The 2016/2017 football season in now well underway and all us excited fans are once again clamoring to get our hands on a game to emulate our team’s success or try rectify their failures. The transfer window this season saw record breaking fees and an array of transfers that would likely whet any football fan’s appetite. The problem for EA is that FIFA’s true fans are now, more than ever, having their heads turned to the alternative solution to this craze – Pro Evolution Soccer.

While many of us complain about the nitty- gritty aspects of most sports titles, EA are at risk this year of losing a host of their most loyal followers and, I must say, that a few of my fellow football mad friends have indeed made the switch over to the Konami title. What is great news for us all though is that FIFA and PES seem to be taking entirely different routes, specifically in gameplay, allowing us to choose between two contrasting styles and to play the game that makes us feel like champions of our very own lounges.

EA have moved onto a spanking new engine in 17 and have also included a new, ‘very exciting’ mode of play called “The Journey”. This seems apt, albeit rather unoriginal (think 2K’s NBA My Career mode), and places you in the shoes of a fictional aspiring footballer named Alex Hunter. Aside from having a very cool name, Alex’s journey is most familiar starting off from the bottom and getting a break to make a name of himself in the football world. You are tasked with playing the games throughout the season, either by controlling the entire team or by playing solely with Alex, and training Alex up to get the most out of his development. Obviously the success of Alex’s progression, and ultimately your success, is based on performances in the matches and training and the better you do (or Alex), the more likely you will be selected for the squad and given the opportunity to become a regular starter and then a star.

Unfortunately for Alex though, this all feels rather contrived as it often seems that your results as Alex the individual, not the team, are not taken into consideration. The Journey has lovely cut- scenes and references to your career growth, or failure, but are about as stereotypical as ever and while they look good I didn’t find that it added to the experience as much as I’d originally hoped. I enjoyed the Journey, the detail and choices that you can make and the numerous milestones, but I don’t think it is groundbreaking. The fact that it is only a season long mode is also disappointing and hopefully this will be dealt with in future iterations of the game.

For me, EA can formulate as many modes as they can possibly think of and there are arrays of options moving forward for the design team, but the most important aspect is and always will be the gameplay. I must say that 17 looks splendid and I am very happy to see that all of the players in the MUFC starting line- up actually resemble their real life counterparts. This may have something to do with EA Sports being the team’s new official gaming partner, but I’m not complaining. I don’t think that the new engine, Frostbite, has made as big of an impact as many were expecting however and, while the game still runs smoothly as expected, I didn’t notice a huge difference in game. The players do seem more dynamic though and Frostbite has definitely given the game a more natural feel, especially with player movements.

17 still feels a little bit slow and the amount of defensive ability and patience you need to have to retrieve the ball can be very frustrating. This frustration is solely on my head though and my skill level shouldn’t dictate whether or not the game is successful. My game has seemed to change from a possession based outlook to more of a frenzy without the ball and a large counter attacking intent with it. When it works though, it really does and while FIFA is generally more difficult when it comes to mastering the controls than PES, I prefer the challenge and the reward when I get it right. With this mastery of the controls that is required comes incessant frustration, something that seems to be common amongst most football fans, and the AI in 17 can be downright infuriating. The AI often seems to be working against you and players that you are not controlling seem to be attracted to one another rather than the ball. It is impossible to control all eleven players and EA really need to think of a way to improve the AI – we are not asking for a “Catalonian- esque” ability to read minds, but rather just a bit more assistance. Aside from this though I thoroughly enjoyed the gameplay and the new celebrations are always a good laugh.

The training is similar as ever and very beneficial to those starting on the title, or those wanting to up skill. I do enjoy this inclusion even though I don’t utilise it much outside of the loading screens. Set pieces have been changed dramatically which makes for a fresher feeling but I must say that I prefer the older, more natural system. The penalties are an exception and do feel a lot better – a move in the right direction. I do think that my gripes in this regard will fade with more experience and soon the old ways will be forgotten, probably without missing out too much.

Career mode, my personal favourite, is a joy and something that really encapsulates most players. Along with the online challenges and FIFA Ultimate Team, 17 really does have a strong package with a lot to offer. These modes are so similar to their predecessors but I don’t really think that much needs fixing, especially since it was never broken. I did get agitated at the consistency and severity of the injuries in career mode. This was more so because my favourite three players were all injured consecutively and out for nearly a third of the season. I want to play with my favourite players and to be deprived of this is most upsetting.

In conclusion, I thoroughly enjoyed the game and will stay with FIFA for perhaps another year in happiness. The realism is there, the gameplay does need a few improvements but this happens incrementally and can’t always suit everyone’s demands and the online community is vast. FIFA Journey is a lovely new addition, although not for me, and aside from a few issues here and there I do think that I will spend a lot of time enjoying this game. FIFA or PES you say? My answer would be down to personal preference and everyone is different. I have always been a FIFA lad, and I’m glad that it’ll stay that way for another year.

FIFA 17 Rating: 8/10

Check out the FIFA 17 website: FIFA 17

Nicholas Holt – PS3 Games Writer | About me – Scared of Batman, Parktown Prawns and Vanilla Ice-cream. Dream Wingman: Mahatma Gandhi. Studying: Bcom Law at WITS.