FIFA 18: Failure to Finish

FIFA 18 has reached new highs and lows for the modern era of football video games, but what does this mean for the franchise moving forward?

You score a 30-yard screamer with your favorite footballer, sprint to the corner flag in your favorite stadium, and bask in the glory of your ravenous supporters. Dopamine floods your brain in a mad rush that only FIFA can provide.

It looks, feels, and sounds ... riveting.

Then, after a couple of losses and a dozen or so moments like this one, you come crashing back to reality. 

This will not be a re-litigation of FIFA's many known issues, nor is it a nostalgia-fueled cry for FIFAs of old, but rather an attempt to figure out the last piece of the puzzle for this stagnating franchise. As a die-hard fan of the game for the last seven years, logging hundreds of hours in Ultimate Team and thousands of head-to-head matches, it is clear to me how FIFA got to this point and what it will need going forward.

In the previous decade, the novelty of playing a virtual soccer game used to be exciting enough to warrant a purchase. Rapidly improving graphics and the introduction of online Head-to-Head further changed the game, allowing you to test your skills against real opponents at any time. Combined with the introduction of Ultimate Team, FIFA had found its successful gameplay loop for the modern era.

However, since the expansion of those key features in FIFA 2010, the franchise has faced a rocky road. You could argue that every odd-year FIFA since then has been entirely skippable; FIFA 11, FIFA 13, FIFA 15, and recently, FIFA 17, were seriously non-essential and often worse than their even-numbered counterparts. The 2010 and 2012 versions of FIFA are largely considered classics, FIFA 2014 was our first foray into next-gen, and 2016 couldn't have been worse after the abysmal FIFA 2015.

Despite these inconsistencies, the hook for the last seven years has been largely the same: Improve the graphics and strive for realism. Maybe that was not enough to warrant a new release every year, but it was enough to make each previous game feel strangely outdated.

That strange feeling has really been the primary driver since FIFA 10. How much better will the next game look? How realistic will it feel? And those answers have been satisfactory enough until now, where it seemed like each year FIFA was trying to improve or at least strive for the realistic soccer game we've always dreamed of. With FIFA 18, I am beginning to seriously question if that trajectory is over and if the dream is finally dead.

Not to say FIFA 18 isn't an impressive or enjoyable game. The graphics are pristine, leaps and bounds over its older predecessors. The atmosphere and rush of excitement have become more intense than any other FIFA thus far. But in the age of diminishing returns, I am afraid the series has settled into a groove that it is not looking to shake off.

For the first time, I question whether EA has finally given up, finally stopped dangling the carrot of authentic football we so desperately want to reach. With its counterpart PES still constantly striving for that carrot of realism, FIFA has doubled down on what it already has: slick presentation, relentless attacking football, and a penchant for its addicting modes and over-the-top style.

This new philosophy is ultimately bittersweet for us longtime fans. We can now expect FIFA 18 to be the norm going forward -- slightly improved graphics, tight gameplay, and an overwhelming emphasis on scoring goals and basking in the opulence of FIFA's presentation. On one hand, I am glad I know what to expect now after seven years of inconsistency. On the other hand, this regularity is bleeding the excitement out of future FIFA releases.

No longer are we going to anticipate next year's "big" thing or see any sort of huge departure from the current gameplay. Do not hold out hope for sweeping changes or a more realistic football simulation, one where defense actually matters. FIFA 18 is the new normal, for better or worse.

True, it is not necessarily a bad thing that FIFA has found its identity. Consistency becomes comfort food, and it is harder to disappoint when your fans know what to expect. But this comes at a cost to the industry and franchise alike. FIFA's yearly release is no longer an event, an exciting build-up to the next big thing, or a ubiquitous global celebration of the beautiful game in its virtual form. 

No, FIFA is now just a video game. Not a phenomenon. Not a reflection of your interests, or your love of the sport, or dreams of a brighter future for the genre. It is just a game, one that you either like or do not like, and for that, we mourn.

It is then unsurprising that "Games as a Service" is the future of FIFA and EA's other sports franchises. No longer will they spend a year trying to reinvent the wheel and strive for something greater. What's left is the husk of a franchise, drained of its spirit, and relegated to unending perpetuity.

We have the licenses, we have the market share, this is the game for now and forever.

Take it or leave it.

Published Nov. 20th 2017

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