There’s two ways of handling this preview; filled with light and joy, or cynical as hell.
This is me, so latter it is.
What’s new in FIFA Anniversary Edition Incremental Update? Well, corners, and free-kicks have been tweaked. We now have models of the managers on the side lines (I don’t know how many teams this covers – the demo only includes a select number of larger teams) instead of “Generic Manager Stand-In” for any time the camera glances to the manager.
The marquee signing of FIFA 17 is the new Story Mode – “The Journey”. For the cynical version; they’ve added a number of multiple choice questions, and cut-scenes between the games, to show you “The life of Alex Hunter” – a new up-and-coming player for you to take on through career mode.
The demo of this RPG mode was more enjoyable than I expected it to be – and the Frostbite engine did a great job at rendering the characters. Although it must be said, the lip syncing was pretty horrendous. And the options were about as colourful as you’d expect from a football RPG game. “How do you think the match went?” A) “It was a game of two halves, Geoff”, B) “I always give 100%” or C) “It was a great ball in, and I just buried it”.
As for the bread and butter – how does it play? Well, I found FIFA 16 to be a bit of a let down. FIFA 15 had free-flowing fast-paced attacking football – albeit football that allowed for a standing tackle to just about win every battle. But it was fun. Games would always finish with high scores; that’s not automatically a “bad thing”. If you needed to get the ball through for an attack on goal, you only needed to use the “chip pass”, and lo, the enemy defence would part like the Red Sea before Moses.
EA spent time trying to introduce more of a midfield game to FIFA 16 – and my personal opinion is that they were almost too successful. The ball seemed to get stuck in a series of 50/50 tackles, blocks and passes in the middle of the pitch, with a lot less actual action. Sure, it felt gritty, and more realistic – but I’ll let you in on a secret: I play FIFA for a touch of escapism. I want to be Hazard, waltzing through the defence, pulling off a couple of roll-overs before slipping it into the far corner. The game felt more realistic – but it was in a “rainy evening in Milton Keynes” kind of way.
Which brings us to FIFA 17. Yes, there’s still a lot of midfield action. As you’d expect – it does happen in football, and this is aiming to be a realistic football simulation. But it also feels more free-flowing. EA have worked on the through-ball system, which makes sense as it’s often the way defences get unlocked, at least in Premiership football. And there’s a feeling of satisfaction as you pull off a successful Fabregas and slide through a perfectly weighted ball for your forward to slam home.
Before playing this demo, I was considering giving FIFA 17 a miss, and holding out for FIFA 18. I used to operate on a “pick up every other edition” system, as there never feels like enough of a reason to update.
Don’t get me wrong, FIFA 17 is looking to be yet another incremental update. But it does seem to have smoothed off some of the sharper edges, resulting in a game that’s fun to play once more.