I’ve purchased FIFA every year since 2008 – in fact there was a period of time where all I played was FIFA. My mates and I would spend hours playing online, while my housemate and I would play Career Mode together, attempting to take some lowly-ranked English team to the big time. While the improvements/changes may have been minimal from a gameplay perspective, every year I found myself saying ‘this is the best FIFA yet’. However, with FIFA 18 being such a well-rounded release it was going to take a fair effort to usurp it. But as history has shown FIFA 19 does just that, and takes the crown for Best FIFA Yet thanks to a number of changes on and off the pitch.
European nights are something special
A lot of people seem to think that FIFA is the same every year, with each game being a mirror image of its predecessor. This year represents a departure from that notion, with EA implementing a host of changes to both the game’s systems and its gameplay mechanics that further enhance its position as the best football video game experience.
Much like football itself, on the pitch is where results matter most, and FIFA 19 sees a number of significant changes to the gameplay formula with great success. Passing feels better, the game speed while slower feels apt, 50/50s are tighter and gone are the hero runs – no more waltzing through defenders with excessive pace and skill as if they’re witches hats – unless you’re playing as a highly-skilled star such as Ronaldo. Everything feels more rewarding this time around.
The only mechanic which feels a little unrefined is the new Timed Finishing feature. Essentially it requires players to double-tap shoot at the right time (think old penalty shooting bars), in the right position to get the perfect shot off. Worldies are no longer hit with ease, and while it’s a good feature on paper, it’s application on the pitch feels a little hit-or-miss, especially during high-pressure moments. It’ll take a fair amount of practice to master, but once you have it you’ll be rewarded with some truly breathtaking goals.
The only time I am likely to see Burnley beating Liverpool in the near future
All the modes you’ve played previously are all here, such as Career Mode (manager and player), Online modes (Pro Clubs, friendlies, seasons etc.) and the mega-popular Ultimate Team (laden with microtransactions as you would expect). While these modes offer little improvements, they are all core pillars in the yearly FIFA offering.
One of the major announcements pre-release was the addition of the official UEFA Champions League licence (and Europa League), which comes with its own mode, allowing players to live their own European dream and lift the sport’s most illustrious seasonal trophy. EA has obviously gone to great lengths to make the Champions League feels as authentic as possible, with small details such as having your team’s name drawn out of the hat and the iconic music playing before kick-off being nice touches, and having Derek Rae and Lee Dixon commentate is a welcome break from the trite duo of Martin Tyler and Alan Smith (please get some new commentators EA).
Where the changes really excel is in Kick Off mode, which is essentially an offline exhibition versus mode. However this time around EA has spiced things up by allowing players to change the rules – or to set House Rules as they’re called. Players can set the match to have no rules (no cards, no offside) for the ultimate barbaric football experience (seriously, you’ve never known how dirty and unsportsmanlike your friends are until now). There’s a Survival Mode, where players are eliminated off the pitch with every goal, and players have the option of making it so every goal must be scored with either a header or volley. Disappointingly this rules cannot be used online, however they do make for some good old couch co-op fun.
FIFA’s new goalkick mechanic
The Journey is back for a third season, with Alex Hunter attempting to become the next Real Madrid Galácticos after his mega-move to arguably the biggest club on the planet. As we’ve come to expect from The Journey, the third season is full of ups and downs for Hunter, and adding more spice this year is the addition of two playable characters. Alex Hunter’s destiny won’t be the only one you shape this year, with series regular Danny Williams back again with his own score to settle, and Hunter’s half-sister Kim embarking on her own…journey…to make it as a member of the US national team.
While it’s well-scripted and provides a nice break from the grind of a long season, it’s largely more of the same and by the time you’re wrapping things up it all starts to feel a little hackneyed. However, there are some neat touches included, such as playing as Jim Hunter on a sodden ‘70s football pitch, which is one of the mode’s highlights.
Visually the game is as delicious as ever, with every blade of grass and bead of sweat visible in glorious 4K. Player models, stadiums and team kits all look stunningly accurate, and even the raucous crowds look impressive.
Walking amongst kings
Although it’s a cliché that’s gets thrown about fairly liberally when it comes to sports video games, FIFA 19 truly feels more realistic with all the improvements. On the pitch it’s the most rewarding FIFA yet, and off the pitch EA continues to expand its licence roster with the addition of the Champions League and the Chinese League, as well as giving Kick Off a new lease on life.
Reviewed on PS4 Pro / Review code supplied by publisher