When we first played an early build of FIFA 17 during E3 in June we were a little worried about the gameplay. It came after a decent session with the new Pro Evolution Soccer and left us in no doubt that PES 2017 plays the better game of football.
Thankfully though, the new build available to play at Gamescom in Cologne was vastly improved. Clearly the E3 build was very early and much has been tweaked since.
The main new addition is still the story mode, with The Journey introducing an all-new aspect to the franchise.
In it, you take control of Alex Hunter, a young lad who undertakes a rags to riches rise to the top of the footy ladder, with you steering him along the way. It stars a number of real-life personalities, including Jose Mourinho, but the main action centres on the fictional star.
Back at E3 2016, we got a little taste of what's to come and it looked good. It will live and die on its activities, acting and script, but while it won’t replace Ultimate Team as everyone’s favourite mode, but there’s something interesting about getting involved with a player’s off-pitch life as well as his destiny on it.
The in-game stuff is similar to previous "you are the player" modes from former years. You get scored on how much of a contribution you’ve made to the score and action. Outside of games, you are also asked questions on occasion, with your answer determining what kind of person you are judged to be.
Hunter's meteoric rise takes him through Manchester United and, ultimately, England, while the short section available to us at the show dealt with his debut at Old Trafford.
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Needless to say that it’s difficult to play one half of a new football game as a single-player that didn’t appear much on screen – and our AI-controlled teammates didn’t really help much, so we didn’t complete any tasks successfully. But there’s a lot of potential in The Journey for one play through, before heading back to Ultimate Team.
At Gamescom we got much more time playing general, versus matches, and both the graphical changes enforced by the switch to the Frostbite Engine and the several gameplay alterations are starting to make good sense.
It must be pointed out though that there wasn’t much time for us to get a specific handle on the many tweaks, although we did play three or four matches in total. Free kicks and corners are very different in that you can choose the spot on the pitch you want to aim at for both. And players seemed to have more unique play styles depending on position and flair than ever before.
We'll need more time with the game to be sure though.
The Journey will be the most talked about feature for sure, but for us FIFA 17 has to deliver on the pitch, especially with a new, invigorated PES 2017 lurking in its shadows.
There's something epic in FIFA's gameplay that is reassuring, and the Frostbite Engine certainly brings the graphics up a notch. Those will important in the battle for footy supremacy that is soon to come. It'll be a closer run thing this year, that's for sure.