The Premier League season is well underway, the Champions League is already throwing up some tasty fixtures and Manchester United are wondering if David Moyes really was the man for the job after all. The excitement of football is always at one of its highest ebbs during these early months of a season and EA Sports attempt to capitalise on that every year with their annual instalment of the FIFA series. Some may say that a yearly release makes it difficult to alter too much about a game, but can FIFA 19 prove that it’s a worthy addition to the series, or are you going to be paying over the odds for an experience that’s past its best?
Whilst it shows signs of growth and improvement in some areas, there are still plenty of niggles and a disappointing lack of additions to a handful of modes that can’t be overlooked.
The gameplay is the best place to start though, with several new quirky features to enhance the general play; the most important of which is the timed finishing. The art of timing a shot puts a lot more onus on the player to use skill to power up a shot before it arrives and then press the same button in tune with the ball connecting with the body part (foot or head). Manage to pull it off and you’ll have a darn decent effort that’s more powerful and accurate, but mistime it and there’ll be comparisons to Fernando Torres when he was at Chelsea as it goes agonisingly high, wide or both. As someone who’s seen countless goals scored by off-balance players, controlled by people bashing buttons mindlessly in previous years, it’s a feature that’s geared up to separate the Vanarama National League folk from the Premier League quality individuals – there are less flukes in that sense.
In fact, even the passing game is more ruthless when it comes down to attempting passes in directions you aren’t facing and you’ll try these at your own risk. I like that getting a ball from A to B is trickier due to the A.I. and human-controlled teams intercepting more frequently, being in better positions and generally having a heightened awareness. This ensures extra thought is put into aiming at an open recipient as well as deciding the pace at which you’ll fling it towards them.
Just because additional skill is needed in order to do well in FIFA 19, it doesn’t mean that the gameplay is any more realistic and that’s confounded by the introduction of the new first touch options. You wouldn’t believe how easy it is to first-time flick up a ball and juggle with it before banging it in the top corner on the volley. I’ve lost count of how many awesome goals I’ve scored via this method – even when using Glenn Murray, for crying out loud – and whilst many will thrive in the show-off world FIFA has become, it does make you a bit numb to scoring goals. But that’s the game in a nutshell, with almost every match teetering on the edge of becoming FIFA Street due to the fanciness.
A couple of decent features and tweaks have certainly improved the experience though. Starting with the ease at which you can change tactical plans on the fly and these can completely alter the formation, style of play, the amount of players attacking at set pieces and more. For the tacticians it can be incredibly useful to see out a win by switching to a more defensive setup or to pull off a comeback with an attack-minded approach using the D-Pad. The other notable change is how much pace abuse has been quashed, as players slow down significantly when the ball is at their feet to give defenders an opportunity to catch up.
So that’s the gameplay and it feels rather different (for better or worse, depending on your penchant for flair), but the game modes are very familiar on the whole. If you’re a player that enjoys single player and co-op Seasons or Pro Clubs, then there’s literally nothing noteworthy at all in regards to the freshening up of these modes. It’s especially disappointing to see 11vs11 Pro Clubs become stagnant, given that it’s still one of the most popular activities for people to partake in with friends. To make matters worse, there’s a goal-kick exploit that’s been plaguing teams since early access, which if used, leads to an almost certain goal. How EA haven’t fixed it yet is beyond belief.
Naturally, Ultimate Team has seen the majority of enhancements and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out why – easy money for EA. There’s still a draw for the building of your own fantasy team from scratch and ensuring they’ve got good chemistry on the pitch. You can partake in the constantly updated Squad Building Challenges, using the surplus cards in your club to earn rewards; face-off against the A.I. in Squad Battles; rise up the ranks in solo Seasons; try your luck at picking an amazing team in FUT Draft; and play against a friend.
The biggest change comes in the form of the Divisions Rivals mode, which, after an initial set of placement matches to judge your level, pits you against players of a similar ilk. They’ve basically combined the Division play with the FUT Champions offering, seeing you needing to compete in the former to qualify for the latter. There’s a lot of sense in tying them together as this way qualifying is fairer due to matching up against players of closer ability levels.
