I’m a big fan of the FIFA franchise. As a child, there’d always be at least one FIFA game in my collection, even if back then, the series was often mediocre. It’s an integral part of my enjoyment of soccer. In recent times though, I’ve become more picky. With limited time available, I tend to pick up the latest FIFA later than I used to. I know it’ll mostly offer useful tweaks and additions, rather than anything huge that’ll make it stand out from the previous installment.
I think that’s going to change with the arrival of FIFA 17 later this year, though. It finally offers the thing that I love most of all about games-a story mode.
Story modes in sports games aren’t new. NBA 2K16 boasted one that had the input and assistance of director, Spike Lee. This is the first time that I can recall a soccer game doing it though. Previously, I spent the bulk of my time playing the Be a Pro mode of FIFA, with the focus being placed on developing just one player within a team. FIFA 17’s The Journey mode appears to be the natural evolution of this type of playing.
The Journey has you following the story of the Premier League’s next rising star, Alex Hunter, as he works his way through the ranks to hopefully become one of the all time greats. There’s an immediate downside here: You only get the choice of one player. Notably, there are no options to play a female soccer star. The fact that Hunter is a person of color is one step forward when it comes to diversity, however.
Presumably, the reason for being limited to one character is down to the narrative focused nature of this game mode. EA has promised that decisions made off the pitch will affect Hunter’s performance throughout each game. Much like the Be a Pro mode of old, certain objectives are set for each player before a match.
FIFA 17 takes a more melodramatic approach than this though, with comments made before and after a game, affecting their chances of being picked. It’s a twist on the Mass Effect-style conversations, albeit cheesier, and less likely to affect the safety of the galaxy. Some cutscenes even have Hunter sighing despairingly in his childhood bedroom as he finds out he hasn’t been signed for his favorite club.
Ok, so it’s hardly Shakespeare, but it’s a start for a franchise that hasn’t touched on storytelling before.
You’re limited to playing in an attacking position, such as striker, or attacking midfielder, with EA citing that this is because defensive players have a very different journey and mission plan than those playing more offensive positions. I’m fine with that, though. After all, who would you rather be? The person who scores the winning goal in the cup final, or the one who defends a tricky pass? It’s always going to be the former, even if the team nature of the game means that everyone’s equally valuable.
The Journey is also going to tie into the focus on training that has now become a major part of FIFA 17’s career mode. No real soccer player can expect to play well on a Saturday without putting the effort in during the week. Further adding to the roleplaying nature of The Journey, players will be expected to train, as well as play in the big matches. By doing so, Hunter’s performance is improved, while also ensuring that you can tailor the player to your playing style. Keeping the manager happy will play a crucial role, too.
I’m a cynic. I’m not expecting this to gel together straight away. Right now, FIFA 17’s The Journey sounds like a fantastic idea, but one that I suspect is going to take a couple of iterations to fully work out. I’m expecting clunky dialogue and the sense that my decisions don’t affect as much as I’d like them to. I’m not expecting Mass Effect-style twists by any means.
That doesn’t stop me from having a lot of hope, though. This is a significant step in turning soccer games into more than just the usual tweaks and team updates that we’ve come to expect over the years. My hope is that Konami’s PES series takes note, and works hard to provide strong competition over time, much like how it took a few years for the promise of FIFA’s Ultimate Team mode to really shine through.
Regardless of how long it takes to fully develop the story mode, the yearly sports game refresh just got way more interesting.