The bicycle kick. No other skill in football epitomizes the elegance and beauty of the game quite like it. Accounting for a sizeable number of the most iconic goals fans have ever witnessed, the overhead bicycle kick is a sight to behold. Wayne Rooney against fierce rivals Manchester City, Ibrahimovic versus England and more recently Bale against Liverpool in the Champions League Final. These are but a few of the spectacular overhead goals we’ve been treated to over the years and when mentioned, any football fan could recount exactly what goal you’re referring to. But what makes these goals special is the incredibly difficult technique involved and the rarity of them as a result of this. It’s like seeing a 147 in snooker or a century in cricket, a moment in a sport that everyone appreciates no matter where your allegiances lie. Why then, in a video game that’s attempting to authentically emulate football do you see them scored every other game? Not only goals but overhead kick passes and clearances performed by players that have never seen a step over in their careers. I have to admit though it feels awesome scoring them. This is but one example of how EA takes one step forward and two steps back in FIFA 19. In this review, I will be assessing the newest entry into the juggernaut football franchise, FIFA, and finding out whether or not it’s another re-skin for a new season or if genuine innovations are implemented into the series.
FIFA 19 has always prided itself on being the most authentic football simulator on the market and thanks largely to its consistent quality mechanics it achieves this feat, for the most part. Instead of reinventing the wheel EA opts to annually tweak the franchise by implementing new systems that improve the foundations without dramatically changing them… Every year FIFA releases with the promises of better gameplay, better graphics, more modes, and a lot more opportunities to buy an abundance of Ultimate Team packs so that you can build your dream team online. On the latter, it definitely succeeds, on the former, however, sometimes you’re left wondering what you actually spent ANOTHER £60 on. And not only £60 anymore but factoring in the virtually mandatory micro-transactions required to efficiently build a decent squad on Ultimate Team, it becomes an expensive endeavor. Most years there just isn’t enough justification for investing in this franchise again given what is available on its predecessor at the time. However, some years we get game changers in FIFA, some mechanics that you simply couldn’t live without going forward. The 360 dribbling, finesse/chip shots, dynamic tackling physics and improved AI are just a few examples of the systems that made FIFA a lot better.
This year EA has introduced 4 new systems, Timed finishing, Active Touch System, 50/50 Battles and Dynamic tactics along with some general gameplay tweaks. Timed finishing is a mechanic where you shoot and then press the button again when the player makes contact with the ball to increase its likelihood to score, trying to emulate when players connect with the ball sweetly. I understand that with most new systems that it’s ultimately down to personal preference, especially with the option to turn them off. Despite this, timed finishing feels awful and sloppy. Many have compared it to the Gears of War reload system but it reminds me of Shadows of Mordor and Marvel’s Spider-Man where you can hit attack a second time on impact to build up focus. This is because it doesn’t feel satisfying like in Gears, instead, it can lead to some awkward button mashing in the box when you’re already trying to contend with the “will I shoot or will I randomly tackle?” dilemma. Yes, it feels good to time it right outside the box and score a screamer but not more so than scoring the screamer itself. I feel like it breaks the immersion of the match and makes it feel like a simulation with this mini-game shooting mechanic. What’s worse is that player don’t even scuff the shot when you mistime it, instead, they calmly side-foot it 50 yards wide with no power which looks bizarre during a game. I ended up turning this feature off after a couple dozen matches and enjoyed the game more for it. Turning off one of EA marquee new systems because it’s that bad is criminal. Poor effort.
Next is the Active Touch System, a refurbished player control mechanic that allows for fancy first touches and flicks. Usually, flair moves such as these were reserved for the more skillful players, not here, however, now players such as Bonucci and Ramos can now elegantly bring the ball out of the air and into their strides as if they were Messi himself. It’s a really nice feature when considering that players can also take bad touches and lose control of the ball but I wish that it would have stayed reserved for players with high star skill levels or the flair trait. It subtracts from FIFA 19’s footballing authenticity when you can literally flick the ball over someone’s head on the first time control with Jordan Henderson…
The best new feature comes in the form of 50/50 battles. Players are now stronger in the game giving it a new level of physicality and boisterousness which was seriously lacking previously. You can tussle with your opponent here and tackle each other two or three times during an exchange without going to ground which makes it feel really intense. This lends itself well to teams such as Liverpool who press relentlessly and make it feel like you’re in a genuinely tough and physical game. Honestly, I wish real football was more like this without players going to ground after getting sneezed on. The referring can feel slightly unbalanced as a result of this though. If you’re not playing an aggressive team/player then there are considerably fewer fouls in the game which leads to the referee being extremely trigger happy when an incident takes place. Booking players for seemingly innocuous challenges that wouldn’t have been a card in previous FIFA’s or in fact real football. For the most part, though it works great, they allow play to go on which brings a better flow to the game which makes sense considering games are around 15 minutes rather than 90 (real minutes).
