The Fitzgerald Scale – Thoughts on the FIFA 17 Demo

It’s a’ight.

If anything, it might even be better than that.

I’ll be honest and say that I downloaded the recent Demo for FIFA 17 with some slight level of trepidation. I know detractors of the series will often decry that FIFA is merely “the same game every year, just with roster updates”, and fans of the series will then rush to point out the one or two tweaks that prove that Electronic Arts are true innovators of the genre.

Speaking as someone who returned to the series back in 2010 after nearly a decade in the ISS/PES wilderness, I’m actually fine with the series resting on its laurels in some capacity seeing as, in my opinion, the gameplay reached a level pretty much close to perfection with FIFA 11, and ever since that point all EA has really needed to do is refine what already works.

For me, the fact that for so long FIFA hasn’t drastically changed isn’t a symptom of developer laziness or lack of innovation but merely the acknowledgement that the people at EA have probably the most refined and polished franchise in the entirety of gaming, second perhaps only to the NBA 2K series from 2KSports.

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Everything in FIFA works to a high standard. They’ve been making these games for so long now that to tinker with them in any extreme form would risk alienating a very large, and hitherto very satisfied, fan base who have gleefully gorged on the Simulation Soccer-fest for many years. It’s not the mid ’00s anymore where pretty much every FIFA release was unplayable while Konami were smashing 30 yard screamers straight at the postage stamp with some of the most fluid and delightful “Footie” gameplay ever seen to that point.

These days, FIFA is, in this humble scribe’s opinion, by far the more enjoyable series to play and also has the lion’s share of real players and stadia to offer thanks to the near two decade long official licensing agreement with football’s governing body. Konami’s kickabout is serviceable but just feels overly awkward and sluggish, whereas FIFA is finely tuned and smoother than a nice pint of Caffrey’s.

And even when they didn’t have to, EA have taken gambles with the series, such as when they introduced “Tactical Defending” back in FIFA 12. EA were at least smart enough to leave themselves a safety net by keeping the “Legacy Defending” that was used in FIFA 11 for offline play and have retained it for every release since, including FIFA 17. But for online play these days it’s Tactical Defending or tough titties, which you have to admit was a brave move considering the fact that if people really hated it they would have essentially crippled one of the most popular modes of the game.

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As someone who doesn’t really play online much and prefers Legacy Defending in general, the fact that EA left it in for those who prefer offline play was a shrewd move that probably kept quite a few loyalists from jumping ship. I often spend most of my time on FIFA mainlining Manager Career Mode into my veins, and I shudder to think how many hours I have sunk into that. I’m still playing FIFA 16 now, and I have about six career modes going on at different clubs that I switch to depending on my mood. Having Legacy Defending as an option in the non-competitive arena of personal play was a wise move from EA, and I think they might be best looking to that again when it comes to the newest innovation in FIFA 17.

The big change in FIFA 17 from previous games is that they have completely changed the way set pieces are taken. Free Kicks, Corner Kicks, and Penalty Kicks now all operate very differently from the way regular devotees of the series will be accustomed. In some cases (penalties) I like the new changes, but in others (free kicks and corners) I really don’t like them at all, and it’s leaving me wishing that EA would do something similar with the new set pieces that they did with Legacy and Tactical Defending.

The new method of taking penalties is certainly interesting and gives a new layer of player involvement to the kicks that wasn’t there previously. In the past all you had to worry about was the power of the kick and the direction it was going in, but now there are many other elements that come into play. For starters you now begin every penalty attempt by adjusting where your player stands before beginning his/her run up. Once you’re satisfied with that, you move the left stick forward and the player will then begin their run up, at which point you then decide the power and direction of your shot. I can see how some would find this overly complicated when compared with the previously simplified method, but I think giving the user more to do makes the overall experience that bit more difficult and harrowing, which mirrors the emotions that footballers themselves feel when it’s time to take a crucial “spot kick”.

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So, I do quite like the new penalties, but I have less love for the corners and free kicks. I can understand why they’ve changed them as it’s a clear attempt to give the user more control and agency over the process, but I think they haven’t really nailed the landing on it. Previously on a corner you would decide the power of the kick and the general direction it was going (and maybe if you wanted to put a curl on it), but that would essentially be that. If you had a player with good stats, the ball generally went somewhere useful, and if the kicker was a bit mince it tended not to.

