Having played FIFA 19 extensively before the final build; it seemed promising with its looseness and flashes of ugly, realistic football. The final build is a little more polished; some of the midfield slog has sadly gone and default passing/shooting settings have been tightened but it’s still a better game of soccer than FIFA 18.

many players will completely ignore timed shooting in favour of seeing Chris Smalling score a technically flawless bicycle kick in a crowded penalty area

An Honest 90 Minutes

At the core of FIFA 19 is a familiar engine with some minor changes that add up to better game of soccer than FIFA 18. The aforementioned ‘looseness’ comes from developed first-touch and shooting mechanics. Players are more responsible for the former; trapping the ball or deflecting it into your intended path is more involving. Errors will be frequent at first as players wrestle with the added control. In exchange, players can now change their heading until quite late in the first-touch animation opening up simple shoulder-drops and rudimentary dummies to bamboozle lumbering centre-halves.

Shooting gets a timing mechanic. Players are invited to tap shoot again after powering up to hit it right on the meat with complete and embarrassing failure being an option in front of goal. Players will scuff and miskick and it will be YOUR fault. This is refreshing from a series in which the sublime has been quantitatively eased into worthlessness. Those 35-yard piledrivers from a standstill might just be earned every once in a while.

The discretionary nature of the mechanic is a double-edged sword as many players will completely ignore it in favour of letting nature take its course and seeing Chris Smalling score a technically flawless bicycle kick in a crowded penalty area – the FIFAest sentence I will ever write.

Survival is a simulation of those matches in South America you read about the odd time where most players, management and ancillary staff are sent off

Kicking Off

The base joy of competing with an IRL friend has been resuscitated and enhanced in FIFA 19. Some of the features are dusty relics from the heyday of couch multiplayer; the ability to save profiles that aren’t linked to XBL or PSN accounts is one. These profile save your stats and, hopefully*, your controller settings. If you are old, you probably have an 8Mb PS2 Memory Card with a treasured PES Win/Loss record somewhere. If you are young, enjoy this simple pleasure. You can name your profile and get a detailed breakdown of goals scored/conceded and all that craic.

Presentation has improved; including the implementation of universal facial animations

Other additions are a mixture of old and new with ‘First-to’ and ‘No Rules’ games returning after almost two decades and weird stuff like ‘Survival’ and ‘Headers & Volleys’ genuinely adding flavour to a game of Ready-Salted FIFA. Even playing the AI in Kick-Off is fun. It’s different and in the single-player component of a sports game, this formula change is very welcome.

Survival is a simulation of those matches in South America you read about the odd time where most players, management and ancillary staff are sent off. In this case a player is ejected at random from a team when they score a goal rather than sent off for dissent or teh_lulz.

Headers & Volleys is exactly what is sounds like – goals can only be scored from a header or a volley with all other netfinders resulting in a goal kick for the opposition. In a game where headers and volleys are easy to score, this rule-set is interesting without being overly prohibitive.

All cup finals are playable with the appropriate licensing applied. Champions’ League, FA Cup, EA Cup, whatever a player desires can be played out in style with a friend of the AI as part of Kick Off mode. This adds some variety to one-off games and avoids the clichéd ‘a friendly in name only’ line that opened every one-off game of FIFA since commentary came as standard.

*This reviewer had trouble getting his controller settings to be usable in Kick-Off mode. While ‘Custom A’ was available in every single other mode, online and off, I had to remap my buttons every single time. This should certainly be patched soon.

The in-game quick-tactics menu has been overhauled – FIFA 19 can flow better than previous iterations for players who are tactically active during the 90

Tactical Changes

FIFA 19 features a comprehensive set of improvements to its tactical game. Players are offered slightly more options pre-game but may now assign whatever formation, strategy or Off/Def balance they wish to the five in-game strategy slots. This can help bamboozle opponents or save you tinkering in menus during games.

FIFA 19
Superb attention to detail helps kickstart the best leg of the journey

The in-game quick-tactics menu has been overhauled with certain offensive or defensive tactics applicable for as long as desired like hugging the touchline, or as a short sequence of play like an offside trap.

Combined with quick-subs, FIFA 19 can flow better than previous iterations for players who are tactically active during the 90.

the ‘baddies’, who are over-commercialising Alex and football at large, are just a monocle shy of being portrayed as two-faced robber-barons.

A Smoother Trip…

EA finally pulled it together on the final leg of Alex Hunter et al.’s Journey. It may have taken two FIFAe (plural) to arrive at a compelling reason to complete this game mode but it might have been worth it.

FIFA 19‘s The Journey has some replayability with three strands to follow through the story – some moments are more important than others for each character so frequent switching is encouraged. The lack of ultimate agency seen in previous Journeys has been remedied with added consequence for players to wrestle with.

The opening act is excellent with some memorable set-pieces and special events. Players will have to settle in with the three’s new sides and juggle matters off-field meaning there are fewer long periods of uneventful or inconsequential matches.

The underlying improvements to the engine wear well while playing as a single player offline. With more time to devote to positioning and anticipating defenders’ movements, players can really take advantage of the first-touch mechanics. Players can probably tackle the game at a higher difficulty than usual in this mode but this is mostly true of the last few FIFAe also.