Other than that, the best new addition is in the Player Pick item types because when you get one of these, you’ll be presented with a choice of five players and you can then pick to keep the one who’s best suited to your squad. It’s better than crossing your fingers that a pack will contain the ideal players to bolster your chemistry.
I do have a few issues with FUT though – like why did they mess about with the system of allocating new cards? – but the main one is in regards to how easy it is to acquire a five-star team. Whether people have been lucky or have spent cash via the dreaded micro-transactions, I’m astounded at how many squads are full of in-forms and high-end players already. Too much, too fast is what comes to mind and it’ll lead to less longevity as teams will be so good that they needn’t buy any more players for the next year.
And then there’s the highly anticipated conclusion of Alex Hunter’s story in The Journey: Champions. In a bid to create more excitement and decrease the chances of getting bored of all the shenanigans going on in Alex Hunter’s life, two other characters are playable too – his half-sister Kim and his buddy Danny. Throughout The Journey, you’ll switch between them, follow their fated paths and experience key moments.
Alex is on his way to Real Madrid, Kim dreams of winning the women’s World Cup and Danny needs to step up at his current club, where he’s hanging on by a thread. I dare say that the rotation of cutscenes, training sessions and matches will help to keep you engaged, especially given that a lot of the training mini-games are new and really fun. The conversational choices are still quite lacking though, but these represent the personality you wish to portray and can lead to customisation items unlocking – new hairstyles, tattoos etc.
The narrative does seem better and there are a few scenarios that appear to be more realistic and less over-the-top, with an early PR opportunity for Danny at his local fish and chip shop as one of the best examples. It’s still cringe worthy when the ‘professional’ footballers start talking, but this final chapter is a better experience overall.
Now, I don’t know if you’ve heard, but EA Sports acquired the rights to the Champions League this year and as a result, it’s been incorporated in almost every mode in one way or another – with its inclusion being the only major change to the Career mode. I get it; the Champions League is the most prestigious club competition out there, however having played through the tournament, I could easily live without it. At least then I wouldn’t have to listen to commentary from Derek Rae and Lee Dixon, who are somehow worse than the main offering of Martin Tyler and Alan Smith. For those who want to host a Champions League tournament locally though, it’s handy to have.
Actually, if you’re the kind of person who loves to get a couple of mates round to play in the same room then you’re in for a treat. You see, it’ll be able to track results between players in the Kick Off mode, even when you’re at someone else’s house due to the stat-saving Kick Off Name you can create. But that’s not the best part, as there are a host of quirky ‘House Rule’ options to peruse and these can see a team’s player ejected from the game after a goal, make it so only headers and volleys count or remove fouls, offsides and bookings.
On the visual front, there are only the usual complaints about the lesser known players looking nothing like their real-life counterpart. The in-game radar is infinitely easier to see this year, with both teams far more distinguishable from each other. The stadia included, especially the Premier League ones, really adds an authenticity to proceedings and although the crowds are dated, the chants they belt out are decent. Sound-wise, and the mix of well known artists on the soundtrack like Gorillaz, LSD (Labrinth, Sia and Diplo) and Death Cab for Cutie, as well as a variety of musicians I’ve never heard of, makes for a great selection of tracks.
FIFA 19 is basically the Paul Pogba edition of the series, focusing on creating excitement, showing off and trying to ensure every match is full of memorable moments… the problem is it’s all a bit much at times. I do think the timed finishing is a welcome addition, as is the implementation and ease of switching to your tactical plans on the fly. The Journey is definitely improved to give it a good send off and the Ultimate Team offerings are great if you can get over how ridiculous the teams are. It’s a dream for those who dabble in the local play too, with so many ways to play against your mates, however it’s unforgiveable that some modes – Pro Clubs in particular – have been left to make do with the same features for yet another year.
If you’re after realism, turn away now, but for everyone else, it’s time for you to showcase your flair in FIFA 19.