In FIFA 17 the corners have been given a drastic overhaul. Now instead of deciding the direction the corner taker faces, you instead have an erratic icon that represents a vague idea of where the ball will go. Once you have the icon where you want it (which isn’t bleeding easy, by the way!), you then control the strength of the kick. There is also an option to control a player in the box by pressing L1. I was under the impression at this point that by pressing Square/X would cause the kicker to automatically aim for the player you are controlling, but this does not appear to happen, and instead the kicker seems to always kick the ball in the direction of the generic targeting icon which is in a thoroughly useless section of the box as standard.

The icon is difficult to control, and I haven’t noticed yet if it controls better if you use a player with better stats. This does mean that more rests on the user as you now have to do most of the work yourself, but the control scheme is in desperate need of refinement. Hopefully, patches will come out once the game is on sale that will tighten everything up. The free kicks control in a similar fashion to the corners, though I will admit that I’ve yet to be in a situation where I’ve been fouled in an area where I can take a shot at the goal from a free kick, so I’m not sure how those work at the moment.

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I do think EA would be wise to include an option for users to take “Classic Set Pieces” while in offline play. I can imagine the anger in the offices of Toronto at reading that sentence, but I do really think it would be prudent. EA showed with the Legacy/Tactical Defending situation 5 years ago that they were prepared to throw a bone to the players who liked their FIFA a certain way, and I think it’s time for them to do this again. As someone who doesn’t like the new corner and free kick options, I will do my best to get to grips with them, but it would be nice to know the option would be there to switch back to the tried and tested way of yore should the new way just not be my cup of tea.

I have already seen posts on forums and other websites where people are saying that they hate the corners so much that they are seriously considering not picking FIFA up this year. I’m not sure how many will follow through on that threat, but the fact they are moved to even bring it up suggests that EA should patch in “Classic Set Pieces” as soon as humanly possible while also advertising the fact. I know a lot of work has gone into this new system, and by no means has the response been wholly negative, but I think there’s been enough negative feedback that EA would be wise to listen and get that patch sorted ASAP once the game is shipped.

Before I bring this week’s article to a close, I’d like to speak briefly about the excerpt from the new story mode, “The Journey”, in which you take control of young player Alex Hunter as he begins his career at an English Premier League side.

I went into this mode thinking I wouldn’t like it, but I’m pleased to say that my fears weren’t warranted. I enjoyed the cutscenes (though it’s annoying that you can’t skip them on a second playthrough on the demo) and thought the branching post match interview segments, depending on how you did against Chelsea, were clever and a lot of fun.

The demo promises that you’ll be able to have Alex turn out for any of the 20 sides currently in the Premier League, which I think will give the mode some good replay value as you try taking Alex to the top with different teammates. Something tells me it will be a lot easier for Alex to succeed whilst paired with Zlatan and Rooney at Manchester United than it would be if he were toiling up in Hull with Snodgrass and Huddlestone.

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All in all, I’m looking forward to getting my hands on FIFA 17 when it comes out on the 29th September. I won’t be reviewing the game for the site, but I might do another Fitzgerald Scale on it once I’ve had a chance to play the full version.

Next week it’s back to the world of Retro as I play a game from another well regarded video game series from our friends at SEGA.

As always, there’s some great content here on the site, and you should all take a goosey gander at what my colleagues are bringing to the table.

You can read the hilarious/depressing story of Digital Homicide trying to sue THE WORLD by clicking right HERE and reading Stephen’s article on the whole sorry affair.

You can read Kelsey’s review of Kubo and the Two Strings (oh yes, we review movies on here too!) by clicking right HERE.

Thanks for reading

The Urban Dictionary defines “The Fitzgerald Scale” as “A scale used to measure the awkwardness of a situation. The Fitzgerald Scale is divided into ten subunits, called ‘Geralds’. Each Gerald is in turn divided into ten Subgeralds, which gives 100 possible levels of awkwardness. One Gerald is a commonly awkward level, where a ten Gerald situation would be a scarring event.”

Example
Man, the atmosphere of that party was off the Fitzgerald Scale when we decided to leave.

Written by
British, Evertonian and passionate about them there Video Games. Bit of a golden oldy these days weighing in at a pert 29 years of age. I'll be providing reviews, retro features, the odd rant and the occasional article on Pro Wrestling