EA SPORTS FIFA has elbowed its way into the world soccer conversation and has carved out more than just a niche for itself, evolving into an absolute behemoth. In the age of information, FIFA helps drive conversations.
Over the last month, its ratings have been discussed, dissected and debated. Now, with that conversation taking a backseat to actually playing the video game, FIFA 19 has been released and soccer gamers can rejoice.
In anticipation of the game, EA laid out more than just the new ratings. New features were detailed, much sought after tweaks to both gameplay and game mode.
Is the game any good, though? Why yes, yes it is.
In FIFA 19, the person behind the controller has inched another step closer to full autonomy over their virtual world.
Before the game, you have full managerial reign. Curate a personal, detailed plan to underpin your tactical enterprise: When to press, when to sit deep, when to pass short, when to go long, dictate how many players go forward on corner kicks, set specific player instructions (that actually work this year!), ranging from whether the fullbacks make inverted or overlapping supporting runs and if your striker should play as a target man or not.
If controlling the Red Bulls, their high press can be dialed up to accustomed levels or, impossibly, pushed past their breakneck speed. You can instruct New York City FC to retain possession as authentically and beautifully as they have since entering the league. Playing styles are defined and eclectic: There isn't one way to be successful in FIFA 19.
On the pitch, the complexity has been raised for advanced players. A litany of new first-touch options have become vital to success, much more than just the well-publicized fancy flicks. With shielded turns, deft body feints and more, skill has regained its place atop the hierarchy from pace. Passing and crossing, too, have been pushed further with more diverse options.
Shooting has taken on a new life. EA have introduced timed shooting, an optional feature to gamble when setting aim at goal: get it right and the ball can fly into the top corner; get it wrong and the shot will end nowhere near your preferred destination.
Will this yield to human growth in the form of taking accountability for losses? Probably not. Maybe one day that'll change, but don't hold your breath.
EA brings MLS to life on the virtual stage
One of the new venues added to FIFA 19 is Atlanta United's Mercedes-Benz Stadium and it looks immaculate. From the precise shade of green for the pitch to banners in the crowd, no detail was overlooked.
More MLS players have exact faces as if the game were live on the television rather than the virtuality it represents. More movements have been synced as well: the way Josef Martinez stays compact when he sprints; the incomprehensible ways Zlatan Ibrahimovic chooses to tame a lobbed pass or attempt at goal adds yet another subtle layer of realism.
EA's biggest mode is altered and improved in FIFA 19.
A groundbreaking idea when it was introduced nearly a decade ago, Ultimate Team has become the backbone of every new edition of FIFA. The mode allows roster-building freedom and special cards to immortalize special performances. With new in-forms every week, as well as chemistry bonuses, players from all leagues have the opportunity to be elevated to the top of the game.
New features have been added to the series' most successful mode. Online seasons have been scrapped for a more dynamic system and the Weekend League has also been tweaked. Squad battles remain for when you want to play against the computer and squad-building challenges have gone nowhere.
With a few well-placed in-form cards, exclusive MLS teams will be able to compete with the world's best once again. Expect Romain Alessandrini, Martinez and Ibrahimovic to be league favorites among non-MLS fans and obsessives alike.
Largely unchanged, career mode still has its pros and cons. Too often, opposing teams still opt to select their reserves rather than their stars and the richest teams in the world can have a suspect transfer policy within a few years.
The pros are simple, as the escapism offers hope. Your favorite team can win MLS Cup with just a few moves. Your favorite young player can turn world-class with just a few years of training.
Outside of MLS, EA has secured licensing for the UEFA Champions League, one more step into making the experience as authentic as possible.
There are some fun alternative reality challenges to immerse yourself in while playing career mode: Moving a team between leagues or exclusively signing players from MLS and scouting youth players from America, to name a few.
The Bottom Line?
EA did a fantastic job with FIFA 19, for both casual players and advanced gamers. Complaints were considered and adjustments were made. If EA continue to take seriously the constructive criticism, the behemoth will only continue to grow. Check it out for yourself. Delve into Ultimate Team, oversee a dynasty on career mode or just mess around on kick off.
All of the characters in world soccer are there for the puppeteering: Write the script, choose the main stars and direct the reality playing out on the rectangular screen of your choosing.