EA had a weak showing at this year’s E3, generating few shocks or surprises. Perhaps the most surprising announcement was the introduction of a story mode for FIFA 17. The football (or soccer as you Americans persist) series has been continuously criticised for making little improvements per installment, yet still charging full retail price. Rather than slash the prices, or create expansions instead of full games annually, EA have decided to implement a new mode called The Journey. Will this new feature revolutionise sports games, or simply gloss over the cracks that are starting to form in an ageing franchise?
FIFA Journey Mode follows Alex Hunter, a rising star in the Premier League, as you follow his story on and off the pitch. It appears that you will be unable to create and customize your own character, which is a big disappointment, and will instead have to step into the boots of this unknown character. Personally, I don’t understand why EA Sports do not allow us to create our own character. Many story-focused games have enabled players to create their own character before, and with previous FIFA games allowing you to do the same, it’s odd that you will be restricted from doing so in The Journey.
While the trailer shows Alex Hunter playing for Manchester United, you are not restricted from playing for other other clubs. In fact, you can play for any Premier League team. However, it currently unknown what will happen with newly promoted teams after your first season. Will they be playable? What about fans of teams from other leagues? The FIFA series has a global audience, yet it seems like you won’t be able to play for giant clubs such as Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich in The Journey. This will surely upset fans in Spain, Germany and Italy.
It is also currently unknown how The Journey will work with only four Premier League managers featuring in the game: Jose Mourinho, Jurgen Klopp, Arsene Wenger and Pep Guardiola. What will happen when you play for the other 16 clubs? Will you be talking to random coaches instead of the manager? This would mean that for the best experience, you’ll be encouraged to play for Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester City. This is a kick in the teeth for fans affiliated to other teams, especially the likes of Tottenham, Chelsea and the Premier League champions, Leicester City.
What we do know about The Journey is that the story will be affected by your performances on the pitch. If you get sent off, your manager will get a scolding. Score a hat-trick, and you’ll be showered with praise. Your off-pitch experiences won’t be solely cutscenes, as you’ll have dialogue options during Press Events or confrontations with the coaches. But how will these events affect the gameplay? Perhaps you could raise or decrease the morale of your team, or maybe even get yourself demoted to the bench? These consequences seem relatively minuscule to the “revolutionary” feature. Perhaps EA have more up their sleeve, but it currently looks like the majority of The Journey will only serve as glamorized context to your performance on the pitch.
It has also been revealed that you can interact with other players, as Premier League footballers have been used as voice actors to create a more immersive experience. Again, concerns arrive to how limited this feature will be, as it would be impossible for EA Sports to use every single player’s voice. Will this mean that we will constantly come face to face with the biggest names in the league, rather than some of the more unknown players?
Another issue concerns the quality of the voice acting. Every gamer knows how important the ability of voice actors are for the quality of a story. Why else would people such as Nolan North and Troy Baker become so famous? It is therefore unlikely that the likes of Sergio Aguero or Harry Kane will be especially skilled at the job. Just look at Wayne Rooney’s attempt at acting below, and imagine suffering through a whole game full of such examples.
The initial reaction to FIFA’s The Journey were generally positive, but dig deeper into the information that EA has provided us, and the new feature looks worryingly limited. Will this new mode really improve our experience, or is it simply a glossy front to hide the stench of a stagnating series? The restrictions and capabilities of The Journey are yet to be revealed, so it would be unfair to judge too harshly now, but the E3 presentation provided fans with more questions than answers. But even if The Journey lives up to EA’s assertions, do we really want a story in a game which we buy to play football? The Premier League has been accused of becoming more of a soap opera than a sport in recent years, and it looks like the FIFA series will be heading in that direction too rather than heralding the roots of the sport.
Ryan Jones is a writer for The Game Bolt. Being a Welshman doesn’t mean he only has sheep in his heart, as he loves film, tv and video games. Follow him on Twitter.