A new football video games come after the football season. A chance to play out a digital fantasy that your team is a bit better. The annual sports game is a tricky business.
But EA Sports get some things to show us this year for FIFA 17: a new game engine and a fascinating story mode. This time, EA sports put words into action.
While Ignite was a bespoke sports engine, Frostbite is the technology that adopts to EA’s current and upcoming games including Star Wars Battlefront, Mirror’s Edge and Need for Speed.
There are some key changes with FIFA 17. It looks better for a start, with fancier lighting and a greater level of detail on the pitch. It’s impressive that there was a significant shift in physics that makes the game feel more natural and authentic. Now physical interaction between players is apparently done in real-time, leading to more varied and realistic skirmishes.
The enhancement of physical play is the essential part of the control system, with a squeeze of the left trigger allowing players to shield the ball while dribbling among a host of other physical tricks. You can now nudge into a shoulder-to-shoulder tackles and, choose to stay grounded for high-ball contests. Goalkeepers also no longer have an invisible forcefield around them when they come to claim crosses.
Generally it feels like 17 is looking to give you more options to mix up your play, an idea that extends to the ‘set-piece rewrites’, which gives you a higher level of control over free-kicks and corners.
There’s some considerable nipping and tucking going on here then, but Prior says that “biggest game-changer” is the improvements in AI. “It’s complicated but in a nutshell: the intelligence of your players is much greater,” says Prior. “They’ll think further in the future. They’ll look for space very differently. They’ll drag players away and move towards you to create space in behind. A lot of more space opens up and there are a lot more opportunities.”
One area of the game that Prior insists could only have been done in the new engine is The Journey, a fully-scripted story mode, in which you play as Hunter as he tries to break into the Premier League and deal with challenges on and off the pitch. The mode is possible with the frostbite engine that you can use it on and off the pitch. You are in charge of your story off the pitch and when you are on the pitch you will need to deliver the right performance to get ahead.
It’s a fascinating diversion for FIFA, adding another option to its already bulging selection of modes. EA aren’t discussing the ubiquitous career mode or ludicrously successful Ultimate Team, but say you can expect further upgrades to both. But as ever, the real progress should be measured on the pitch and with EA putting it all on a revamped engine, there is more on the line than usual. A big year for FIFA indeed.