I think I’ve been a FIFA fan since the very beginning, I can’t remember which one was my first I ever picked up but I clearly remember putting far too many hours into FIFA 96 and I’ve made sure to get my hands on every version since.

Last year I was a little disappointed with the game not kicking on and reaching the heights I expected,but in the end it got a solid 8.4 and was still technically the best FIFA released.

And now for the first time ever in a FIFA game EA Sports have included a single player story-based campaign mode where you take the reins of Alex Hunter and move up from the academy to become a superstar in world football. Well that’s the spin you get told but the reality isn’t quite as good as it sounds.

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The Journey

My normal FIFA experience is to crack open the game and instantly enter into the single player seasons mode with my beloved Liverpool. I normally take them through 2 seasons and win the Champions League before entering the multiplayer modes and being brought back to reality with a cold, hard thump.

I’m not the best FIFA player by any stretch but I can hold my own and it’s the one game I go back to all year long until the next one is released. This year though I was more excited to get my hands on the new campaign and man oh man did I love it. The first 7 hours was amazing and I truly felt like I was this bright-eyed, up and coming superstar and was destined for greatness.

You get to show off your skills and see your ranking in the manager’s eyes increase while upping all of your personal stats. When you’ve trained enough your agent (who your grandad hates for no apparent reason) comes to you with a bunch of offers from clubs.

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Now even though I’m a massive Liverpool fan I knew I wasn’t good enough for their team yet so I chose to join Middelsborough (MFC) to get some match time with the goal of then moving to Liverpool when the offers came in.

The first few games for MFC were good fun, I was being brought on as a substitute because I hadn’t ranked high enough yet and they had certain challenges they wanted me to meet. I played the entire Journey in player mode where you get ranked on how good your runs are, when you call for passes and which passes you choose to make.

It’s awesome seeing that real time ranking change with feedback on what the game thought you did wrong and … and well that’s where it all started falling apart really.

In the beginning I just thought I was making the wrong passing decisions or calls but after I had put in 10 hours or so I started noticing that the game wasn’t really sure what it was doing. I’d call for a nice through-ball and the player would decide against it, then dribble for a bit then turn around and then decide to try pass it. Obviously by this time I’ve moved into a new open space but he’s passing it to where I was and I’m getting punished for a bad call.

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The same thing happens with passing where I pass a through-ball and the guy decides to not run for it and I get punished again. In the end I managed to keep my player ranking high enough to proceed by not trying anything clever at all. Just do short straight passing again and again to boost my ranking before I stop calling for the ball and let my team mates score.

It’s boring, but what was even worse than that was the knowledge that The Journey was entirely scripted. No matter how well you play it follows the same path of you being left out the team so the boss can speak to you about going on loan at a lower club. Then no matter how you do there you get called back up to the premier league and eventually into the England squad while your old friend now hates you and your old enemy is now your friend.

What I found worse though was that the commentators and voice overs were very buggy. There I was playing for Newcastle in the championship and as the game starts they start talking about what a big game this is going to be in the Premier League – with all the big name players in attendance. Then during an interview I’m being asked what it’s like playing in the Premier League, while I’m in the championship, and then being asked about my goal when I didn’t score one.

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It completely destroyed the feeling of realism and immersion in the game.

In the end I just wanted the games to play themselves so I could finally get to the end of the Journey which ended with a whimper.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love that EA Sports have decided to include a campaign and I’m going to be first in line next year to play the next one. But this year it’s what you would expect from a series that isn’t known for its great story-telling. EA should raid Rockstar or the now defunct Irrational games for some of their story writers.

Single Player Seasons

This is the meat and potato section of my FIFA experience over the years. The fact that FIFA has licensing for all the players, teams and stadiums has always made it a fan favourite and I never get tired of having a few virtual matches in FIFA before the big game of the weekend.

And this season is no different. All the teams are there and lovingly rendered inside their stadiums and it still brings me great pleasure to watch my family double take to see if it’s a real life match I’m watching or just a game I’m playing.

