Same Game, Different UEFA-Themed Skin
Another year rolls round and with it, another obligatory annual Fifa release. While many lament Fifa for its lack of innovation and significant gameplay changes each year, the wildly popular football sim continuously tops charts across the world and rakes in an obscene amount of revenue for EA. Step forward Fifa 19 which promises significant gameplay changes, a survival mode, improved physics and licensed UEFA cup competitions to name a few. While the game has seen some improvements this year, at least aesthetically, Fifa continues to be plagued with issues with the core gameplay loop that have not been fixed for years.
When it comes to Fifa, what matters most is what happens on the pitch and it’s here where Fifa shows a lack of real, meaningful improvement. While graphically the game looks as good as its ever been and some of the shooting and passing has been refined and improved, Fifa 19 is riddled with problems that have haunted the series for years. Questionable AI, hilarious goalkeeping blunders, players not behaving as they should in their positions and attacking stats far outweighing defending highlight EA’s inability to address the biggest problems with the series.
The core gameplay remains relatively unchanged from last year
Those tired of the ping-pong games of old where through passes and sprinting all game are far more effective than knocking the ball around and finding a gap to exploit (y’know, like a real football match) will certainly be left disappointed. Fifa continues to be stuck in a state of flux; more arcade elements are added whilst EA continuously boasts Fifa to be the most authentic and realistic football sim. This dual-focus feels at odds and offset the balance of almost every match. Having said that though, playing online is still fun (lag and disconnections aside) and games can be frantic and exciting but in a bid to try and appease both sets of football fans, Fifa 19 pleases neither.
In terms of variety of play, Fifa 19 boasts a whole plethora of different options. The third and final iteration of The Journey boasts three alternating storylines as you switch between Kim Hunter, Alex Hunter and Danny Williams in their quest for footballing glory. A handy “Previously on” recap fills you in on the major plot points before plunging you into three parallel storylines split across 4 parts that converge toward the end during a climactic end-of-season trophy hunt. The narrative does feels clichéd at times and the middle portions of this game mode feel incredibly repetitive as you jump between training sessions and matches, most of which utilising the new Champions League skin that dominates most of this mode.
The Journey continues with its third and final iteration this year
The various skill games and Kick Off options are pretty much unchanged from last year although a few of the new game modes certainly help shake things up. The Survival Mode sees you playing a normal match with one stipulation – for every goal you score, one of your players are ejected from the game. It’s a nice little idea but one that’s unlikely to catch on with many people, given its slightly rough execution here. Own goals don’t count towards a player being removed and as you lose key members of your team, large swathes of the pitch open up meaning it’s better to sit back and defend a 1 goal lead than press on and score more. This feels at odds with Fifa’s frantic, free-flowing arcade play although can be fun when play with friends.
The other modes include a Headers and Volleys mode which only allows you to score from headers and volleys, with House Rules allowing you to customise the rules any way you see fit. You can also jump into a variety of Cup Finals from here including the Europa League and Champions League, complete with its own unique commentary team, iconic theme songs and product placement.
Ultimate Team remains the core focus for EA this year, neglecting other game modes in favour of this
Those looking for a significant improvement with the Career Mode are certainly going to be disappointed. Nothing has been changed for a solid few years now and Fifa 19 sees this continue, with a complete copy-and-paste job from last year’s game. Unrealistic transfers, repetitive cut scenes and cookie cutter responses to journalists as well as the same preset models for your manager/player are really quite disappointing and only further emphasise EA’s desire to pump more resources into the microtransaction-ladled Ultimate Team mode.
Speaking of which, the Ultimate Team mode returns this year with a whole host of options including the usual array of offline and online modes, challenges and your usual array of daily and weekly challenges. For those who haven’t grabbed a Fifa game or touched the mode since its inclusion back in Fifa 15, the idea revolves around opening cards to build a team from scratch – starting with a relatively poor team and slowly building it up to a force to be reckoned with. During this time you can complete challenges and build specific teams that meet requirements including all English players or every player ranked over a certain threshold. These in turn give more coins that can then be used to trade for more packs and so on and so forth.
A few graphical improvements including lighting effects and weather are a nice inclusion
There’s an exhaustive list of things to get through in this mode and EA are banking on you sinking hours upon hours into this mode, given the graphical and gameplay tweaks seen this year. The inability to change from the pre-set 6 minutes each half makes the grind for silver and gold packs more problematic than it should be and this year sees EA really hammer home how long the grind is for the more lucrative packs. Expect to spend at least 2 hours of in-game time to gain enough coins for a silver pack and at least double that for one gold pack. This has always been an issue for Fifa but with the recent announcement of pack odds (including a 4% chance of a player rated 85+ and less than 1% for the rarest of cards) Ultimate Team ramps up the intensity of its microtransaction-heavy game mode to unbearable levels.
Whether you love or hate the Fifa franchise, there’s no denying it’s still one of the best selling and most eagerly awaited games of the year for football fans. While it’s easy to point at a sports game and declare it’s the same every year, Fifa 19 is the first that truly feels like a re-skinned copy-and-paste from last year. The same AI issues continue to haunt the game, the mechanics are unchanged and the heavy emphasis on Ultimate Team ultimately makes all other game modes neglected of much-needed improvements. Those going into this expecting the same game as last year will surely take to Fifa 19 but those looking for meaningful changes to the core gameplay loop and evidence of EA’s self-proclaimed “authentic footballing experience” will sure be left wanting with this missed opportunity to push the series in new and meaningful ways.