There was a brief period of time last year when I was playing Pro Evolution Soccer more than FIFA. It was hard to wrap my head around that, considering EA's franchise had been my number one choice since it was known as FIFA International Soccer back in the '90s. But, despite all the welcomed graphics and gameplay improvements we see on each yearly release cycle, I felt the game was getting stale and decided to experiment with Konami's own -- which I much preferred in its Winning Eleven days. FIFA 17 brought a story mode for the first time ever, known as "The Journey," and I was sold almost immediately. Because, let's face it, it's the closest I'll ever get to experiencing the enchanting life of a footballer.
"To some, Fifa is life." This may sound like hyberbole from the game's creative director Matt Prior, but he has a point. Electronic Arts' football series operates on a scale beyond the dreams of most video game developers. Last year's entry achieved sales of 1.1m in its first week – 300,000 more copies than Adele's 25, the fastest-selling album of all time. For a sizeable number of those 1 million Fifa 17 customers, a big attraction of the game was The Journey, a Mass-Effect-style story mode with branching elements, putting you into the boots of a young pro, Alex Hunter, looking to make it in the Premier League.
The Journey was one of the best additions to FIFA 17, crafting a dramatic but believable story around a rookie football (sorry, soccer) player in England. With FIFA 18, EA is building on the mode with a "second season" for rising star Alex Hunter. It promises a "global" story with more football clubs, branching pathways and some character customisation, culminating in a campaign that should feel less scripted, but no less cinematic. At Gamescom, I was able to play a brief snippet from early in the game. Alex has spent his summer in Brazil and completed a brief pre-season tour in Los Angeles, before settling back down in England.
Earlier this year, Barcelona's Sergi Roberto was due to compete in a charity Fifa 20 tournament, which ultimately raised almost £130,000 towards the fight against coronavirus. Barca are an official PES 2020 partner club – and publisher Konami reportedly wasn't keen for him to promote its main rival. It was the latest shot in a turf war going back 25 years. When Fifa International Soccer launched on Mega Drive in December 1993, its competitors were already beginning to look old-fashioned. Contemporary hits Kick Off 2 and Sensible Soccer both adopted an overhead view and lacked any kind of big-league sponsorship. But Fifa was a flashy newcomer, designed for the 16-bit console era, and within a month it had sold 500,000 copies.
There are three flagship features for FIFA 17: a new story mode, a revamped set piece system and a switch to DICE's Frostbite game engine. First built for Battlefield, Frostbite now powers a vast number of EA titles, including Star Wars Battlefront, Mirror's Edge Catalyst, and the upcoming Mass Effect: Andromeda. The switch in engine has been hotly anticipated by FIFA fans, who have been playing the same basic game since FIFA 14. But Frostbite makes less of a difference than you'd expect. Sure, the graphics -- particularly faces and animations -- look sharper, but rather than rebuilding FIFA from the ground up, EA Sports has integrated large swathes of its Ignite engine (which powers all its current team sports games) into Frostbite.