|System: PS4, Xbox One, PC, Switch|
|Dev: Electronic Arts|
|Pub: EA Vancouver, EA Romania|
|Release: September 28, 2018|
|Players: 1-22 Player|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Content is generally suitable for all ages.|
by Benjamin Maltbie
FIFA 19 is a marvel in some ways and a disappointment in others. Yearly releases are prone to stumblings, even if the quality does pretty consistently improve. Unfortunately, this has been a year of very impressive sports releases and sports enthusiasts, excluding hardcore soccer fans, might be better off looking elsewhere.
In FIFA 19, there are clear improvements to the way the game controls. Player movement looks deliberate and there is no longer the gliding feel that was present in the games before the switch to the Frostbite engine. The controls themselves also give players options, so if the fresh, new controls don’t click for a player, they can use something simpler. There’s a classic control scheme, which functions exactly the way you’d expect, where there is a two button option where the ball handling options are essentially limited to pass and shoot. The one button control scheme which simply has an “action” button. This last one seems strange to me, but its presence is certainly welcome.
When the ball is in your possession, you pass by aiming the left stick. A line showing the ball’s path appears. That can be amazing for lobs and through passes, since having a clear idea of the ball’s direction and destination allows for strategic planning. The way shooting functions also feels good. Holding down the shoot button determines the balls height, whereas holding the left stick controls ball placement. It’s a refreshing feeling because, for the longest time, there was a sense of randomness about competing with the goalie.
The system isn’t without flaws. Pairing aiming and movement on the same analog stick can lead to frustration as you try to manage your player and the ball. It’s going to take practice, and you might experience a degree of input error in the early stages of FIFA 19. I’m not sure how the problem could be remedied though, because the right stick is used for executing a myriad of tricks and that footwork is a boon in a lot of situations. It’s also not a great stick to use when you are pressing face buttons, so I can’t fault the developers too much. The team put something great in the game and did what they could within the limitations of the controller.
Defenders sure can be stupid, and the moves at your disposal are very useful for navigating around them. Sometimes though, you can just shoot the ball right through them. Multiple times, I saw a ball go under a player who had his leg raised for an inexplicable reason. That kind of foolishness would get a high school player on a Junior Varsity team put on the bench. Players with higher stats won’t mess up like this, and it’s nice to see a clear example of how different players behave.
One of the biggest reasons to play this game is the return of The Journey mode. This is even more the case if you played last year’s entry, as this story mode carries your save over. It revolves around a family of soccer fans and, through them, showcases why there’s a good reason to love soccer. I particularly loved the first scene with the grandfather flashing back to his younger days. The player controls a game and the narrators talk about upcoming changes to the game, such as how red and yellow cards will work. It’s a nice piece of history and helps establish the characters a bit. The tale, right from the start, does an amazing job in its characterization in a way that few games manage. Early parts of the game serve up tutorials that you can’t skip, which would be annoying for veterans, if the training exercises didn’t also reward players with stat improvements.
Also improving the experience is the choice system. Different dialogue choices define who the characters become, in terms of personality. Other options will have repercussions and shape the events of the story. It can be very similar to a Telltale game at points and, in that way, I am not actually sure how often choices matter. Fortunately, the illusion of choice is enough. One significant choice is when a character, called Danny Williams, has to decide which Premier League Club he is going to play for. Some clubs might be an easier route to a position on the Starting XI, but that benefit could be offset with a lower salary.
The voice acting is inconsistent in FIFA 19. Some of the voice actors absolutely kill it, but you will witness conversations where there is a clear imbalance in terms of quality. That can be jarring. On a related note, the commentary during matches is lively and sometimes informative. The announcers do a good job of bringing the game to life, which is a nice touch when you combine it with the wealth of stadiums and fields on which you will play on.
In all modes, interactions between players look real. In the story, the cinematography enhances the cutscenes and helps with the immersion, but in just regular games, the athletes bumping against one another, slide tackling, and jumping about feels visceral and, often times, brutal. That’s a plus in my book.
When it comes down to it, though, this very well might be an off year for the franchise. It is basically a retuned FIFA 18, which isn’t a bad thing, but it makes it hard to justify the cost of a new game. The story might be the biggest draw. If you’re an avid online player, you might get a sense that a lot of the player base has moved on from FIFA 18 and need to pick up FIFA 19. This is often the case. At the time of my review, however, I was not able to play in online matches.
Honestly, I love soccer. I played it obsessively in my youth. I watch it when I can. It is my favorite sport by far, so it is with a heavy heart that I would say that a better option for sports fans looking for a visceral experience that is sorta, kind of, somewhat similar to soccer might find solace in NHL 19. That, of course, doesn’t apply to people who just want to play soccer and don’t care much for other sports. That’s okay, because this is definitely a good soccer game. It’s just not as good as it could be. It should be immediately apparent, due to a lack of modes, if this game isn’t for you. For that reason, I might suggest renting the game before jumping in feet first.