It was a funny old transfer window this past summer. We quickly went from being incredulous that Liverpool would pay what seemed a whopping initial fee of €42million for Mo Salah, to cries of astonishment that figures of £90m were bandying around for an 18-year-old from Monaco, before the world transfer record was smashed to smithereens when PSG threw €222million at Barcelona for their Brazilian wonder, Neymar Jr. How the world’s leading football simulation game could hope to replicate the increasingly bizarre world of the real-life sport was a puzzler.
Whether FIFA 18‘s story mode will introduce astronomical transfer fees for protagonist Alex Hunter in ‘The Journey: Hunter Returns’ remains to be seen, but the demo does tease future plans for the wunderkind with the strap that he’s “back for a second season, and he’s on the move” beginning with Chelsea. Maybe Antonio Conte wants the star striker to play wing back, and a disgruntled Alex will have to force through a move to Liverpool instead as his contract runs down? “‘Modern footballers are treated like slaves.’ You have earned a trophy!”
The demo for this year’s instalment of the annual licensed football simulator promises new gameplay features “fueled [sic] by the world’s best”, as motion data capture has been used on a number of pros to inform the way the players move and behave on the pitch. Not least of all, this year’s cover star is more realistic than ever, with Ronaldo’s acceleration, run cadence, skills and shooting technique being used to shape the way the game plays. Specifically, gameplay elements like fluidity, player responsiveness and explosiveness in attack have all been given an upgrade.
But does it actually feel like the game has progressed at all since last year’s version, which was responsible for revolutionising the gameplay with the introduction of the Frostbite engine into the EA Sports franchise? Well, it isn’t a whole £80 pre-order different, unless you’re picking the game up on the Nintendo Switch, which does not use Frostbite and has required a customised engine similar to that used in FIFA 16.
Crossing certainly seems to have improved as a new mechanic allows the player to perform a variety of “whipped, arching and pinged deliveries from the wing”. Laying the ball across the box requires a more dextrous style of play but once you have the hang of it, crossing feels more controlled than last year’s version. Defending crosses has also been tweaked and performing vital headed clearances now relies on expert timing. Go too early and your defender will pogo on the spot like a kangaroo looking for his car in a multi-story carpark as the ball flies over his head a crucial half-second later, leaving your defence exposed.
Strength and acceleration have always been important tools for competing in matches on every FIFA iteration. However, the gameplay seems to be almost entirely tailored for play as Ronaldo-style bullying wingers. The dribbling mechanics have seen alterations that allow for what EA calls “more defined touches”, which basically means you can get off the blocks quicker, and twist and turn your way out of trouble in tight areas as the ball sticks closer to you. Running through on goal with players like Ronaldo, Di Maria or Sane will require a defender built like a chapel to halt the attack; not that it matters, as they more than likely won’t ever catch up to you.
An all-new animation and player personality system means some superstars will behave exactly as they do in real life, although there doesn’t appear to be a shortcut for making Ronaldo throw his arms up in the air in a strop at not being passed to, nor was it possible to make Neymar and Dani Alves team up against Edinson Cavani before he converted PSG’s penalty kick.
The roughly 7+GB demo is available from the PS Store and Xbox Live, and allows you to get to grips with 12 teams in four different stadiums:
- Atlético de Madrid
- Bayern Munich
- Boca Juniors (La Bombonera)
- LA Galaxy (StubHub Center)
- Manchester United
- Manchester City
- Paris Saint-Germain
- Real Madrid (Santiago Bernabéu)
- Toronto FC
- Vissel Kobe
- + Saudi Arabia’s King Fahd Stadium
Squads will presumably be updated prior to the game’s launch, or shortly thereafter with an update. Ronaldo is the highest rated player in the demo with an overall rating of 94, which notably omits FC Barcelona and subsequently FIFA 16 cover star (and the Portuguese’s rival) Lionel Messi from its lineup who is rumoured to have an overall rating of 93.
One new feature which will be immensely useful is the addition of quick subs in team management. Before the match kicks off, the player can preset a maximum of three substitutions to perform during a stop in play. An overlay graphic appears on screen during a stoppage, and by holding the appropriate trigger button, you can select which one of your desired quick subs to make.
The series finally seems to have made a minor alteration to its kick-offs, which has been updated to reflect the real game with just one player in centre circle to start the match. A rule change back in August 2016 allowed teams to ditch the two players required to stand in the centre circle, as the ball was not allowed to be passed backwards from a kick-off before that point. It is only a small update but it at least demonstrates that EA Sports are meticulous in making the gameplay as realistic as possible, even if it comes a game too late.
A Sky Sports style walk-to-camera VT for La Liga games as player lineups are announced looks as bafflingly ridiculous as it does on the television, but it does give the player the chance to see who has a starhead; FIFA’s attempt to capture the likeness of players’ looks, rather than the use of generic models. Manchester City left-back Benjamin Mendy was less amused with his likeness, questioning why he looked like former Leicester, Liverpool and Birmingham City striker Emile Heskey on Twitter.
The gameplay still has minor issues from time-to-time. A throw-in was delayed by around 15 seconds as Juventus full-back Alex Sandro stood on the touchline holding the ball in his hands as I frantically pressed L1 trying to jolt the game back to life. The A.I. defence are also incredibly stupid. One instance saw Godin jog slowly to reach a goal line clearance before proceeding to smack the ball against the post. However, this could be improved somewhat by adjusting the difficulty levels or sliders to create a more authentic challenge.
The bottom line is that the FIFA 18 demo does not promise a vast improvement over the 12-month old entry, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It is still the best football game on the market and thrives despite the lack of challengers from anyone other than Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer. Purchasers will be able to play the digital only ‘Ronaldo Edition’ from 26th September with ‘3 Days Early Access’. The ‘Standard Edition’ will be released on general sale from 29th September.
Have you downloaded the demo and noticed something we haven’t covered? Let us know in the comments below!