FIFA is back with arguably its biggest and most ambitious effort yet, with FIFA 17 boasting new modes, stunning visuals and refined gameplay.
EA Sports' crown jewel makes its return on Tuesday with its U.S. release, and the game will be available for purchase worldwide two days later.
The series' old rival, Pro Evolution Soccer, has returned to form in recent years, and Konami's 2017 offering received widespread critical acclaim when it was released earlier in September for its excellent, authentic gameplay.
FIFA has—and probably always will have—a considerable advantage over PES in terms of licensing, but with its rivals improving year on year, EA cannot afford to rest on its laurels.
In short, it hasn't.
FIFA has long adhered to the tradition of alternating between pace being over- or under-powered, and FIFA 17 makes no exception—after slightly slower gameplay last year, pace is back.
This change will no doubt prove divisive depending on your playing style, but many will likely welcome it—while neither system is perfect, watching Gareth Bale struggle more than he should to outstrip Per Mertesacker is arguably more frustrating than him doing so a little too easily.
With the use of the left trigger, players have extra control over shielding the ball from opponents, adding a further level of physicality to the game and allowing slower but stronger forwards such as Olivier Giroud or Andy Carroll to be used more effectively.
The passing still isn't quite as sharp or responsive as you'd like, and misplaced passes creep in from time to time when the game targets the wrong team-mate.
Team-mate AI has undergone a significant upgrade, though—whereas in past titles attacking moves would often break down due to the computer-controlled players getting in your way or refusing to make a run beyond the back line, your team-mates now give you far more options when moving up the field.
They move intelligently and with more flexibility depending on where your player is—if you take your striker out wide, the winger will move to cover the space in the centre—and their ability to get in behind makes accurate through balls more devastating than ever now that your team-mates will make more effort to get on the end of them.
Set pieces have undergone a complete overhaul, with mixed results.
Corners and crossing free-kicks are much-improved, with players now having far more control over their deliveries than ever before. A cursor on the ground indicates the spot you're aiming for, while the length of time you hold the button for produces either a more lofted or driven delivery.
Penalties leave much to be desired, however. Gone is the wait to stop the power bar in the sweet spot—instead, players can now control their starting position with the right stick and push the left stick forward to start the run-up before moving it to aim, while the shoot button determines the power of the spot-kick.
Both the aiming and power mechanics feel far too sensitive, so penalties blasted high and wide—or crawling toward goal at a snail's pace because you were reluctant to do just that—are far more commonplace.
Throw-ins are largely the same, with the neat addition of being able to move up or down the touchline a few yards before taking them.
Look and Presentation
FIFA 17 sees the implementation EA's Frostbite engine—also used in the likes of Battlefield, Dragon Age and Star Wars Battlefront—and as a result, the game is the best-looking FIFA to date.
With even more players facially scanned and the graphics refined once again, player likenesses are better than ever.
The sweat dripping off players' faces at full-time looks great, while impressive touches such as improved lighting and seeing players' breath in cold weather adds to the complete feel of the game.
So too does the inclusion of all 20 Premier League managers on the touchline, capturing Jose Mourinho as he shouts at Wayne Rooney in apoplectic rage. All we need now is for Arsene Wenger to struggle with his coat or Alan Pardew to give a rendition of his infamous dance from the FA Cup final.
Outside of matches, the menus are as slick and polished as ever, though on occasion fonts are a little too small—you might find yourself squinting or inching closer to the screen every so often.
Women's teams—a welcome and overdue addition last year—make their return, with Norway and the Netherlands added to the roster for good measure.
The Journey—FIFA's new story mode—is by far most impressive addition this year.
It follows teenage sensation Alex Hunter as he and best friend Gareth Walker embark on the road to Premier League stardom, and it seamlessly weaves cutscenes in between training and matches as Hunter progresses in his fledgling career.
