In a recent interview with GameReactor, EA executive vice president Patrick Söderlund admitted the company “played it safe” with FIFA 17. This year, however, EA is going “all in” with FIFA 18, and as we sit down with lead gameplay producer Sam Rivera at Gamescom, it becomes clear exactly what that means, as the title boasts a wealth of new features, mechanics and modes for players to enjoy.
“A lot of the people we’ve been talking to are really happy with the new features,” Rivera tells MCV. “In fact, I’ve been talking to people that didn’t know about the new features, but when they play the game, they recognise them right away, since we picked those strategically so people get to enjoy more of the game. People are already calling it out as the best gameplay we’ve ever had.”
Among the many improvements Rivera wants to highlight is EA’s new Real Player Motion Technology: “It’s a new animation system that allows us to pick animations every single frame instead of every step the player is taking. So for the human eye, animation frame by frame results in one fluid motion, so you don’t see bad transitions between animations.”
Built with EA’s Frostbite engine for the second year running, FIFA 18 aims to be smoother, bigger, better and more powerful than ever: “This engine also allows us to be more responsive in the game. It adds more personality, and we can now motion-capture players like Cristiano Ronaldo – and we did – and throw his animation in the game so he moves in-game exactly like in real life.”
The most interesting features in the game, however, have become two of its most renowned modes: The Journey and FIFA Ultimate Team.
HUNT FOR SUCCESS
The Journey, which was created with help from developers who worked on EA’s Mass Effect series, was well received by both fans and critics in FIFA 17, so it’s no surprise the publisher chose to continue the story of protagonist Alex Hunter in this year’s entry.
“It’s the second year, Alex Hunter is back and he’s going to go to different places,” says Rivera. “He starts in the favelas in Brazil, and then you’ll see him going to LA and then more places I can’t tell you about yet, but it’s going be a very interesting story. You also have more impactful decisions, so whatever you do off the pitch – and on the pitch – is going to affect more of the story.”
The Journey will also feature additional customisation options for Alex Hunter, such as different hairstyles and tattoos. Rivera expects the story mode to attract even more players this time round, too, particularly after its successful debut in FIFA 17.
Year One for The Journey was very successful, and with Year Two, we’re expecting another big year.
Sam Rivera, EA
“The number of people that got FIFA and then played The Journey was a large percentage – I can’t remember the number exactly but it was a lot of people, and then the completion rate of the mode was also very big.
“That really inspired us to continue pushing hard and really, if you go through it, you’re going to see so many new things in the story. We just want you to experience more of the different situations that a young professional football player experiences through his career. So there are big surprises in the mode – basically Year One for The Journey was very successful and with Year Two we’re expecting another very big year.”
THE ULTIMATE GAME
The Journey might be FIFA’s rising star, but the title’s heavyweight feature is still Ultimate Team. This lets players build their team using any player from any league, essentially giving players their own Fantasy Football League in video game form.
“It’s our most popular mode by far,” Rivera confirms. “There are so many things you can do and it’s so rewarding. It’s a quite complex experience, but if you do it right it’s very rewarding. That’s why this year we listened to our fans. They really wanted a compelling game mode but offline. That’s why we’re bringing [Battle Squads] into the game. It’s a completely offline mode where you play against the AI to get big rewards. So it’s more about rewards here, but there are also objectives, which are going to be changing every day.”
This isn’t the only change in Ultimate Team, though, as EA is also bringing more football legends to the mode: “FIFA Ultimate Team Icons [brings] some of the best players in the history of the world in FIFA Ultimate Team, for example, Ronaldo Nazário, Ronaldinho, Maradona and Pelé.
"There going to be three versions of each of these players from the beginning of their career, the prime of their career, and finally the end of it. The prime icons are going to have the highest stats we’ve ever had in any FIFA before.”
People are already calling the game out as having the best gameplay we’ve ever had.
Sam Rivera, EA
The popularity of Ultimate Team makes it a great fit for competitive gaming as well, but so far EA has been reluctant to talk about how it’s actually going to play out in practice.
“Right now, we haven’t announced exactly how it’s going to work this year,” Rivera says. “But I can tell you we’re adding a new feature called Champions Channel, which allows you to watch replays of the best players and the top matches of the week from your console and learn how the best players play. That’s to try to improve your skills. Right now, it’s the only thing we’ve announced that’s directly related to competitive gaming, but we will be telling more later this year.”
The competitive aspect isn’t the only unknown for FIFA 18 this year, as the title will also be coming to the Switch, making it the first portable entry in the franchise since FIFA 15. It won’t include The Journey mode, but it will be the first time FIFA Ultimate Team has appeared on a Nintendo console.
“It’s custom-built for Switch,” says Rivera. “It’s not the regular FIFA you played – it’s just different. It’s very fun and that’s the point.”
Of course, we’ll have to wait and see whether FIFA 18 is a hit with Switch players, but regardless of its sales performance on Nintendo’s platform, it’s clear EA has put its best foot forward with this year’s instalment.