FIFA 19 is still more than two months away, but EA Sports was keen to show off the gameplay enhancements it’s bringing to the table for this year’s FIFA franchise outing. After kicking off with several top-tier clubs to get a feel for the title, we walked away feeling like this year’s iteration of FIFA may be the simultaneously the most authentic and natural feeling one yet.
Last year the FIFA franchise was the first EA Sports title to take the plunge into real player motion, a system which rewrote in-game physics from the ground up in regards to player momentum and ball motion. One of the most significant changes players will find this year is the new active touch system, which dictates how players angle their body and attempt one-touch moves to solve situations. Gone are the days of players awkwardly turning their bodies around to meet finesse shots. Now, players will stick a leg out behind them, chest the ball, or even flick the ball straight up to give themselves a better chance to reconnect moments later. In terms of general gameplay, this makes the action on the pitch drastically more fluid, and it makes a big difference that series veterans will notice from the get-go.
The tactics menu has also had a complete overhaul, allowing players to set offensive and defensive mentalities beyond build-up speed and formations. Instead, gamers can opt to immediately press up after the opponent’s possession loss, or pile the pressure on after heavy touches. Players can now adjust formations with the d-pad as well, a feat which previously required pausing the game and going to the tactics menu. In tandem with quick substitutions, players will spend a lot more time playing and a lot less time fumbling though levels of UI.
FIFA veterans and newbies alike will now be subjected to an all-new timed finishing mode, which is an entirely optional piece of play that brings a competitive advantage to those who use it. Double tapping the shot button will trigger a timed finish bar, and timing this well will grant extra accuracy and power to attempted shots and headers. However, miss-timing the sequence will have players miss-hitting their efforts. It’s pure risk-versus-reward.
Of course, players can still take regular shots without the timed system being a factor, but having it as an option adds another layer of strategy throughout each game mode. When penalties are looming and players have that last-gasp chance of an equalizer, is it worth attempting a timed shot, or should they just leave it to fate? For some, the question will weigh heavy, and that’s the point.
EA Sports made a big point of showing off its Champions League license acquisition, something which previously belonged to Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer. With five-time Champions League winner Cristiano Ronaldo being the face of the game, it was a natural fit. To add to the atmosphere, EA Sports has now hired the voices of Derek Rae and Lee Dixon to lend vocal coverage to Champions League games, giving the title that extra touch of authenticy that creative director Matt Prior is keen to deliver. Here’s what he had to say in regards to finally getting the Champions League license back:
If you look 1-2 years ago, Champions League was a missing piece of that puzzle. If you ask most players what they would like to win in the world of club football, Champions League is at the top of their list. It’s become the pinnacle at club football. Obviously, we had it in the game as a generic version, it’s not like we ignored it totally, but authenticity is key for us so it was always a missing piece. We always wanted to get back into the fold, so to speak. It’s important that when we include it, we did it throughout the game as well – we gave a Champions League experience to every kind of user in respect to how they play the game.
The third season of The Journey will see Alex Hunter vie for the aforementioned pinnacle of club football, a feat which reveals truly serendipitous timing. Matt confirmed that while the stars aligned for this happen, EA Sports hadn’t set out with a Champions League final firmly in mind when they started The Journey three years ago.
It’s something we always wanted to do, and The Journey could have happened without it – although we did have other ideas around that. Year One was his break into the professional game and what that takes and what players have to go through. Year Two was him stretching his wings, going to Los Angeles and then back to Europe. Year Three is him achieving the pinnacle of club football. It was something we always wanted, but there were no guarantees in any of it. You know, who knows what happens. I’m glad to say the world’s did align and we were able to bring this experience across the game.
It’ll also add plenty of flair to career mode, where players can watch the draw for both Champions League and Europa League happen in real time. It’s a nice touch to build ambiance ahead of the actual pre-game cutscenes featuring the unforgettable Champions League anthem and, should players make it far enough, a glistening trophy. Matt has remained tight-lipped about any other enhancements to career mode, so gamers will need to wait about a month for more news to trickle out about what may the game’s biggest timesink.
With the FIFA franchise finally scratching its biggest itch with licensed Champions League content and real player motion advancing the natural gameplay on the pitch, everything seems to be slotting into the right place for FIFA 19. It feels authentic to its real-world counterpart, but more importantly it feels like a noticeable step up from FIFA 18. Fans can quickly tire with an annual title that doesn’t consistently evolve, but that certainly isn’t the case with FIFA 19 – a title with more tricks up sleeve to deliver yet.
FIFA 19 will release for PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Switch, Xbox 360, and Xbox One this September 28, 2018.
You can find John on Twitter at @Makelevi. He’s not exactly Where’s Waldo.