The game does an excellent job of making you share his excitement as he fulfils his childhood dream of playing in England's top flight, with moments such as his first run-out or sitting next to a star player in the dressing room providing genuine thrills.
Though it's not exactly Mass Effect, Hunter has some decisions to make while dialogue options in conversations and post-match interviews (the latter of which can get slightly repetitive) affect your relationship with supporters and the manager as well as adding a light role-playing element to the affair.
Indeed, if you choose to play Hunter as a "fiery" character with swagger and an arrogant streak, you'll be rewarded with more Twitter followers and sponsorship deals, but it could hurt your chances of getting in the team. Likewise, more humble dialogue options will gain you favour with the coaching staff but do little to earn you the financial rewards.
The cutscenes are largely well-acted, and the fact your dialogue choices have consequences—even if they're not especially impactful—makes the story more interactive and not just a career mode with some cinematic tacked on.
Cameos from real players and tweets from real pundits, broadcasters and journalists make it even easier to immerse yourself in the story, which is earnest, engaging and frequently touching, if somewhat predictable.
Hunter's development feels more organic than players forged in Career Mode, and the revamped in-game rating system that tracks your match performance is more dynamic than before—it will reward good ideas even if they don't come off, while poor passes or losing possession will be punished.
The only thing lacking is a way to track how many goals or assists you're racking up as you turn out for your Premier League team of choice, for those who like to know their stats.
Overall, The Journey is a resounding success, and anyone put off by story modes in other sports games—most notably NBA 2K16's bizarre "Livin' Da Dream" effort—should give it a try.
If that's not enough, progressing through the story also grants rewards for use in FIFA's Ultimate Team mode, adding extra incentive to play.
Yes, FUT is back and bigger than ever.
New to FIFA 17 are squad-building challenges, which bring added rewards for the creation of themed squads. For example, the challenges include building squads of players who play in the same league or players of the same nationality.
The biggest addition is FUT Champions. Players can now participate in daily knockout tournaments—they have three attempts per week—to qualify for the Weekend Leagues.
Qualifying regularly and climbing the rankings grants the best rewards, so not only can you now put your FUT addiction to good use, there's even more to enjoy in the popular mode.
The Career Mode is largely the same as in previous titles when creating players, but there are a number of notable changes to the management system—for the better.
For the first time, you can select your avatar for the touchlines from a variety of pre-set options.
Transfer and wage budgets feel more in-line with real life now. Choosing to take charge of Manchester United will grant you £102 million in funds from the outset, while Bournemouth will have to make do with a more modest £28 million—a sum that nevertheless reflects the increased level of money enjoyed even by less illustrious Premier League clubs.
Pre-season tournaments will yield additional prize money towards your transfer kitty as well as increasing your club's brand exposure—one of several new targets your club want you to aim for along with increasing youth development or selling shirts, with different priorities placed on each depending on which club you're in charge of.
Your manager will also have his own popularity rating, which will fluctuate depending on results, your ability to meet targets and on-field success.
In the past, keeping your squad happy was something of a chore as star players would frequently complain if they were rested for a single game even if their condition was poor. Now, even crucial first-team players seem to take a little longer to drop you a message demanding to play, giving you that extra bit of freedom that was previously lacking.
While FUT's emergence in recent years has perhaps seen it become the series' most popular mode, Career Mode remains an excellent and addictive feature, made all the more so by these improvements.
While there's certainly room for improvement, and aside from the new system for penalties, the changes and tweaks made to the gameplay are welcome—particularly if you enjoy the quicker flow of play thanks to pace being dialled up again—as are the additions made to the Career and FUT modes.
EA deserves great credit for The Journey—an ambitious undertaking that, for the most part, it pulled off with aplomb—which further helps the game stand out from previous titles and PES, and it raises the bar for story modes in all sports games.
FIFA 16 was by no means a poor effort, but 17 feels like a return to form for the series—it's not perfect, but it's well worth your time.
FIFA 17 was reviewed on PS4