The most important time of the year for football fans and gamers has arrived again – which football game should you invest your time and money in?
While EA Sports’ Fifa series has been on top and a steady performer for some years now, old rival Pro Evolution Soccer has been stirring again and whispers of a comeback have been in the air.
Some of that disappeared earlier this year when it was revealed Fifa 19’s big signing would be the Champions League and Europa League licenses, meaning the official tournaments would appear in a Fifa game for the first time.
This, plus a re-engineered touch control system and the usual promised polish to the game’s realism have brought us to this point – Fifa 19 is here, but is it still the best in the business?
As with every annual Fifa release, this year’s instalment has seen another layer of realism and detail added to the gameplay experience.
In fact, Fifa 19 has had some of the most substantial detail additions in some time – all the La Liga stadiums with the exception of Barcelona’s Nou Camp have been introduced, drastically upping the amount of arenas in the game.
This, combined with the introduction of the Champions League and Europa League, and all the bells and whistles of those competitions helps Fifa 19 secure the most authentic “match day experience” of any football video game.
There are new fan celebrations and crowd scenes too, with more interactive “tifo” displays before games designed to better recreate the sort of thing you might inside a stadium before a big game.
Fifa has always aimed to replicate the real match experience as much as possible – this is the closest it has come so far.
It’s not without its issues – the new commentary team for the Champions and Europa League games, Derek Rae and Lee Dixon, are horribly wooden at times – but the general updates and tweaks are a clear step forward on 2018’s game.
It’s not just in the look and atmosphere that Fifa 19 has evolved from its predecessors, this year has also seen a major revamp in how the football in the game is played.
At the centre of this overhaul is the new Active Touch System, which changes how players receive and strike the ball. Gamers now have greater control over the first touch taken by their players, as well as more precisely guiding how and where they pass and shoot.
In practice, this means players feel more human as taking the ball into their stride while running at full pace is no longer a foregone conclusion – mistakes, miscontrol and heavy touches can and do happen, and that ultimately feels more real.
It also means that timing a volley or first time shoot is now harder, but more stunning if timed perfectly, much like in your weekend 6-a-side team – you know from the moment the ball leaves your foot that you’ve struck it well.
Basic ball and player mechanics have been tweaked too, with more ricochets and deflections during play. Tackling – particularly 50/50 challenges – have been redesigned too, with players more likely to put their foot in to try and win the ball now.
All this does create some pinball moments which can be frustrating, but it feels a lot more like a real game than a scripted piece of software, programmed with some basic physics rules.
The artificial intelligence of the opposition has been enhanced too. In Fifa 19, you might find goals a lot harder to come by, with defences far more organised and happier to sit back and soak up pressure than previous games.
On a slightly more visual note, some of the animations around goalkeepers have been retuned as well, with their run-ups to goal kicks and the way in which they throw the ball out now looking much more natural and fluid.
The biggest improvement in Fifa 19 though is the new Kick Off mode.
An interesting step in that it focuses on offline, local multiplayer rather than online – something many developers are obsessed with these days – Kick Off is a social Fifa player’s dream.
In essence, it is a new built-in scoring and stats system for games you play against friends on the same console and screen. The game now tracks your head-to-head stats and overall win rates, as well as your performance against the computer when no-one else is around.
Within this scoring system though is also a huge range of new game modes to make one-on-one matches more interesting. Any one-off game can now be made into a literal cup final, complete with trophy presentation and pyrotechnics should you so wish.
There’s also Survival Mode, where a team loses a player each time they score, suddenly making the idea of racing into a 3-0 not quite as good a position as it sounds.
All the playground rules can be added to games too – goals from outside the box count double, headers and volleys only and first to a certain score – and for the anarchist inside you there’s even a ‘No Rules’ option, which is a normal game except there are no offsides, fouls, or bookings.
These are all simple steps and features but EA Sports have done a fine job of implementing them and totally revitalising an area of the game long -neglected. Any social Fifa player – whether it be in a shared house or at home with siblings – will find the new Kick Off mode the best part of Fifa 19.
In many ways, Fifa 19 looks and feels like business as usual for this gaming series. It offers the steady visual updates and minor details on the previous year that take it a slight step closer to being mistaken for the real thing.
Fifa Ultimate Team and The Journey modes are of course back again this year as well, again offering competitive online play and a narrative story mode respectively, but both do so once again without much fuss.
The Active Touch System has radically changed the feel of every Fifa match for the better, even if it takes some time to get used to.
If you’re already a fan of the series, you’re going to love what you find this year, and those who’ve been away for a while might be surprised with the great experience they find if they can be tempted back.
Fifa 19 is out on September 28.