The last big feature is Dynamic Tactics which strips the old attacking or defensive tactics and substitutes it with customisable strategies during games. Pun absolutely intended. Usually, left and right on the D-pad would change from 3 stages of attack and 3 stages of defence, altering the play style of your team accordingly. In FIFA 19 you can allocate different formations to the play style as well as having greater options such as changing the width, depth, pressing style and passing style of your team depending on whether you’re attacking or defending. This is a great new addition on paper but it’s so sloppy in its execution for one reason. Whenever you change formation all your players get swapped around with no real logic. I understand that swapping from a 4-3-3 to a 5-3-1 will cause some amount of disruption but swapping from 4-3-3(1) to 4-3-3(2) puts my CB at RB and my CM to RW. I played as Liverpool in my career campaign and whenever I saw Fabinho bombing down the wings I wasn’t amused. To change you have to go into the pause menu and sort it manually, where you could just change the formation from there. So why would I even use the D-pad prompt or any of the Dynamic Tactics if it’s a lot more reliable in the team manager? Again, I completely stopped using this feature after my second season and I’m whooping ass all the same.
Overall, the new features are underwhelming and remind me of that question again. Why did I spend another £60 on FIFA? Well, I spent that hard-earned cash because the game feels great this year because of the little tweaks that EA has made. The animations look more sophisticated and the transitions between them a lot smoother. Passing isn’t as accurate and leads to mistakes from both sides, a massive part of football that FIFA has never before capitalized on. Pacey players don’t feel as overpowered anymore, leading to strategic and patient build ups in attack rather than spreading it to Sterling all game long. Although, it is very frustrating when you do have 10 yards on a slow player (and you know he’s slow, you’ve seen his stats) and he catches up to you. Obviously, players are faster off the ball than they are on it but it still needs some balancing in my opinion. The overhead kicks also need some serious tweaking, I can only guess that EA has lowered the agility threshold that allows players to overhead it or they’ve made it so every player will go for an overhead if it’s the right high and you’re holding the flair modifier (L2). Either way, it occurs far too frequently and spoils the magic of scoring them. This should be rectified in an update however if the feeling between FIFA fans is mutual. Despite this, all these little details genuinely add up and makes for one of the better FIFA experiences I’ve had in for a number of years.
I’m starting the analysis of the different modes in FIFA 19 with Career Mode as it’s my personal favorite and what I primarily play FIFA for. In EA’s search to create the ultimate football simulator, no mode does it better than Career Mode, even with all of its problems. An epic manager simulator that gives you full control of any given club. It allows you to transfer players, build a youth academy, manage scouts and of course play as your team for every game. Career Mode has always been solid but dramatically overshadowed by Ultimate Team and suffers because of this. The foundations that EA laid with its overhaul of the mode in FIFA 14 were amazing and I’ve played at least 8+ seasons on it every year since. However, the only big change we’ve seen since then is the new player transfer system, which was commendable, last year. So it’s been 6 FIFA’s now (including 14) that we’ve seen this exact same manager mode on display. No surprise then that EA doesn’t even bother to add a single feature this year other than the inclusion of The Champions League license, which admittedly is fantastic and something I’ve been wanting for years. I only put up with EA’s laziness in this regard because Career Mode is such a guilty pleasure for me and no matter how much or little they do to it I will always play it. Nevertheless, there are some glaring issues that still need to be addressed such as; Top teams in your division getting beat too often by other teams which can lead to winning the league too easily. I won the league with Liverpool in my first season (I play on Ultimate as well, just saying) having lost 8 games that campaign and accumulating just 80 points. Only Manchester United have won it with less with 75 points in 96/97. Also, the youth players don’t have relevant stats that match their position, centre-backs will often be 5″5 and wingers will have around 60-70 pace which doesn’t make sense. This makes youth prodigies hard to come by and forces the player to invest in the transfer market rather than developing a player from scratch. This has serious ramifications in the latter stages of FIFA’s Career Mode as you’re left with a graveyard of players unsuited to play their positions adequately. Finally, the UI feels, like it’s always felt, slow and unresponsive. It can become a chore switching from the inbox to the transfer hub and back to your team management, it needs improving much like the rest of Career Mode. However, just like the past 5/6 years, you will find plenty of entertainment value here in Career Mode but it is a detriment to FIFA 19 that it’s exactly the same.
