Real-life soccer players act out their own
destinies on the pitch with each passing minute, but that’s trickier in video
games. FIFA 17’s new mode, The Journey, has no shortage of inspirations;
every match and season is full of them. But The Journey is in an ambiguous
position: It gives the illusion that you’re directing the tale of Alex Hunter,
but you’re neither in control enough of Hunter to take ownership of him, and
the story of the mode itself can struggle to synch up to his actions. Despite
this, The Journey has memorable moments and is an admirable first step worth
experiencing alongside the series’ customary modes and improving gameplay.
The Journey is an elaborate wrapper for the traditional Be a Pro mode,
using the match rating feature to assess Hunter’s performance based on the
quality of his passes, shots, and positioning. This increases his abilities
(along with his results in training sessions) and determines whether he’s among
the starting 11 each week. Hunter experiences the ups and downs as a young
phenom in the English Premier League, and we get a glimpse of his personal
The mode is at its best when it captures Hunter’s awe of the situation,
such as signing with his favorite club from his childhood (which you choose).
Like Hunter, I geeked out at seeing current first-teamers in the background and
soaked up the occasion. The solid voice acting and character models add to
these moments, as do settings like Hunter’s childhood bedroom. Developer EA
Vancouver smartly kept the story mainly confined to the world of soccer; it
takes some detours into Hunter’s family life, but they are only okay.
While the story is solid, I wanted more from FIFA’s boasted advantage:
licenses. Managers are mute and rarely seen, and you see little flavor from the
club you’re at, like its history, status in the standings, the supporters, and
the players around you. It’s Hunter’s journey through a season with the club,
but apart from the kit he’s wearing and a few fictitious players he interacts
with, it feels isolated from the supposed grandeur of the self-proclaimed best
league in the world.
Part of this incongruity comes from the conversation system and process
of training and playing in matches to upgrade Hunter’s skills. Some events of
the story are told no matter what Hunter does, and while I respect that the
narrative needs to take precedence, it’s inconsistent and sometimes frustrating
to do well in training and in games, for instance, and not be treated according
to -those -achievements.
You can play games in the mode either as the whole team, or locked to
just Hunter. Playing as the team doesn’t produce the satisfaction of being the
character of Alex Hunter. However, player-locking to Hunter makes you more
reliant on your A.I. teammates, whom you can command to pass, shoot, etc. They
do alright in some situations, but they simply don’t have the nous to avoid
tactical dead ends, and sometimes even pass on a clear chance on goal. The
grading system is also inconsistent and unable to understand that even a good
first decision can eventually lead to a poor outcome.
Apart from The Journey, the series’ usual offering of modes has some
slight new wrinkles. Squad Building in Ultimate Team is like Madden’s sets:
Trade in cards to complete collections for payouts. Meeting the prerequisites
is a puzzle that can be solved multiple ways.
Career mode includes more season objectives (financial, youth prospects,
competitions, etc.), and thankfully not meeting them doesn’t always mean
instant termination – an improvement from last year. Unfortunately, one
aspect of FIFA that is too similar to FIFA 16 is the women’s national teams.
Norway and the Netherlands are now in, but otherwise the popular feature is
FIFA’s gameplay is on the ascent, but still has some frustrating moments
where outcomes are predetermined despite your inputs, as well as occasionally
dodgy passes and overpowered keepers. However, the control of your first touch
and the increased physical play are assets. The latter is useful whether
shielding the ball from an opponent (or vice versa) or trying not to be bossed
around on corners.
The Journey isn’t the
be-all-end-all of FIFA 17. It’s a good start that adds to the game despite its
flaws, while the title is anchored by the overall gameplay and other modes.
Solving the riddle of how to blend player agency seamlessly with a well-crafted
story remains a tantalizing prize, one that will pay off handsomely when
This review pertains to the PS4 and Xbox One versions of the game. It is also available on PS3, 360, and PC. The Journey is not in the last-gen versions.