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Despite once being a loyal season ticket holder at West Ham, the only top-flight ‘season ticket’ I buy these days is the annual £50 shakedown for the latest version of FIFA. The FIFA 18 demo landed late last week and I was resolutely determined to hate it, to wean myself off the £50-a-year FIFA tax. Now, it’s taking all my willpower not to press the pre-order button on Amazon. So what’s convinced me to give it ‘one more go’ for the tenth time in the past decade?
The demo really only consists of two parts: you can have a friendly kickaround involving some of the world’s top teams, or play a thin sliver of the latest instalment of The Journey, a Premier League-themed Hollyoaks where you play the part of a young striker trying to make it at the club of your choice. Yes, even Burnley. So how’s it shaping up?
FIFA 18 demo gameplay
The past couple of FIFAs have seen the gameplay become increasingly flat and stodgy. Unless you were one of those players who learned the 18-button combos to make Ronaldo pirouette past defenders, beating your man had become tricky; the passing felt laboured; everything felt like it had been loaded in favour of the defence. The front of the box should have pictured Tony Pulis, not Marco Reus.
If the demo is anything to go by, FIFA 18 feels slicker. The pass-and-move is more fluid, and there’s a greater distinction between fast, skilful players and Leighton Baines. Nobody wants a return to the FIFAs of old, where every game ended 7-6, but it does feel more enjoyable, more likely that intelligent movement of the ball will be rewarded with a goal.
That said, there are some oddities that are hopefully just beta bugs waiting to be fixed. In several of my demo games, centre-backs randomly stepped up, as if playing for a non-existent offside, rather than tackle the striker with the ball, turning a one-on-one into a clear run at goal.
There have been a couple of other gameplay innovations. There’s a new quick subs feature, where the game suggests a likely substitution and all you have to do is press X to accept it, saving the fandango of exiting to the management screen and making the change manually. That could certainly save disruption to online matches, where the second half is constantly disrupted for 30 seconds at a time while the 12-year-old you’re playing swaps Messi for Wes Brown and goes eight at the back as soon as he’s 1-0 up.
The other biggie is a revamp of the penalty system that was introduced last year. This made taking penalties so difficult, you might as well have simply awarded the defence a goal kick and be done with it. The new system apparently makes penalty taking a tad simpler, although I’ve not yet managed to win a penalty (even when playing against David Luiz!), so I’ll have to reserve judgement on that until someone decides to foul me.
FIFA 18 demo: The Journey Returns
Then we come to The Journey, the FIFA story mode in which you’re cast as young Hunter, a striker torn between the wishes of his incontinent grandfather and his incompetent agent.
I was torn myself on the debut of this mode last season. On the one hand, it definitely offered something different to the game, an alternative to the increasingly in-game-purchase-laden Ultimate Team and online scraps with teenagers. On the other, it felt the direction of the story was pre-determined, no matter how well or badly you played.
In my first season with Hunter, my shocking record at West Ham saw me loaned to Championship Newcastle, where my ability to strike pigs’ arses with banjos showed little signs of improvement. Instead of being spat out and forced to sign a £100-a-week deal at Grays Athletic, as I would have been in real-life, I was instead recalled to the Olympic Superdome and stuck straight into the first team.
This season of The Journey starts with Hunter’s agent being duped into believing his boy is destined for Real Madrid, leaving El Hunter forced to ‘fight for his career’ at (enter club of your choice here) where he’s hated by the fans and teammates alike.
It’s cliched, weakly acted pap, but until Netflix buys EA, it’s the best we’ve got.
FIFA 18 is released on 29th September 2017 and it’s available for pre-order here.