You don’t win the Europa League, FA Cup and Premier League in your first 6 months on the job without a beast squad like this.
The Journey returns this year with its new campaign, The Journey: Champions. Because they have the license now they might as well get their money’s worth. This time around we have the opportunity to play as three different characters that all play for different clubs. At the start, Alex Hunter will have his choice between three elite European clubs. Danny Williams has the Premier League at his disposal and can choose from any team within it. And Kim Hunter, Alex’s half-sister, plays for the USA national team in a bid to become a top player in the 2019 world cup. Trials and tribulations follow the three protagonists as they have to make decisions that dictate their careers and personalities as you progress through their stories. It’s less innovation and more rounding off the story that started in FIFA 17 so you will see many similar mechanics here. The Journey has been an ambitious project for EA and for the most part, has offered new and interesting ways to play FIFA centering it around a person and a story instead of raw football. Whether you like it or not depends on whether you’re invested in these characters which for the most part you probably won’t be. Dialogue is awkward and cringy, drama is created where no drama should exist and a lot of the story feels forced. This is all to be expected from a sports story mode though and I actually applaud EA in their efforts to bring a breath of fresh air to FIFA. I will say that the opening to The Journey: Champion is amazing, I won’t spoil anything but if that could be a mode within itself, I’d play the hell out of it.
FIFA Ultimate Team is back with all of its extortionate money grabbing glory, along with a new mode or two. It’s FIFA’s holy grail with an estimated income of $800 million a year and it continues to grow year in and year out without ever really improving or changing what is available. Division Rivals is the new big mode in UT this year which bring more depth to the league and progression system in EA’s huge online mode. It provides an interesting way to develop your team and see feedback for your hard work (or the hole in your wallet). Other than this it’s a pretty standard affair. Matchmaking is still abysmal, I matched a 100 chemistry 85+ player teams for my first three opponents and after seeing how much it would cost just to build a good squad and compete with these guys was enough to put me off the mode. EA matches players up with opponents with high-level teams to entice them to buy packs and improve their squads, it’s predatory, unfair and greedy. The rise of microtransaction began with FIFA and Madden’s Ultimate Team modes and FIFA especially is suffering because of this. Not EA, FIFA. Because FUT makes so much money why should they bother with the other modes? This is EA’s ethos and it shouldn’t be accepted by the consumers, stop mindlessly buying packs guys.
Aside from the mechanics, FUT, Career Mode and the Journey, kick off mode has also been subject to some serious improvements this time around. Instead of putting you straight into an exhibition, kick off now has several different modes you can play in with enough variety to boot. Last one I promise. You can now participate in headers and volleys, survival matches that have players eliminated when a goal is scored and mini tournaments that track wins between specific accounts. These are all really fun inclusions considering that FIFA is best played against friends and these modes help provide some much-needed variation. Although it’s a shame that these are only available locally and not online.
In summary, FIFA 19 is just another FIFA game on the face of it but the licensing of the Champions League and certain gameplay tweaks certainly make for a much better experience. A lot of modes need updating and some players models could use some love but apart from that FIFA is still the best footballing simulator out there. However, the lack of innovation and the execution of the new mechanics have left it feeling like something we could have had 3/4 years ago and that’s simply not acceptable in this industry and I’m not sure how FIFA has been allowed to continue this way without seeing a decrease in sales. With that said, here is my score for EA’s FIFA 19: