FIFA's yearly updates typically revolve around extra animations, adding a few IQ points to player AI and blink-and-you'll-miss-them visual upgrades, but the biggest addition to FIFA 17 is something altogether brand new for the series. The grandiosely titled "The Journey" is essentially a soap opera revolving around football in which you play a young prodigy seeking to make good on your potential. It's ridiculous. It's dramatic to the point of satire, and, yet, it's oh so FIFA.
That prodigy is Alex Hunter, and he's on a quest to sign that first fully professional contract with a Premier League team. Cutscenes depict him as an individual that has gone through a difficult childhood, as someone that lives in a terraced house so humble that it wouldn't be fit to take the role of Wayne Rooney's shed, yet he's so passionate about his dream that you could well imagine him being happy to turn criminal in order to make it happen. He's an archetype that you've seen before now in many, many Hollywood sports movies.
Hunter's path to success is guided by the player as you make dialogue decisions that affect his life and relationships—and you play as him, and only him, on the field. I've played just a tiny snippet of the mode thus far and, as such, have interacted with just two of these dialogue scenes. The first centers on a teammate with similar visions of glory who has been chosen to start a match instead of you, the options ranging from acting gracefully and giving encouragement to being cold and jealous. Unfortunately, there's no option to tackle a quick time event in an attempt to break his ankle in training.
Your decisions are remembered by important characters. The second scene—a post-game interview following Hunter's appearance as a substitute—highlights that your responses to media questioning are noted by your manager. Tell the interviewer something along on the lines of it being the team performance that's more important than your individual one and your manager will be pleased. Seek to put yourself in the limelight, and you're less likely to court favor.
'FIFA 17: The Journey' trailer
When sitting the majority of a game out on the sub's bench, you're treated to pre-defined montages designed to keep the story moving even when you're not directly involved in the action. For instance, Hunter's rival is shown scoring the opening goal, complete with our hero's reaction, and, seeing as our demo saw him playing for Manchester United, manager José Mourinho walking the touchline mulling over changes of tactics and personnel.
You can choose any of the 20 Premier League clubs competing in the 2016/17 season to start your career at, but there's no guarantee that you'll be appearing exclusively for them. One cutscene showed Hunter angry at being told that he was going to be sent out on loan in order to gain experience and, as he finds out through the TV, make room in the squad for new signing Harry Kane. In this version of Hunter's reality, he was playing for Leicester. Harry Kane going to Leicester? It's safe to say that you really shouldn't expect too much in the way of realism here.
However, that's exactly what makes "The Journey," as whacky as it is, feel like the perfect fit for FIFA. This is not a series that, despite cries of the opposite from its development team, has ever seemed to be especially concerned with providing a genuinely realistic vision of modern day football. The on-pitch action is primarily based on speed and extravagance, rather than the kind of diversity and ability to learn that singles out the best managers and players in today's game.
Almost everything FIFA does, from that specific form of gameplay to the fanciful daydream that underpins its "Ultimate Team" mode, is geared around hyperbole and the kind of football that kids dream about being a part of. Whether "The Journey" eventually proves itself to be worthy of your time or not is one thing, but it's more of a natural fit here than it initially seems to be.
Harry Kane at Leicester, though? That does feel too fantastical, even for FIFA.
FIFA 17 officially launches on September the 27. Check out more information from the game's official website.
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