FIFA 17 shoots and scores - it's truly the best until last
It seems that EA Sports have saved the best until last with FIFA 17. I'll be honest, whilst I enjoy the FIFA games immensely, reviewing iterative sports titles can sometimes be a chore. Of course, year-on-year there are improvements, but for the most part they are hardly revolutionary. Each year we happily pay for a player and team update, the odd gameplay tweak and bit of a graphical polish up.
But it's all change this year for FIFA 17. A new game engine, reinvigorated visuals and the inclusion of a proper single-player campaign make this year's entry so much more than just a new coat of paint.
The gameplay remains the same, for the most part unchanged from last year, but the graphics have had a major overhaul.
It is rather surprising that more hasn't been made of EA Sports' decision to dump their specially-developed sports game engine, Ignite, for FIFA 17 in favour of DICE's stalwart Frostbite Engine.
Having only previously seen service in Rory McIlroy PGA Tour, the likes of Madden and NHL have yet to make the jump to the veteran Battlefield game engine. This gives FIFA the graphical edge over the rest of the games in this year's EA Sports line-up.
The new engine gives the game a face-lift, almost pulling the look of the players out of the dreaded “uncanny valley” and into a new era of on-pitch photo-realism. Almost, but we are not there yet. What we are afforded is the best lighting in a FIFA game, ever. The sky, sunlight and atmosphere are so realistic now and the floodlit evening games look fantastic.
EA Sports Canada has managed to transfer all the great gameplay and ball control over to the new engine. I don't if it is me switching from my usual PS4 version of the game to Xbox One, but FIFA 17 feels a lot smoother this year. I had no trouble getting the player's 360° movement working for me, making passing, lobbing and, importantly, shooting, precise and a lot of fun.
But it is the addition of the cinematic campaign mode, “The Journey”, really makes this iteration of FIFA something special. With a plot straight out of a boys' soccer magazine, The Journey gives fans another way to enjoy football as they follow the trials and tribulations of young up-and-coming footballer, Alex Hunter, on his journey to the top.
You've got to give EA credit, as they really didn't need to do all this. We would have been happy with a bit of a gameplay tune up and a little visual polish, as we usually are.
The campaign is perfectly acted, really showing off the power of the Frostbite engine as it injects life and heart into the characters. With as much action off the pitch as on the inclusion of a single-player story campaign sets FIFA 17 apart. It is, without a doubt, something I'd like to see across the EA Sports range—at long as they maintain the same level of quality.
Of course, FIFA 17 still has all the modes you expect. You can play tournaments based on all the famous leagues from around the world, including Australia's A League, with New Zealand's Wellington Phoenix represented in the game.
FIFA Ultimate Team remains as addictive as ever. The fantasy football/collectable card game hybrid is almost certainly going to sap the majority of your time as you built your perfect squad.
Manager and player career modes offer a more personal all-encompassing way to experience the beautiful game. There's also the full remit of online modes like the head-to-head seasons, the 11 v 11 Pro Clubs and Co-op Seasons.
FIFA 17 represents a major turning point for the series. The visuals have matured into something approaching photo-realism and, with the scripted single-player campaign, the game offers a fair bit more than the usual yearly entry. There's no doubt in my mind that FIFA 17 is the best game in the series for years.