Footy season is back in full swing. Not only did the other game release yesterday, but the Champions League Group Stages kicked off and the FIFA 18 demo dropped on both the PS4 and Xbox One consoles. With a variety of clubs at our disposal and some free time on my hands, let’s jump in and see what’s up.
Note: I played every match on World Class difficulty using Semi Assisted controls on both the Xbox One and PS4 Pro consoles. I did not adjust anything else beyond that.
What I Like
Visuals – FIFA has always been a beautiful game, but this year the team at EA Tiburon have taken it to a new level. Everything from the actual pitch to the crowd visuals look enhanced. Player models, faces and kits also look very detailed and more life-like. Some of the goal celebration interactions with the crowd look remarkably life-like.
Pace of Play – The early videos that leaked often showcase this series in a poor light. Up and down frantic play is often on display, but after playing the demo versus the AI, the pace of play is represented fairly well. Soccer is a game of highs and lulls when it comes to pace. Things slow down to a halt and then speed up very quickly depending on where you’re at on the pitch and the match situation among other things. FIFA 18 seems to capture this fairly well depending on which team you’re playing.
Positioning – From a default perspective (without touching sliders, tactics, etc.) FIFA 18 does a better job at positioning than its predecessors. Space is contested in the middle of the pitch as it should. Sure, it’s too easy to ping a pass into your striker at times, but the ability to receive a pass and immediately turn on goal outside the box has been tuned down. Defensively teams keep their shape better than year’s past, although I have still seen times when the back four are a little too flat (perfectly vertical/horizontal).
Human Passing – Passing in FIFA has always been an area of much debate. The usual culprits are manual versus semi, but after several matches on semi I’ve noticed much more error in passes, which is a good thing. Ground passes no longer are guaranteed to go straight to your target’s feet. As a result, first touches and the ability to play a quick first-time pass are a tad riskier. Of course with the inclusion of sliders, these things can be tweaked even further. Aerial through balls over the top have a much better variety now allowing you to actually run onto them instead of seeing them constantly fall on a defender’s head.
Player Weight – Player weight feels more defined this year with a greater variation between heavier and quicker players. Stronger players can lean on attackers and not allow them to try and turn them. A little more tussle (arm jockeying) could help visually improve these battles, but the outcomes remain realistic.
What I Don’t Like
Demo Mechanics – Four-minute halves? FIFA demos have been this way for years and it appears they won’t change. At times it’s hard to properly evaluate the AI when you know they’re working off coding that kicks in at pre-determined and organic times.
CPU Passing – To be blunt, it’s way too precise resulting in very high passing percentages by the CPU. This can be toned down by sliders, but even some of the lesser squads on the demo can ping the ball around with ease on the higher difficulty levels. On the flip side, this does help the CPU hold better possession making the battle for midfield more balanced.
“In-the-Box” – For me, FIFA 18 shines from box-to-box but suffers a little once you enter the eighteen. An odd combination of CPU passiveness and loose marking leads to far too many successful passes in the penalty area. In matches against Bayern Munich, I have seen the likes of Lewandoski and Robben dribble aimlessly around the box without the malicious intent they display in real-life.
Night Lighting – The only way I can describe this is “off” right now. After watching several Champions League fixtures yesterday (all of which are played at night) and then jumping into the demo, there seems to be a huge disconnect. On both the PS4 and XB1 the night lighting seems too artificial and unnatural.
Movement With the Ball – There’s some inconsistency between player movement on the ball. Running at pace often feels like players are sliding, but turning and other movements not associated with the turbo button feel superb and respect both momentum and inertia. True foot planting would go a long way towards advancing this series, but perhaps playing the game on a slower speed would help to nerf this sliding feeling.
Defensive Styles – I think it’s time that EA marries “Legacy” and “Tactical” defending into a consolidated system. Tactical defending makes sense from a “forming solid banks of 4” perspective but often lacks the aggression required of your teammates to effectively close down defenders. Legacy defending overly relies on the teammate pressure button often pulling your players out of position and breaking your defense down if that teammate doesn’t win the ball back. Either the option of specific defensive styles like PES (think Gegenpress) or tactics that actually work.
What’s Yet To Be Determined
Quick Subs – Any feature that allows you to make changes on the fly is a good thing, especially online, but so far in my experience it’s been limited to “like-for-like” changes, that is swapping a winger for another winger. Perhaps taking this feature a little further next year and having suggestions by way of an assistant would help expand upon this feature.
Fouls – As of right now, they’re hit or miss. I’ve played a few matches where none have been called, not even an advantage. However in one game against Manchester United, I saw them repeatedly hack me down in the midfield with Herrera and Matic. Perhaps team aggressiveness in the retail version will vary based on tactics and personnel.
Team Styles – They seem to be there, but it’s hard to say for certain with the short half length. Manchester United plays a counter-based game with balls sent long via the wings to Martial/Rashford and centrally to Lukaku. PSG is also very quick on the counter with Cavani making his trademark runs and Neymar pushing the envelope. Still teams fall into an all too familiar trend, but I think it’s mostly down to the demo’s mechanics.
Overall, the improvements to FIFA 18 are immediately recognizable. Not only does the game feel different than FIFA 17 but it also has improved visually. FIFA, with all its modes, licenses and solid online play doesn’t really need too much of an endorsement, but early returns appear positive, and if team styles are indeed ironed out post-release FIFA 18 will be must-buy.
We’ll have a lot more coverage of FIFA 18 moving forward so be sure to stay tuned!