upgrades to offline modes. Throw all that in with Ultimate Team’s continued brilliance, another engaging story in The Journey: Hunter Returns and the Frostbite engine’s beauty, I don’t think we could ask for much more.
EA Sports deserves credit for the journey it has undertaken with FIFA. Starting off at the current-gen consoles’ launch with the ill-fated Ignite Engine, each year it was clear what the team was trying to implement. At times, the baby steps fixed some areas, while breaking others, like when heading became so overpowered for big men, many matches became a David Moyes cross-fest. Thankfully, crosses were broken at the same time, too, meaning there was some bastardised form of perfect imbalance.
Then it was the turn of defending, with a way more advanced system meaning you actually had to think when you didn’t have the ball. Unfortunately, because defence was overhauled in one year, attacking felt awful, as that had to be fixed the following year. But now, here we are, and all those pieces have finally come together to form a beautiful picture. It’s hard to not admire the end result when the gameplay is this good.
One huge complaint year-on-year has been that you’ll be dispossessed, concede a goal or commit an inexplicable error because your player is still finishing the last action. FIFA’s stilted and locked animations meant the football could feel slow, with mistakes often not your fault. You also had to learn to beat the system, and had to play “FIFA” football, gamifying the real sport. Now, EA has unlocked animations, meaning everything is so much smoother, faster and more responsive, and significantly closer to the games you watch on the telly.
Shielding the ball feels a much more viable option, as players don’t act like they’re turning around a council estate when spinning, they actually make sharp moves when dribbling. Sprinting is much better, as you can make intricate little touches to move between defenders, rather than knocking the ball yards ahead and stupidly losing it.
Pace also now (finally) plays a factor. Mbappe will comfortably beat most centre backs in a foot race, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial are lethal on United’s flanks. If your defence lacks speed, you better not play a high line.
All of these improvements feel like somebody at EA simply flicked a switch and made everything the game used to do 100% better. So many intricate changes come together to make an incredible package. Some of the passing moves I’ve put together in the build-up to a goal could easily rival PES for their sheer beauty, and that’s something I’ve never said about FIFA before.
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This is all helped by the fact FIFA 18 is utterly gorgeous. The Frostbite engine has truly allowed the game to shine with lighting effects offering tremendous detail under the floodlights and in bright daylight. Players also no longer suffer from the odd claymation effect, looking the best they ever have, and only get better the longer a game goes on as sweat begins to pour and much patches build on their kits and elbows. The level of detail is amazing.
I expected a great game on the pitch, but what I didn’t expect was for there to be significant improvements in the game’s long-ignored offline modes.
The Manager career mode has received one major new feature and it is significant enough to provide it with a huge breath of fresh air. During the transfer window you can now engage in real-time transfer negotiations with other managers. Choosing to negotiate the purchase of a player will see their manager enter your office, and you can submit bids, negotiate the fee, trade a player, all done as a back and forth cutscene. It’s a bit like a Mass Effect conversation, though with mute characters. It’s a great system that also occurs during contract renewals. It just adds further to the feel of being a management sim.
We’ve also got a new story in The Journey: Hunter Returns this year which is surprisingly gritty. Without spoiling too much, Alex Hunter is riding high off the back of his heroics last season, and talk of a big money move abroad starts to rise. However, the move doesn’t go as planned, meaning Alex has to rebuild his career and almost start from scratch. The darker tone of the story is surprisingly strong. You can also now customise Alex’s hairstyle, clothes, tattoos and boots, and there’s also new objectives in each chapter which earn different rewards, from more social media followers to new tattoo designs.
Ultimate Team has also continued its utter dominance with much more fanfare around the card-collecting, making getting those upper echelon players in packs feel that much more rewarding. Now, when a top-level player is found in a pack, they come out to fireworks and even walk on-screen celebrating the fact they’re now part of your team. No doubt this is to play into the YouTube pack opening scene, which generates an absurd amount of views for popular personalities, but it still felt great when I got Sergio Aguero and he looked delighted to join MY team.
There’s also a great new offline mode called Squad Battles, which is perfect for those offput by competing online against other players for coins. Similar to Forza’s Drivatar feature, players can take on other players’ squads, controller by AI, to earn points over the course of a week. Points are awarded based on the quality of the opposition and the difficulty level you select, and you’ll be ranked against every other player’s scores in the mode at the end of the week, unlocking rewards in specific tiers. It’s a great feature added to an already superb mode.
However, for as much evolution as there is, there are still some areas which are in need of an update. Custom tactics, for example are the same as they’ve always been. It’d be nice if EA adopted a Konami-style presentation to these and brought in more modern strategies like Gegenpress and attacking full backs. With the rapid evolution of real football, these are starting to feel ancient.
Defending, while continuing to evolve and become more refined, is becoming increasingly complex. For fans who return year-on-year, this is fine after the initial learning curve, but I have no idea how newcomers adapt to the approach of jockeying the ball carrier and hitting tackle at the exact correct moment to win the ball. PES is so basic by comparison, and I personally prefer FIFA’s depth, but there needs to be a middle ground.
FIFA 18 is simply magnificent. Streets ahead of what came before, and continuing its dominance over its rivals, EA has done a superb job. With huge improvements across the board, this is the game FIFA fans have waited five years for. While the offline offering may continue to lack the depth of NBA 2K18, but the continued improvements each year have culminated in a brilliant game this year.