Another thing that hasn’t changed is the great debate between Fifa and Pro Evolution Soccer. They are the only title contenders in a two-team league — if you want to play digital football, these are your only options. So, who should you bet on?
This year, the race is tighter than ever. Fifa 17 has added some lovely new features, including an experimental story mode called The Journey. Pro Evo, meanwhile, has refined its core gameplay to a smooth machine. The question, perhaps, comes down to this: do you play football games for the thrill of the game, or for the thrill of the dream?
Fifa 17 is fantasy football at its zenith. Between Ultimate Team and the new Journey mode, this is the game that lets you play out your dreams in football. If you want to take a team from the lower leagues to European glory, then Fifa is your man. If you want to collect and trade players like cards, building a team made of your favourite real-world players to compete online, then Fifa is your only choice. If you love the look and feel of modern, televised football, then there is no competition — Fifa is big-budget football at its best.
The Journey is a prime example. This is Fifa’s flashy new addition this year, in which you play an interactive film of sorts, stepping into the boots of one Alex Hunter as he makes his way from 11-year-old English schoolboy to professional footballer.
Along the way, Alex can interact with team members and supporting characters, while the player can pick dialogue choices that have (small) outcomes on the story. Meanwhile, your training and performance in matches affects the type of footballer Alex becomes and sometimes even the responses of characters around you.
The Journey isn’t going to win any script-writing awards, but it’s a welcome addition to Fifa and a fun experiment while it lasts. For the first time ever, a football game has tried to make us empathise, in Rocky-like fashion, with a footballer. It’s a different kind of fantasy football.
In addition to these changes, Fifa has also made some minor changes on the pitch. Players can now shoot ‘low and hard’ instead of the ball rising with power shots. Keepers can direct their goal kicks better. You can feint throw-ins. Nice little touches.
Fifa is clearly the better game when it comes to living the dream in football. It’s also a fine football simulator on the pitch, a really satisfying game once you master it.
But for our money, Pro Evolution Soccer is still the better experience for people who love the thrill of the game, as opposed to the thrill of the dream. Pro Evo capture the spirit — the mechanics — of football in a way that Fifa has never quite managed. This year, that is more apparent than ever.
To put this in less vague terms, Pro Evo respects the speed of thought that football requires more than Fifa 17 does. In Pro Evo, the controls react to your demands in a way that seems less scripted than Fifa and more in line with the real ebb and flow of football. The through ball is the ball you wanted to play. The one-two is yours, regardless of where you start it on the pitch.
The sliding tackle is perfect because you timed it to be perfect. More than that, those constituent parts allow players to pick a real, discernible style that reflects their love of the game. Tiki-taka , long ball, wide play, through the middle, everything feels possible in Pro Evo. The only major let-down — and this is a significant problem — is the lack of stability in online play, which remains patchy.
As with Messi and Ronaldo, there are arguments on both sides. Both Fifa and Pro Evo are superb experiences with different takes on the beautiful game. Fifa captures the dream and spectacle we all love, while Pro Evo is a more thrilling take on the mechanics of the sport. Time for a play-off?