FIFA 19 Review – The Beautiful Game. With new Kick Off modes and some welcome on-pitch enhancements, as well as the ever-engaging Ultimate Team and now the Champions League license, FIFA 19 is the most complete football video game package available. Sadly, Career Mode and Pro Clubs remain stale and are in dire need of a refresh. Regardless, FIFA is closer to representing Sky Sports’ vision of football than ever–for better and for worse.
FIFA has struggled on the pitch in its past few iterations, with matches deteriorating to frustrating slogs. For years we’ve been unable to play FIFA like football is played in real life–instead we’ve been zig-zagging the ball up the pitch and abusing pacey wingers to breach the opponent’s defence to swing in an unstoppable cross for an equally unstoppable header. FIFA 19’s matches are more natural and more varied in the way they unfold, in large part because EA finally has all the pieces needed to make it so. Although it introduced a slower pace in FIFA 18, the newest iteration finally makes this work by tightening up players’ responsiveness. Through passes work again, and they (along with player pace) seem to be in a good place in terms of balance–neither under- nor overpowered, as has been the case for too long. FIFA 19’s ball still doesn’t feel as satisfying as PES 2019’s, but it does at least feel something like the real-life sphere it’s imitating.
FIFA 19 includes new tactical options for wannabe managers to fiddle with, such as how many players you want to commit at corner kicks and whether you want your full-backs to over- or under-lap. These are undoubtedly welcome, and tactical changes in your defensive technique–press after possession loss, constant pressure, and drop off are among five options on that front–make a tangible impact in-game, allowing you to further tailor your play style.
However, the much-vaunted new feature of game plans is a bit of a mess. You can set up different tactics for various in-game situations before a match and then quickly switch between them on the pitch, but any change to one game plan, including your default starting plan, is not automatically reflected in your other four plans. So say you decide to switch your wingers over for one particular match or tweak your formation to counter an opponent’s star player; that change will be lost if you change to attacking or defensive during a match. This isn’t a dealbreaker of course, but it inevitably ends with you spending more time in the team management menu, which is exactly the kind of admin work this feature should have eradicated. And despite the added depth of options, the vast majority of AI teams still behave in a broadly similar (and often unrealistic) way–Wigan Athletic managing to pass their way out of my press with sublime one-touch football was a difficult one to take.
FIFA’s brand of football is more physical this year, with strength becoming a far more important stat and crunching collisions feeling much more realistic. You can see and feel players battling for the ball, and goalkeepers are not quite as invincible from crosses as in previous years. Long ball tactics are slightly more viable than last year as a result–including, mercifully, from free kicks–and it feels satisfying for your target man to knock one down for your striker to smash in from 12 yards. Despite this, and the new tactical options, there’s still no way to determine which players go up for corners and free kicks, meaning your 6′ 6″ center-back will still frequently be found on the halfway line at set pieces rather than getting his elbows out in the box where he should be. Timed finishing attempts to add more depth to FIFA’s pitchwork for expert players, and while it can be a little temperamental and fiddly, it does add a nice risk-reward layer to what was an afterthought run on muscle memory.
Meanwhile, EA’s implementation of the newly-acquired Champions League and Europa League licenses is excellent, with the official branding, specific commentators, and authentic atmospheres adding to the feel of this being club football’s biggest event. The competition has its own mode in FIFA 19, as well as implementation in The Journey, Ultimate Team, and Career Mode, and to its credit EA utilizes the license in a much more comprehensive way than Konami ever did.