The theme of everything in this year’s FIFA is “champions,” which seems only fitting after securing rights to the UEFA Champions League and basically hammering shut Pro Evo’s coffin. In many ways, FIFA 19 is the best of the best, with some of the flashiest gameplay the series has seen thus far. But if you’re a more casual player and you played last year’s edition, I’m not sure that the Champions League, a few gameplay tweaks and a couple of new modes will be enough to justify buying the game again this year.
The average American won’t even know what the UEFA Champions League is, let alone why its inclusion in FIFA is deserving of as much attention as it gets throughout this year’s game. To make a simple comparison, it’s basically the NCAA Final Four of European football. It takes the best European teams from each country’s top-tier leagues and pits them against each other in a tournament for continental domination. It’s actually pretty exciting stuff if you’re into soccer, and FIFA 19 incorporates it throughout, creating a new standalone mode that recreates the excitement of a Champions League season, as well as infusing it with the last chapter of the series’ story mode, The Journey. While players could make their own off-brand Champions League tournaments in previous years’ FIFAs, the new mode at least packs in some of the panache and presentation of a Champions League match—even going so far as to appropriately recast the play-by-play with Lee Dixon and Derek Rae, giving players a much needed reprieve from Martin Tyler and Alan Smith. It’s a nice touch that footie fans will enjoy.
Its inclusion in The Journey: Champions, the third and (hopefully) final chapter of FIFA’s story mode, is a little more problematic, mostly because it extends an already bloated, three-track narrative to an ungodly length. This time, instead of focusing on series protagonist Alex Hunter with a few casual detours into some of the other footballers in his life, The Journey: Champions makes you play as Alex, his best friend Danny Williams, and his kid sister Kim, as they each try to earn their respective glories. Fully investing in Kim and Danny’s storylines, which are arguably way more emotionally interesting and sympathetic than Alex’s rise to the big time, isn’t necessarily the problem. It’s the way that The Journey: Champions artificially inflates the amount of time it actually takes to complete the story. With Danny in the English Premier League and Alex in La Liga on Real Madrid, not only do you have to compete in each league’s respective seasons, but then you also have to play UEFA league games before entering the actual knockout stages. Meanwhile, Kim’s off having her own experience as a prodigy striker for the U.S. Women’s National Team in the 2019 Women’s World Cup. While this might make the story seem chock full of ooey, gooey content in theory, the practical result feels more like a slog across a rainy pitch.
Breaking up matches are the occasional cut scenes, which are fine if a little bit undercooked and melodramatic, and a smorgasbord of training exercises, most of which you’ll have to play three times each, once per character. By the time I was finished, I must have put somewhere near 20 hours just into the story mode, only to have to decide between Alex and Danny when it came to winning the European Champions Clubs’ Cup, leading to a rather dispiriting end to a story that’s extended over the last three years. By the time I played my final match, I was ready for it to end. That’s not to say it’s bad, just that you will want to break up the experience instead of gobbling it all down at once like I did.
Outside of the adventures of Alex Hunter and the UEFA tourney, FIFA 19’s biggest addition to the series is in how it’s reworked its standard Kick Off mode. You can now track your Kick Off mode stats, whether you’re playing against a certain difficulty level AI or your friends. You can link these stats to your gamertag or PSN ID and sign in on a friend’s console, too. A new House Rules mode lets you choose certain modifications, like making it so that goals taken from outside the penalty box count for 2 points instead of just one, or that the only way to earn points is by scoring goals off headers or volleys. Unfortunately, you can’t customize your own rule set, so it’s limited in that way, and you can’t take these Kick Off competitions online. Instead, online competitions against your friends are separated into standard online friendlies, without any of the extra modes that come with Kick Off being available. Setting up private UEFA group matches or best of 5 series with your friends isn’t really possible unless you’re playing against each other locally, which is a shame.
As far as the actual gameplay is concerned, FIFA 19 is both more physical and flashier than last year’s edition. Volleys are constantly coming off boots, which is cool the first few times but quickly becomes yawn-inducingly normal. You can even pop the ball up this year and juggle it in the air before sending a screamer into the net, and it can be a slightly overpowered move in the wrong hands. Pushing players off the ball for tackles has a little more weight and flexibility to it this year, and the ball in general isn’t as stuck to the dribbler’s foot as it was in last year’s game, so managing your sprints and closely monitoring your pass receptions is a more engaging action this time around. Overall, it still feels like a FIFA game, but it’s making certain promising strides towards more realistic and challenging gameplay without sacrificing what makes the series so fun and popular.
FIFA 19 is an all-around satisfying package, with the UEFA Champions League unexpectedly putting it over the top for me, despite being a more casually-informed fan of the game. Some needed alterations to scouting in the manager career mode and a handful of simple but satisfying tweaks to the core gameplay experience make it one of the best entries in the series. Still, if you’re a more casual fan of the series and you played last year’s title, which eventually included a new World Cup mode, I’m not entirely sure that FIFA 19will be enough of a leap forward to justify an annual purchase.
FIFA 19 is one of the most satisfying games in the series yet. The addition of the UEFA Champions League adds some excitement to everything, even if it artificially bloats the overly long final chapter in The Journey. Subtle but meaningful tweaks to the gameplay make it both flashier and more physical than last year’s edition while still retaining that good ol’ fashioned FIFA feel, and the new modes and stat-tracking tools added to Kick Off are great, even if they’re relegated to local play.
E – Everyone
|FIFA 19 is available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Nintendo Switch, and PC. Primary version played was for Xbox One. Product was provided by EA Sports for the benefit of this coverage. EGM reviews on a scale of one to five stars.|
Michael Goroff has written and edited for EGM since 2017. You can follow him on Twitter @gogogoroff.