With the latest addition to EA Sports’ football franchise arriving next week, FIFA 19 marks 20 years since I first started playing it on the classic PS One. I remember wanting FIFA 99 as a Christmas present, my folks getting it for me about a month early and my mom letting me play it without my dad knowing (also rushing to save and exit the game before my dad entered the room after getting home from work!). Back then, the players barely resembled humans let alone the star footballers they were supposed to be, you couldn’t do much but tackle, pass and shoot, but it was so much fun for youngsters and the best that developers could do at the time.
As the years have rolled on, the game just got better and better. More advanced PCs and consoles allowed for better graphics and player likeness, but more importantly let the developers deliver better gameplay. FIFA 06 introduced the curled or finesse shot, letting you score in style like a classic Thierry Henry side-foot finish caressing it past the helpless keeper. (Who could forget the classic intro to 06 as well? “Game after game after game, I realise now what’s most important in my life, football”). FIFA’s critics often say that EA releases the same game every year in a different cover. To non-football lovers and those who get the game infrequently, that may seem the case, but what they don’t seem to realise is that EA has become masters at one thing… Subtle changes.
Every new release, the game improves. AI gets more intelligent, players make good runs off the ball and respond to custom tactics and instructions you give them. FIFA 18 gave teams lifelike traits, from Liverpool and Man City’s high press to less talented teams almost “parking the bus”. Well known players also move and play like their real-life counterparts with their traits as well. Playing with manual passing, I also noticed that you could shape passes to teammates and that more talented players could lift the ball over an opponent’s leg in the way of a pass without you having to press any additional buttons.
Attention to detail is another great aspect of FIFA. Iconic stadiums, fans wearing replica kits in the stands, atmosphere with (clean) songs and chants being sung and fans reacting to chances being missed or scored. They even boo if you lose at home to a side you shouldn’t! The game is not perfect (as with most things in life). Sometimes you play against a team you should have no trouble beating, but every pass you make is intercepted, virtually all the shots the opposition take fly in and Geoff Bennett (for lack of a better generic name) becomes the new Gigi Buffon, making impossible saves.
After all is said and done, FIFA 19 also looks like it will be an exciting addition to the FIFA collection, with more in-depth tactics, the UEFA license (FINALLY! No more Champions cup, we’ll have authentic European nights and the legendary anthem!), the new chapter in Alex Hunter’s journey and once again subtle changes in gameplay that will likely make the experience more enjoyable for football fans.
If you’re like me, a football nut and gaming enthusiast, FIFA puts us in our element and immerses us in our dreams and fantasies of being a footballer or manager. Long may it continue.