'EA SPORTS FIFA 18' review: the best MLS features and more

Welcome to the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu. It is incredibly large. You see it from above, your vantage point narrowing in on the pitch like a UFO preparing to land. The closer you get, the louder the crowd becomes. The lights are blinding as the camera is swallowed by the stadium.

You’re down on the pitch now. Who’s that zooming by? It’s Cristiano Ronaldo, cutting Atletico Madrid apart, flying down the left side of the field. He cuts inside and gets chopped down by an Atletico defender. It’s an obvious free kick. Cristiano puts down the ball, looks up at the wall, and picks his spot.

As the camera adjusts to the classic direct free kick position, you realize you’re in control. Oh my god, this is so embarrassing, you think. I haven’t even had a chance to get used to the controls yet, I’m just a noob. BUT YOU’RE NOT. You’re Cristiano Ronaldo.

Welcome to FIFA 18.

Bigger and Better

That is the first taste you get of FIFA 18 as a player: superstardom. The video game’s ethos has finally caught up with the realities of the world. Soccer is huge, and so are the personalities which thrive on its forefront. All the fun and bombast that those personalities have to offer shines through in the latest installment of the EA SPORTS series, and this time, they’re coming stateside.

Galaxy shines bright

The LA Galaxy’s StubHub center wasn’t just introduced to FIFA 18 as a formality. The stadium and the team who play in it feature prominently in the game’s centerpiece feature, "The Journey: Hunter Returns."

Thanks to a twist in the plot of Alex Hunter’s rise to world-class stardom, the 18-year-old finds himself wearing the colors of the LA Galaxy, just a month after facing the MLS All-Star team as a member of a Premier League side. Fighting for a place in the playoffs alongside the likes of Gio Dos Santos, Gyasi Zardes, and Romain Alessandrini, Hunter gets his chance to shape his own destiny as the crown jewel of a big club.

The cast of characters is even bigger this year, and the stakes are even higher. Ever hear of Thierry Henry? He’s Hunter’s best bud and nightlife plug in Hollywood. James Harden? He’s none other than the young prodigy’s biggest fan. It’s not all fun and games, however.

Hunter's mission of redemption is a nuanced and highly detailed story, and every new chapter is a test of his resolve. This year, it’s about more than football. Family, dodgy agents, vindictive media, and the cold, hard realities of stardom collide to make this edition of "The Journey" a cinematic odyssey. It fills in the empty spaces left by last year’s edition and brings you way closer to the life of a teenage sensation than you’ll probably ever be in reality if you’re reading this.

The highs are higher than last year, and the lows are lower. It’s well and truly up to you — and you alone — to make the right decisions and take Alex Hunter to the next level.

It’s really the details — especially those about MLS — that set this edition apart from any other in the past. I won’t spoil the insider details of Hunter’s time as a Galaxy player, but I will say that StubHub Center looks immaculate.

Thanks to "The Journey," you get to take a tour of parts of the Galaxy’s home ground most people never lay eyes on, and they’re worth the trip. You even get the chance to see the stadium decked out and filled to the brim for a US Women’s National Team game.

Charming descriptions of the peculiarities of the MLS league and playoff structure (often delivered through the game’s social media network) offer help to those who may be playing from the other side of the pond.

Atlanta, Minnesota, and more are here!

Major League Soccer’s two newest clubs are here, and boy am I glad the wait is over. Mercedes-Benz Stadium may not be in this edition, but that doesn’t stop Atlanta United from being the most fun thing to happen in FIFA 18 outside of "The Journey." They are [clenches both fists] so much fun.

Miguel Almiron, Hector Villalba, Josef Martinez, Yamil Asad, Julian Gressel, even Andrew Carleton can absolutely ball out. If you’re big into career mode, there is plenty to work with here, and I’m excited to get into it, myself.

The bottom line is this: In FIFA 18, everything has changed. There are more stars, more choices, more to explore, more ways to immerse yourself into a truly expansive game, and the stage is bigger than ever before.

This year, MLS is right at the center of that stage, and so are you.