Here we are with a brand new FIFA instalment, but will FIFA 19 deliver something new or will it be treading on all too familiar ground? Let’s take a look and see. Each year whether its PES or FIFA, there’s always some kind of new gameplay gimmick and in FIFA 19, that very gimmick is the new and improved First Touch. Basically how this will work, is that when the ball comes to the feet of a controlled player, with a flick of the right analogue stick, the controlled player in question will perform a unique trick when controlling the ball.
Depending on what angle the ball is approaching and the angle of the controlled player, you can flick the ball wide of a defending player and sharp turn on a counter-attack leaving the defender in the dust. While another player might be able to get past a defender by flicking the ball over their heads, rather than around them. If you have a player in or around the penalty area, a well timed flick of the analogue stick can even set you up for a sweet volley on goal. The First Touch skill is easy to perform, but requires a good level of skill to truly master and this “gimmick” certainly adds a positive aspect to the overall gameplay approach of FIFA 19.
Fans of the series will know how gorgeous FIFA games look, with its realistic football player likenesses, especially with teams in the world’s top divisions, so too with their stadiums, crowd chants, licensed competitions, I could go on. EA throw a lot of money at this franchise and FIFA 19 is no exception. Visually and in terms of overall presentation, FIFA 19 stands out above its competition and EA’s continued investment is paying dividends, and that even more so comes with the investment of the recently acquired UEFA licensee.
Previously for a good ten years now, the UEFA license has been in the hands of Konami with the PES series, but from this year, it now belongs to EA. When it comes to playing FIFA and PES, I see no problem in playing both and if both games are performing at their peak, if I can help it, I don’t want to restrict myself from picking either FIFA or PES. Being a long-term PES fan (as well as FIFA), I had long gotten used to the lack of club team licenses, however, being able to play in fully licensed UEFA competitions, such as the Champions League was a big pull. However, when EA acquired that license for FIFA, I was dubious whether or not they can present it better than its PES and in my humble opinion, FIFA presents competitions such as the Champions League better than its PES rival.
Aside from FIFA 19’s extra polish and visual gloss, FIFA, just does it better. Of course you have the iconic Champions League theme music, all the official branding, the works. Even when you’re in the pre-game lobby, seeing the live updates on other team’s performances, information on rival star players, as good as it was in PES, competitions such as the Champions League have never felt more authentic. The Champions League even has its own commentary team that differs from competitions such as the English Premier League with Derek Rae and Lee Dixon calling the action on the pitch. However, what I would say is that this commentary does get recycled more to that of the Premier League, especially when you pull off a sweet volley and Lee Dixons refers to it being nothing all that special. I must also note that the UEFA licenses extend to the EUROPA League and the European Super Cup.
While I’m not a fan of this mode, loot packs aside, FIFA Ultimate Team (FUT) attempts to level the playing field for players that don’t invest heavily in player packs. Sure most people can’t compete with those that invest a lot of finances trying to get the best players and the perfect blend of team chemistry, the new Division Rivals makes up some ground in making the competition a little fairer. In some ways, this approach seems quite similar to what I’ve seen in the ranked competitions with games such as Call of Duty: WWII (I know that might seem like an odd comparison, but hear me out). Basically in FIFA 19’s Division Rivals, before you get grouped into a competitive league, you will play out a series of matches that will determine your skill rating and then you will be placed in one of ten divisions.
Once you’re in your designated division, you will play out a series of weekly matches and just like real-life football, you will earn league points for a win, draw and of course nothing if you lose. Winning matches will not only earn you league points to climb up the ranks, but you will also be rewarded with FUT prizes such as player packs and so forth. Then if you finish that mini-season at the top end of your league, you will earn a promotion to a special weekend competition by earning “Champions Points”, if you will, the Champions League of FUT.
Once you’re in this elite weekend competition, you have the chance of winning greater rewards to that of the standard FUT league competition. If for whatever reason, you can’t make it to this weekend’s competition, you can bank your Champions Points to save them for the following weekend. However, I must add that you can’t stack these points, so you can only bank one weekend competition at a time. Before I leave the topic of FUT, due to all the recent loot box legislations, EA were forced to reveal the odds of what category of players you’ll get when purchasing packs. For Gold players above a 75 rating, there is a 100%, Gold players above 82 are at 41%, Gold players above 85 are at 4.3%, while the player of the week “Ones to Watch” are less than just 1%.
A series of fun modes have also been introduced in FIFA 19 under “House Rules”, here you can pick from a variety of match types that will be especially great for when playing against a friend locally. Probably my favourite of these match types is No Rules and as you can guess, this pretty much does what it says on the tin. No Rules means there’s no ref to call fouls, yellow or red cards, no penalties or free-kicks or no off-sides. Other then in-play action, the only set-pieces that comes into play during this mode is throw-ins, goal-kicks and corners. This mode is a lot of fun tripping up a player as they are about to outpace you or chopping them down in the penalty area before they are about to score. However, oddly enough, attempting to foul players left, right and centre, is perhaps a little tougher then you might expect, especially against skilled players as they still require a degree of timing to land that perfect foul.
Other modes include Survival Scoring, where the scoring team will lose a random outfield player each time they score a goal. A team can lose up to four players in one match, leaving six outfield players and the goalkeeper. The match will also end if a team scores five goals and if a team receives two red cards, the match will be a forfeit. This survival mode is also a lot of fun and is quite strategic. For example, do you take a 1-0 lead, lose just one player and hold out to the final whistle or do you attempt for a more comfortable score-line, but lose more outfield players, leaving you more exposed in the process?
The category of House Rules matches also feature a mode when you get one goal for those scored inside the penalty area and two goals for those that are scored outside of the area. There is also a “First to” match type where you get set the requirement to the first player to score the set number of goals wins and finally, Headers & Volleys in which, yep you’ve guessed it, only goals scored via a header or volley will count. This latter mode of the same namesake reminds me of playing football on the local fields as kids playing Headers & Volleys and Knockout, which wasn’t to dissimilar to that of FIFA 19’s Survival mode. This really does put an emphasis on how much of a fun aspect that the developers are bringing to FIFA 19, this instalment also includes the final chapter campaign to the Alex Hunter story that began in FIFA 17. While I’ve never been a fan of the Journey campaign, if they implemented a create-a-player into FIFA 20’s campaign that could go a long way in having me invest some time in this mode.
Overall, FIFA 19 offers a more refined football gaming experience than ever before. Not only with its new wealth of deep modes and licenses, but the action on the pitch as better than it’s ever been in my opinion. The First Touch mechanic really adds to the gameplay, the match day presentation is near perfect for a videogame experience and not only does the action feel great on the pitch, you can feel and hear the tension from opposing fans as you a 2-0 or 3-0 lead away from home, and often you’ll feel a more aggressive reaction from the team that you’re playing against as they attempt to claw something back.
In recent years, I did feel as if the FIFA series had peaked, but yet somehow EA has managed to improve of many aspects to FIFA 19 to a level that I honestly did not expect and for that, I commend the developers for still managing to keep this series fresh after all these years. The one true blight that FIFA 19 has (other than the low odds of FUT packs, which have always been present), is that from what I can tell, there’s no improvements made to the Career mode from last year, which is a shame as I know a lot of players invest a lot of time in this particular mode. Hopefully with FIFA 19 seeing the conclusion to Alex Hunters story, perhaps EA will invest more time in improving Career with next year’s game. However, to conclude, despite the Career mode shortcomings, with all the overall improvements that FIFA 19 brings, this may just be the best FIFA yet.