With its archrival on the rise many were wondering what EASPORTS had up its sleeve to regain the crown. A new engine, a cinematic story mode and a host of gameplay innovations represent EASPORTS’ 3-pronged approach to regain the crown.
Last year’s version of the FIFA franchise was an enigma, to say the least. Fans maligned the lack of features and innovation, and upon release the game split the fan base. As a result, EASPORTS patched the hell out of it, with FIFA 16 today feeling considerably different to the “vanilla” launch version that shipped in September 2015. But now it has all become clear, as the dust settles and FIFA 17 appears. There was no “lack of innovation” or laziness (depending on what forum you frequently visited), instead, the FIFA development team were in the midst of a transition. This switch would see them move the game from the rather underwhelming IGNITE engine to the EA’s flagship FROSTBITE. Add to that a new cinematic story mode and a wide range of technical systems and tweaks and you have enough to say that some serious work has gone into this game.
Warning: Before we dive into this preview, we would like to remind the readers that history tells us the move to any new engine is an evolutionary process. Think of the rapid leaps made between FIFA 07 – 09 and more recently PES 2013 – 2016.
From the onset, the results are clear, with the FIFA 17’s visuals now living up to the high standards of top current gen games. Although FIFA has incorporated scanned player faces for many years, only now are they truly starting to shine. Honestly, on closer inspection you can see the vein bulging on the side of Anthony Martial’s forehead. Throw in the facial muscle capture and when players display their range of emotions the results are pretty impressive. You get the idea now, pretty much all aspects of the game have seen a visual upgrade including the lighting effects that are clearly a cut above anything the series has offered before.
The presentation and in-game atmosphere is truly a marvel and the FROSTBITE only enhances the experience in this area. God damn it, we even have licensed managers this year! Naturally, there is still a little bit of FIFA 16 in there. The player models appear to have seen some tweaks but still look very similar to last year’s game. But the biggest change the FROSTBITE engine offers is the ability of the development team to move beyond the pitch, and this is where the new mode “The Journey” come in.
The Journey – FIFA’s Answer To NBA 2K’s MyCAREER
For many years, NBA 2K has delivered a Career/Story mode that has consumed hours upon hours of basketball fans’ lives. The “MyCAREER” mode set a benchmark in sports simulation by allowing you to create a character and take them through the life experiences of an NBA star, whilst playing basketball of course. For years we looked on in envy, wondering when this would happen in a soccer game, well that time is now. EASPORTS’ approach is slightly different, with a real cinematic storytelling feel to it. The EASPORTS team invested sampling the experiences of young players coming through the ranks and worked with real film industry experts to ensure that the narrative and delivery offers a true experience. You play Alex Hunter, a rookie, and you get to pick an English Premier League side of your choice to start his career. Throughout the game you decide Alex’s actions and communication, ultimately determining his future, his relationships and the overall narrative. You make the choices of what to say and how to react when he goes through the experiences of a young footballer such as being loaned out.
Don’t worry; you get to play football as well with the ability to control the whole team or just Alex. In similar fashion to the “Be A Pro” mode, you are set objectives when you start or come off the bench. Your performances on the pitch impact the story, with consequences for bad performances (e.g. Being called into the manager’s office for a sending off) and good ones. As you play you gather “Trait Points” that you can use to improve Alex’s attributes.
Some people may well argue that they would prefer to create their own character, but given that this is a first effort and the cinematic narrative EASPORTS is trying to instil that would be hugely challenging. But remember, it took the NBA 2K team years to perfect the formula so this is a hugely encouraging start. Imagine the possibilities if you could tie in your Virtual Pro.
Let’s Get Physical
This season sees the addition of “Pushback” technology, a new physics engine that generates some very satisfying outcomes from physical battles. You really see this system shine in aerial duels and when a player has possession with an opponent right behind him. In essence, this system now allows for battles of space and positioning, adding an element of depth to the game. The physical controls are mapped to the left-trigger (L2) and ties in nicely to the old protect the ball feature – now with 360-degree control. You now have more prominent upper body/shoulder battles and the trigger also controls step-ins and shepherding the ball out of play. The left-trigger is also involved in ball reception, where in previous titles you would more often that not have to head long balls/passes, now you can enter a physical battle to better position yourself to chest control or bring it down with your foot.
Attacking Depth & Variety
One of the highlights of this early build is the variety in attacking runs. The AI is constantly assessing pace and opponent positioning in order to provide authentic and varied team mate run options. Attackers don’t just go for the gaps anymore, they consider the impact it has on the opponents backline and try to disrupt it by forcing players out of position. You will see instances where an attacker will make a run to open a gap for you. The results were quite profound in our playtest with one particular situation standing out. With Aubameyang in possession and dribbling quite close to Kagawa through the middle, Reus cuts in and makes a run into the box pulling the right back. Kagawa first offers the short pass option, but then makes an arched run behind Aubameyang, taking a centre back and opening a gap yet providing a through ball option. At that point, you realise that your AI teammates are actively providing options. Interestingly, when the opponent parks the bus, the channels become tighter, yet the effort is still there from your team mates.
To add to the attacking arsenal, keepers can now perform driven passes. Low driven shots and headers can now be performed by tapping the shoot button again once you’ve released it. Knuckle shots have a real good feel about them, not so good when you’re on the receiving end. The results with headers are also quite satisfying, particular those glancing types that bounce on or before the goal line and leave the keeper helpless.
Mastering The Set Piece
FIFA 17 completely reimagines the dead ball situations in a soccer game. Firstly, free-kicks, penalties and corners all utilise the same ball physics of regular play. However, you now have a cursor which you can control on the pitch to aim your free-kicks and corners. It’s not a simple placement job as there is some clear resistance and almost and elastic effect, however, it adds that degree of error expected with any shot or pass. When a free-kick is in range of the goal or taking penalties, the camera switches behind the player. However, you now have the freedom to move your player’s starting position and ultimately the angle of the shot and style. There is also a contextual element to it, move a left footed player to the left of the ball and he will use the outside of the boot and vice versa. It’s a real departure from the traditional free-kick/penalty systems we are accustomed to that have been present since the PS1 era, but a real innovative move from EASPORTS; Innovation.
Individuality & Feel
In order to add depth to the game through player individualization, EASPORTS claim that FIFA 17 will have three times more animations than its predecessor. During our time with the deeper animation pool was evident, as the visuals appears smoother with better transition animations. The development team wants the visual feedback to tie in with player ability to give you a unique feeling for different players and player types, time will tell if s a success, but the early results are promising. We loved the additional tackling animations, particularly those where a defender is improvising to get a foot on the ball. We anticipate the animations could potentially be more evident in the full game with a wider selection of teams and players. EASPORTS also inform us to expect a host of new skill moves.
At this current time, EASPORTS is focused on highlighting these key changes to FIFA 17. Additional information on other modes and additions to this year’s game will be announced, as we get closer to launch. Given the limited time we had with the game, it appears EASPORTS are heading in the right direction with FIFA 17. There is no doubt FROSTBITE will provide the development team with a great platform to innovate, but at this stage things are still being tweaked so we hope that longer sessions with later builds will give us a more conclusive idea of what to expect this season.
The new mode could see some resistance amongst those faithful to other modes who would like to see different enhancements, but given the success others have had with similar modes this has the potential to be a success. There is always a first time and its great to see the Vancouver team push the bar in every aspect. After all, innovation breeds new challenges but yields long term results.