Tuesday , February 19 2019
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FIFA 19 review: new modes bring welcome change … for most players

Other new modes include “Headers & Volleys'”, where you must either score with your head or with your foot before the ball hits the ground, “Long Range”, where goals from outside the box count as double, and “First To…” where you can set the target number of goals in a match with the first player to reach it winning.

A new stat tracking feature lets you keep hold of your record and stats, including detailed analytics, against your friends and the AI.

Arguably the most impressive new edition to kick-off is the ability to play a full UEFA Champions League from the group stage onwards, picking all 32 teams from any European league in the game, and deciding who is in which group. You can also swap out any of the current teams for any other European club in the game.

Ultimate Team

If you’re an avid fan of Ultimate Team, the most profitable game mode for EA Sports, you’ll have plenty of new things to look forward to, and some smart tweaks to existing portions of the game.

FIFA 18’s new addition, “Squad Battles”, remains virtually unchanged but was a welcome addition last year. Many players were crying out for the games most competitive mode “FUT Champions” to be scaled back; last year to finish among the region’s best players you needed to play 40 games in the space of three days, between Friday and Monday. That number is now down to 30, a much more manageable task.

FUT is the go-to mode for competitive players, and those who don't mind dropping some real money.

FUT is the go-to mode for competitive players, and those who don’t mind dropping some real money.

The biggest change comes in “Seasons” mode, which has been re-vamped as “Division Rivals” and represents the closest thing the football simulator has ever had to a ladder system.

This mode offers pretty valuable rewards on a weekly basis, and will match you up against players at a similar skill level. At the end of the week you can move up or down divisions (from 10 all the way up to 1) or stay where you are, depending on how you did. Just like in real football. It’s a feature that the game has been crying out for since Ultimate Team first took the FIFA community by storm almost a decade ago.

The Journey

Without spoiling anything, this is the third installment of the game’s story mode, and the deepest yet. All of the most popular sports titles seem to be moving toward incorporating their respective game with RPG/adventure game elements, and “The Journey: Champions” finds a good balance.

At various points you’ll play as Alex Hunter, his friend Danny Williams or half-sister Kim Hunter, with a cool flashback scene featuring his grandfather Jim as you play on a Technicolor-themed pitch with the legendary John Motson on commentary.

In the latest chapter of The Journey, players chase glory in the UEFA Champions League and FIFA Women's World Cup.

In the latest chapter of The Journey, players chase glory in the UEFA Champions League and FIFA Women’s World Cup.

Career Mode and Pro Clubs

Here’s who loses out. Once again, both of these modes have undergone little to no change. Career has been a staple of the franchise since the 20th century, but with a concerted push towards making gamers take their teams online into the world of Ultimate Team (and inevitably spending a few dollars on the game’s virtual currency in the process), Career seems like a complete afterthought again. You can now play as the officially licensed Champions League and play through your seasons on an even higher difficulty level, but that’s it.

Pro Clubs, an online mode where each gamer controls only one player, looks exactly the same.

Gameplay

I was pleasantly surprised. The new custom tactics enable you to toggle the width of your formation in both attack and defence, control how many of your players push forward in attacks or on set pieces (a common criticism last year was being caught on the counter after attacking corners and being unable to do anything about it), as well as setting individual tactics for each of the five available mentalities on the D-Pad (Ultra Defensive, Defensive, Balanced, Attacking and Ultra Attacking). This means that depending on what late game situation you find yourself in, you can make the adjustments you need to with one push of a button, rather than a lengthy pause and a lot of tinkering.

Passing is harder, and pace seems to finally have been nerfed somewhat. I noticed a few times where players with very high acceleration were run down by slower defenders after they’d broken through the line but were dribbling with the ball, which didn’t happen much last year. It’s important to be wary as the gameplay at launch in FIFA 18 was excellent before subsequent patches made it worse and worse, narrowing the skill gap between good and bad players, but so far so good for this year.

I haven’t come close to mastering the new “timed shooting” mechanic, but the “driven shot” which was frequently over-used by players in 18 is still there, harder to execute as it now requires pressing three buttons at once.

Overall the changes to gameplay, kick-off mode and Ultimate Team (particularly the rewards for Division Rivals and the reduced workload of the FUT Champions mode) make FIFA 19 look like an improvement on last year. The house rules addition was long overdue, and will make having a few mates around to play FIFA fun again, as it should be.

FIFA 19 is out on September 25 for PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One and Switch.

Matt Bungard is a journalist for the Sydney Morning Herald.

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