In a lot of ways, FIFA 18 is essentially FIFA 17.5, and that’s not a bad thing. FIFA 17 was more than just another entry in a long-running series of games. It was, in fact, the start of something new. It brought the series onto the Frostbite engine - the same tech powering Battlefield 1, Need for Speed Payback, and Star Wars Battlefront 2.
It also had The Journey - EA’s attempt at a single-player, story-focused campaign to the fore. Of course there were also the usual gamut of changes, though some of them felt like changes for change’s sake to ensure you keep donating to the juggernaut that is the FIFA franchise. Although not all of these were as polished or great as they could have been, FIFA 18 improves on its predecessor in every possible way.
In FIFA 18, EA’s efforts with the Frostbite engine are palpable. Subtle facial gestures, fluid animations, and gorgeous visuals punctuate each match. And with enhanced graphical fidelity also comes better gameplay. There’s a sense of fluidity and motion in FIFA 18 that was missing in past entries.
Granted, FIFA 17 injected a much needed sense of pace to the proceedings, but it felt robotic and lacked fine granular control that had you wondering why the ball would go where you never intended it to. FIFA 18 rectifies these issues splendidly. Passes hit their mark, split-second feints work as they should, and every player moves much better now. EA calls this “Real Player Motion Technology”, though we feel it’s better referred to as “PES 2018 but Better”. PES has had this for awhile, but FIFA 18 manages to refine player movement so that it treads the fine line between arcade and simulation.
Also reworked are crosses. Holding down L1/ LB on your Xbox controller lets you float the ball akin to past games, while R1/ RB button lets you drive the ball across the ground, and simply hitting X/square lets you hit it with pace. These options make scoring via crosses feasible and it's easier to score via penalties too, which have been simplified. Set pieces are still unwieldy beasts demanding you to pay attention to direction, height, and shot power, among other factors, which is a tad annoying as a game of football should not be as complex as calculus.
Gameplay tweaks and improved looks aside, FIFA 18 has all the other modes you’ve come to know and love.
Starting with The Journey. Now labelled as The Journey: Hunter Returns, you don the role of everyone’s favourite football prodigy, Alex Hunter. In what is essentially season two of this game mode, you’ll rekindle old rivalries, learn more about the intricacies and politics of club football, and of course, try winning your manager’s favour so that you continue being in the starting 11.
Unlike last year’s version which had you booted out of your club (even if you played well enough) for story reasons, The Journey: Hunter Returns is a whole lot more cohesive, with a more compelling narrative too. Sometimes you get marked negatively on your match performance for no fault of your own, and the choice-based dialogue options that return feel painfully binary without any real impact on the plot, but these gripes aside, there’s very little off.
When you’re done with this, there’s FIFA Ultimate Team (FUT). As always, FUT allows you to cobble together a team you can call your own and FUT Draft makes a return as well. New in FIFA 18’s FUT mode is Squad Battles. You can test your squad against a host of teams put together by notable players, celebrities, and EA itself. Defeating them grants you upgrades to your team. It’s a nice touch that adds yet another reason to keep playing FUT, as massive a time sink as it has already been. Like previous entries, Exhibition Matches, Tournaments, and Manager Mode are present as well. Nothing out of the ordinary from previous games - just a whole lot more of the same, which isn't bad at all.
Minor yet nice additions are the inclusion of transfer negotiation cutscenes in FIFA 18’s Career Mode, and automating training programs to manage the progress of your players.
In terms of online play, little seemed amiss. The game isn’t widely available just yet but matchmaking was fast and easy. Given EA’s consistency with past FIFAs, we don’t see this changing.
With an improved story mode, polished visuals, and fluid gameplay, FIFA 18 is a solid upgrade over FIFA 17 and even its rival. Long-time fans may have trouble distinguishing these differences over past entries immediately, but the myriad of refinements results in what is possibly the most polished FIFA in recent memory.
Rating (out of 10): 8
Gadgets 360 played a retail copy of FIFA 18 on the Xbox One. The game will be available for the PC for Rs. 3,499, and Nintendo Switch, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, and Xbox One for Rs. 3,999 ($60 in the US) from September 29.