There’s no doubt about FIFA’s domination of the football game landscape, pushing aside its competitors each year as soon as it’s released. Each entry sees EA try to take a step forward with the simulation and the gameplay, and FIFA 18 continues that tradition of yearly iteration, though some changes may be a bit of a challenge to handle.
On the pitch, one of the most obvious tweaks has to do with defending, and here it does feel pretty rigid. Of course you still have sliding tackles, standing tackles, the ability to jostle with opposition for control of the ball. In addition you can hold down a the tackle button to perform a hard tackle, a halfway point between standing and sliding. It’s not a bad system, but during matches you will notice your defence not moving as smoothly as you’d like after trying to perform one of these moves.
Getting used to defending in FIFA 18 takes time and after spending almost a week with the game I feel like I’ve got a handle on it. I’m far from perfect, but competent enough now to make the opposition commit errors and lose possession. Defending is just one part of the action though and many will be a lot more focused on pushing up the pitch in attack for those goal scoring opportunities. Facing off against the various difficulty levels, I found Professional to be a healthy balance, with Semi-Pro too easy to open up and World Class like fortresses.
When attacking players would run into open spaces, but there were quite a few occasions where a couple would bunch up instead of running into the space I hoped they would. Of course some of this would be down to tactical management – the game now replicates some of the signature tactics from major teams – but even with some tweaks this would happen on occasion. When a passing chain came together that led to a goal scoring opportunity, FIFA 18 felt in its element. So while defending takes a little time to get the hang of attacking feels challenging, smooth, and entertaining. It can also be frustrating when a shot clatters off the inside of the post and rolls away, which happened a couple of times.
One of the main draws to FIFA 17 last year was the introduction of The Journey, a story mode which followed the first season of youngster Alex Hunter. FIFA 18 sees the return of The Journey and Hunter’s more difficult second season. It’s a pretty long experience clocking in around eight to nine hours, but the final chapter feels very drawn out. There are some good story beats and while there are moments of surprise the story peters out towards the end. It doesn’t have the same impact of the first Journey, but what it lacks for in that regard it makes up in others. Without veering too much into spoiler territory Alex Hunter may be the main focus but he isn’t the only one in the spotlight. You can also customise Hunter’s look including hairstyle, clothing, and how he wears his kit on the pitch.
While many may flock to complete The Journey first, it isn’t the part of the game that gives FIFA 18 its longevity. The most obvious of this would be FIFA Ultimate Team, which has been the jewel in the crown for the FIFA series for the past few years. There’s not much difference here from previous years, though PS4 and PC players will now have access to legendary players now like Thierry Henry, which were previously Xbox One exclusives. Other than that, the same core element is here of buying packs to build a team of players, selling players you don’t want, competing against others in seasons and online competitions, and bidding for players you do want.
As in previous years you can use real money to purchase FIFA coins which can be used to buy additional packs in Ultimate Team. Obviously more packs mean more chances of getting good players, but they’re not detrimental to those who don’t buy into the microtransaction economy. Coins are earned at a regular pace when playing Ultimate Team, with challenges boosting your chances of coins. You can quite quickly earn a few thousand, with a gold pack priced at 5000 coins. Any customisation options for a player you create are unlockable and aren’t purchased. Things like haircuts, tattoos, boots can all be previewed and cost nothing more than reaching milestones in the game.
Outside of Ultimate Team, you have the standard career modes where you can either be a manager to run the club or rise through the ranks as a player. In manager mode you’ll set up the squad, carry out transfer and contract negotiations, and try to meet board expectations while also playing as the team on the pitch, though you can sim matches if you want to avoid that.
As in previous iterations, MyPro will have you manage aspects like player training, focusing on drills that help your player improve in their role, raise the player’s profile by performing on the pitch, and are able to request loan or transfer requests if you feel the club you are at isn’t the right fit anymore. Like in The Journey, you can choose to either control the whole team or just your player, and I personally found it a lot better when controlling the whole team.
Of course online is a factor as well and while I only played a few matches, the servers seem to be solid, but as long time fans of the series are aware the game can be temperamental at times and randomly disconnect. I didn’t run into that during matches online in FIFA 18 and found the gameplay to be smooth even when there was some latency between myself and the opposing player.
FIFA 18 looks great throughout, with the major leagues all presented well and the regional overlays recreated with some additions and improvements. You’ll be able to tell the La Liga score bar apart from the Premier League one, for example. When it comes to football games, the commentary sounds a lot more natural compared to PES 18, but while EA tout a new Real Player Motion Technology, I wouldn’t say that FIFA 18 is hugely better than its rival visually, just different.
FIFA 18 is a solid entry into the FIFA series, but while there have been some changes over last year’s iteration, they aren’t so big that they make an essential purchase. Personally I found attacking smoother and defending a little harder to get hold of, while The Journey fun, if a bit dragged out. However where it matters FIFA 18 is a very good representation of the beautiful game, and Ultimate Team will have a firm grip on players over the next year again. Does FIFA remain the king of the pitch though? I’d say its pretty even nowadays.
Version tested: PS4