Also On: PC, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360
Developer: EA Canada
Even though I'm a fairly avid sports gamer, I have to admit that I've basically ignored the FIFA franchise for the last few years. As I said just a few weeks ago about NBA 2K17, my opinion of sports games hinges entirely on the quality of the career mode. Seeing as I've long found FIFA to be pretty lacking in that regard, it's just dropped off my radar entirely.
Someone at EA apparently felt the same way, because FIFA 17 borrows a page from the NBA 2K handbook with the introduction of a narrative-style career mode called The Journey. And you know what? It works pretty well. In fact, in some ways it works better than what you find in the NBA 2K series, because the main character here faces more adversity. Whereas in the NBA series you play as a burgeoning star, here you play as Alex Hunter, a teenager who's fighting to make a name for himself after being cut from his soccer academy, and then being sent away from his EPL team to play at a lower level. It's pretty compelling stuff, even for someone like me who only follows the sport every four years at World Cup time.
It helps, of course, that the voice acting is strong — though it's entirely possible that I'm just doing that North American thing where we automatically equate British accents with stronger acting. It helps even more that the graphics are pretty impressive. The characters here are defined not just by what they say, but by what's left unsaid; the game helps itself a lot in this respect, with surprisingly expressive faces (and, of course, with top-of-the-line in-game animations, too). To top it all off, the game has branching dialogue trees, which allows you to give your player the kind of personality you want, rather than what the game dictates you should have. Add it all up, and you have a single-player experience that's almost unparalleled for a sports game.
In every other respect, FIFA 17 is more or less what you'd expect. There's the Ultimate Team, and its accompanying emphasis on trying to get you to spend money on its various goodies. There's the online component, that features both multiplayer matches and online clubs. And, of course, there's the omnipresent hilarious glitches. None of it reinvents the wheel, of course, but it's all that most people want out of their FIFA.
For me, though, all I want is a great career mode. And as I said, that's one area where FIFA 17 stands head and shoulders above its peers. I don't know if that means that it's toppled NBA 2K17 as the best sports game around, but I think, thanks to The Journey, there's certainly a conversation to be had there.