A1098-15The controls though feel like they’ve taken a step backwards. The engine behind FIFA has been changed to the Frostbite Engine this year in a move that was claimed to be required for The Journey. I secretly feel is more a push to standardise costs and development across all of EA’s games, but I digress.

The change in engine has brought with it some gameplay problems where the controls feel a little sluggish and the players don’t quite react as you’d like. But the bigger problem seems to be with the referee and the rules of the game.

For example, in the video below you can see that my guy is rugby tackled in the box in what is a blatant penalty and yet nothing was done about it. The ref just waved play on.

But it’s more than simple decisions like this which got me. In my one multiplayer match I’ve been able to play the opponent took a shot at goal and missed by a country mile. The ball flew way over the goal and yet the referee pointed to the corner. This sort of inconsistency happened far more often than was acceptable and while the latest 870Mb patch seemed to have done something to help the terrible AI it hasn’t fixed it entirely.

Multiplayer

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Ah multiplayer, the friendship breaker; the online control smashing experience that we all love so much. In previous years I’ve loved to play the online seasons trying to work my way up to the top. I’ve never made it and normally end up around the 6th division if I recall correctly, but I’ve always loved it.

The way FIFA ranks players is probably one of the best in the business where I know that after 10 or so games I’m going to be playing against people who are around my level. That sort of experience guarantees games that are tight and exciting every time.

Or not.

I’ve been trying to play multiplayer now for a couple of days and in all this time I’ve managed to play exactly 1 game.

I don’t know what is going on but it doesn’t matter what team I choose or what controller settings I choose the game just can’t find an opponent for me. Eventually I headed to our local Facebook gaming group to see if anyone else was having the same issues.

And apparently I’m not the odd one out.

Graeme: They could be blocking SA again

This is in relation to previous multiplayer games on Xbox One having major connection issues with many of our ISP’s

Darryl: Have you checked your NAT?

This is related to your internet connection so I got hold of my ISP, organised port forwarding for everything on my line and yet still had no luck.

Joshua: Had that problem with Fifa 16 on Pc. Even with ports forwarded and everything open I could not get a game. So decided not to buy Fifa again. Enjoy the game but not being able to get matches was frustating to say the least.

Chad: The xbox one servers are naturally rubbish for fifa

Armando: Never ending story with EA! Happened the same with FIFA16 and they still can’t fix it… I’ve played 6 matches in over a year

Hmm this isn’t looking good to me, but then

Sunesh: Had that problem in FIFA 16. Keep changing the setting to find opponent based on location.

Me: Where’s that setting?

Sunesh: Customise >> Online Settings >> Matchmaking Options >> Approximate Matchmaking

So I did this and presto I found a game. Well it moved me into the waiting area where I stayed for over 5 minutes, it then joined a game and instantly quit.

I tried again and again and after many many many attempts I finally got a game.

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The game itself was amazing, it was a close-fought game where I went down a player and then we started scoring goals, got to 4-3 to me and then he lost a player. He scored and then in the 93rd minute with the last kick of the game he slotted another one in for a 5-4 win.

It was the true FIFA experience and I was hooked. I love the game of football and even though this was a loss I didn’t care. It was fun and was something I was happy to do for the rest of the day.

So I clicked on find a game again… and nothing. I’ve not been able to play since.

Apparently this problem is localised to South Africa and only occurs on the Xbox One version but that’s what I have and that’s where I live. It’s now been 6 days since I first started trying to get into the MP of FIFA 17 and I’m now giving up. Apparently the matchmaking issues don’t affect the PlayStation 4 version, but we don’t have that, and can only review what we have. Your mileage may vary. If the online multiplayer worked I’d probably be giving this an 8.

Last Updated: October 20, 2016

FIFA 17 (Xbox One)
Summary
While the game is amazing at its core, it's beset by infuriating bugs. The Journey shows promise, but drags on too long, becoming a dull grind before it comes to a close. It's a good start for FIFA on its new engine, there are too many kinks that have yet to be worked out.
6.5
FIFA 17 (Xbox One) was reviewed on Xbox One
84 / 100

Gavin Mannion

I for one welcome our future robotic overlords

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