If you think that Al Pacino deserved an Oscar for delivering a vaguely-inspiring speech that somebody else wrote in the same metre he uses for everything, then you will love all of the dialogue in The Journey

…But The Destination Was Actually Better Than The Journey

The acting from real-life footballers is still nothing short of woeful. Between their obviously less-detailed motion-captures and woeful delivery, the story is at its best when the focus is solely on the main cast. Dealing with your family, agents, marketers etc. is where Alex, Kim and The Williams are most believable in their roles.

The underlying cheesiness of the mode is still there. The story is filled with sports films tropes. Everything is wrung for emotion. A €1.5 billion team is somehow an underdog for you to ‘root for’. The ‘baddies’, who are over-commercialising Alex and football at large, are just a monocle shy of being portrayed as robber-barons. EA and FIFA™ could do with hiring ‘Irony Analysts’ at this point.

If you think that Al Pacino deserved an Oscar for delivering a vaguely-inspiring speech that somebody else wrote in the same metre he uses for everything, then you will love all of the dialogue in The Journey. In particular, listening to experienced pros say outwardly encouraging but ultimately condescending things to a young Kim Hunter. Not matter how well you perform and how much the team relies on you, the staff and players all deliver the vaguest of feedback that never matches reality.

Trying some social commentary

Even with three characters, the result of picking one type of answer over the other has the same results. Pleasing the boss and getting more games or pleasing the fans and buying horrendous clothing/tattoos – neither are really necessary. Playing at a suitable level and doing OK in training will have you in the first eleven permanently.

Packs, Packs, Packs, FUTtie, FUTtie, FUTtie

FIFA 19‘s Ultimate team features the same basic structure as last year. Players create a club, play games, open packs or enter auctions to improve their line-up with some challenges to complete daily or weekly to keep the coins ticking over. The packs system has generated varying levels of controversy over its nigh-on decade-long existence with a particular spotlight on anything EA touch since Star Wars: Battlefront II. In a no-holds barred interview with Irish media in July 2018, FIFA producer Matt Prior distanced FUT from other games accused of adopted pay-to-win progression systems and insisted that the top, top players are available with an appropriate amount of effort.

FIFA 19
When the games beginning, all the crowd starts singing

The balance in FIFA 19 is mostly the same as 18 with a few more opportunities to earn packs in the early game and on a per-week basis. New addition, FUT Division Rivals is decent remix of the longstanding Divisions mode. Instead of an isolated points system where teams reach X number of points in 10 games and are then promoted or relegated accordingly, teams now gain points affected by multipliers and are placed in a league table with players of similar team and skill level. Rewards are doled out to players depending on rank so if you have a modicum of talent, this mode can yield über-coinage and a cheeky pack or two.

There is still a steep curve when it comes to elite player auctions but it must be pointed out that the economy of the game hasn’t settled itself so prices could go either way. From what this writer has noticed, it’s still relatively easy to bring a team to a four-star level where you should still be competitive against most teams.

In FIFA 19, the faces have some awkward, silly moments but are a huge improvement for the series – dead-eyed players are no longer following the ball with mouths closed in hazy indifference

Pro-Clubs, Career Modes Stay Put

There aren’t any other notable additions or improvements to the game’s other modes. Pro-Clubs saw some welcome changes last year but it hasn’t been followed up on. The gameplay changes don’t fit the mode all that well; Pro-Clubs usually has a little extra lag over other online modes and players won’t be able to perform the same writhing and wriggling pre-first-touch that they may be used to 1v1 FUT or Divisions games. Pro-Clubs stands out as the twitchiest and glitchiest mode.

Offline modes rely on the newly-acquired Champions’ League and Europa League licenses to improve the experience. These do a great job of making the competitions special, the matchdays stand out from the humdrum of playing Stoke of a rainy Monday evening. Separate commentators for the continental competitions are a extra touch over PES‘s European offerings – the entire package is handled with FIFA‘s signature high production values.

Minor Visual Buffs

There are a few graphical improvements made over last year. The generic ‘Ooh’ and ‘Aah’ faces players made in previous FIFAe did not compare well with Konami’s versatile facial animations. In FIFA 19, the faces have some awkward, silly moments but are a huge improvement for the series. No longer are dead-eyed players following the ball with mouths closed in hazy indifference.

Townton Town’s FUT adventure begins

Little touches like official numbering with tiny logos and additional sleeve badges are typical of EA Sport’s attention to licensed detail but no less notable. There are some additional back-room and tunnel areas visible during pre-game cut-scenes that help the presentation to pop. It echoes PES 2019‘s pre-game cut-scenes, trading aforemantioned attention to licensing details for the unmatchable lighting and acuity of the FOX Engine.

Second to the Ball

Despite some nifty way to enjoy FIFA 19 with friends and the addition of the immersive Champions’ League license, the game is still behind Pro Ev when it comes to undiluted soccer simulation. FIFA has even started to fall further behind when it comes to animations, environments and top player likenesses.

While EA Sports licensing juggernaut is unlikely to be derailed by its tiny contender, the engine is starting to become fatigued.

Formats: PlayStation 4, Xbox One (Reviewed on X), Steam
Price: £59.99/€69.99/$59.99
Publisher: EA Sports
Developer: EA Vancouver
Release Date: 28th September 2018
Age Rating: PEGI 3+

Review code provided by publisher