FIFA 19 Review — The More Things Change, the More Stays the Same
The Beautiful Game is expertly portrayed in EA's FIFA 19 thanks to some gameplay tweaks and Alex Hunter's latest journey.
Xbox One, Switch
Review copy provided by the publisher
Many sports games attempt to genuinely portray the sport to the nth degree. I would also say that in trying to create a simulation, those games tend to suffer when it comes to gameplay. More often than not, a sports game’s playability is hindered by the numerous animations clashing with its mechanics. One series that has overcome those obstacles is EA’s FIFA. The latest iteration, FIFA 19, is a perfect representation of this notion as it presents an experience that is authentic to the sport while still maintaining fun gameplay.
When I played my first match, the first thing I noticed was how different the passing felt. At first, it was a bit aggravating. In FIFA 18, passing was as simple as pointing the thumbstick at a player and pressing a button bringing the ball directly to the player. In FIFA 19, I initially felt that it was both slightly sensitive and inaccurate. Many times, I thought I was aiming at one player, and it would get passed to someone completely different. Inevitably, I did learn to pass more effectively, but from time to time, I do entirely miss a pass.
I do think that the passes to have a more realistic feel to them. Like I mentioned, passing in FIFA 18 felt almost laser accurate. While passes are a bit unwieldy, it does look a bit more realistic.
Probably the most notable gameplay implementation is the timed finishes. This ability allows you to shoot with more precision. To initiate this, you’ll double tap the shoot button. A bar with a slider will appear where you’ll have to correctly time your second button press to determine how accurate your shot is. The best comparison I can think of is Gears of War’s active reload system.
Using the timed finishes do make your shots more accurate. However, it wasn’t drastically more effective than just shooting with the traditional method. It also is a risk/reward system. If you do successfully time your finish, it will be more accurate. However, if your timing was off, you’ll more than likely miss. It’s a nice implementation but one that isn’t as reliable as the traditional method.
Something I think the FIFA series excels at is its presentation, and FIFA 19 is no exception. The combination of the roaring crowd, the exceptional graphics, and the match commentary by Derek Rae and Lee Dixon help give the game the authenticity you would want from a simulation.
There are moments where some moments break that immersion, namely the commentary. While the commentary is well done, it is a bit more repetitive than I would like. After playing a dozen matches or so, it felt like the commentators were playing mad libs with every match. A particular phrase would kick in, and they would fill in the blanks. This repetitiveness carries into the rest of its modes.
This includes the next chapter in Alex Hunter’s story, The Journey: Champions. This time, he isn’t alone. You’ll also be able to play as the main protagonist’s best friend Danny Williams and sister Kim Hunter in their own respective stories. Yes, there are three stories to explore, and they are lengthy.
Once you complete a certain amount from each character’s story, you’ll be able to choose which character you want to focus on. The stories are interwoven and there is a recommended path the game advises you to take to get the best experience. However, if you just wanted to focus on Kim Hunter’s journey as she becomes the star of women’s national USA team, you can do that. Being able to change who I could play as was nice when I was tired of playing a dozen games as one of the three protagonists.
Each protagonist has their own unique skill set as well. Danny Williams and Kim Hunter both have a skill tree where you’ll allocate points you garner as you play through matches; this is similar to the system used in last year’s The Journey mode. Alex Hunter’s skill progression is slightly different. When you join Real Madrid, you will choose a mentor that will provide you with a specific skill; the more you synergize with the mentor during games, the faster you’ll fill that mentor’s gauge. When that gauge is filled, during one of your training sessions, you’ll partake in a bonus training mission that challenges that mentor’s particular skill.
It’s an interesting idea that isn’t executed well. While you will find yourself playing along with the midfielders and forwards enough to fill that gauge quickly, you’ll hardly play alongside any defenders since you’re essentially on opposite sides of the field. The progress to grabbing one of these skills is a bit slow in general. It will go up in increments after each game but it’s a slower burn than the traditional skill tree that Kim Hunter and Danny Williams have which feels more rewarding.
The actual stories from each of the characters were actually compelling. Alex and Kim Hunter’s tale deals with work and life balance; much of Danny Williams’ story tackles a variety of things ranging from brother rivalries, adapting to a role, and money issues. For being stories about people who are way more successful than I am, I found myself sympathizing with some of the conflicts that would arise. Even with football being the device used to tell these tales, it was just a backdrop for stories that are somewhat relatable.
The acting in The Journey: Champions is probably the best I’ve seen in a sports game (that is a bizarre sentence to write). Madden NFL 18’s Longshot and FIFA 18’s The Journey: Hunter Returns helped pave the way for well-told tales in sports games. This continues that with some decent performances. There are some awkward moments but they seem to usually be done on purpose.
As you play, you’ll be asked to make some choices, some of which are labeled as key moments that are supposed to shape the rest of the story. However, after making these critical decisions, it didn’t seem like it affected anything. The only time it felt like I made a difference was when I botched a match. Even then, it kind of feels like it’s pulling you along a particular path rather than giving you options that genuinely shape the story.
The Journey: Champions is, at the very least, worth checking out even if you haven’t played the previous iterations. It has some issues but it does provide a different experience than any of the other modes in FIFA 19. If you did play last year’s, your choices will carry over and affect how the story plays out. It does drag on for a bit but if you like the gameplay, you’ll probably enjoy your time with this year’s story mode.
This year’s FIFA 19 Ultimate Team is asfun always. It provides a ton of replayability that will have you on the pitch until next year’s FIFA releases. This year’s version doesn’t make too many drastic changes. There is the new Division Rivals mode which matches you up against another player with a similar skill level to earn weekly rewards and the new Player Picks item but those features don’t change the landscape of the popular mode. If anything, it just gives you more to do which is great.
FIFA 19 is another great entry in EA’s long-running football series. With the addition of the Champions League and improved gameplay mechanics, it provides enough realism to its presentation while still being fun to play. The Journey: Champions and FUT may not be considerable deviations from last year but it still gives players more to do; it also helps that both of these modes are This iteration isn’t one that completely changes the game, instead makes a few adjustments to make the most enjoyable FIFA yet.