Rating: Damn good / ★★★★
Publisher: EA Vancouver / EA Sports
Release Date: September 17, 2016

I don’t play sports games. Not since the N64 with its beloved catalog of arcade-esque sports titles that have since grown up to develop the most sophisticated of sweaty face technology: I’m talking NBA, FIFA, and 1080°, the one and only snowboarding game of the 90’s. Ah, yes. Nostalgia. Since then, I’ve had no interest, but in recent years, these genre games have taken more risks. NBA 2K16, a (say what?) Spike Lee joint, is one of the notable deviations from standard fare. Some long-time fans were less enthused by the auteur’s vision, but I welcome this kind of experimentation in the AAA field and hope to see sports games evolve into annual spectacles with a surprise in every box.

FIFA 17 was far more conservative in its personal regrooving. Essentially, it’s the same-old, same-old with a steeper difficulty curve due to the introduction and importance of defense mechanics and a new mode, The Journey, inspired by one of the most successful games in the franchise’s history (–well, according to me).

You play as Alex Hunter, the mixed race progeny of football legends living in London. He looks to continue his family’s legacy by becoming the sport’s hottest debut. You follow his story from childhood to the Big Important Cup Thing — sorry, I know nothing about football. This game gained my attention by featuring hot males on saturated yellow backgrounds, so apologies to the serious enthusiasts amongst you. Anyways, the cast is small, but well-written with a predictable storyline that still manages to endear itself to you. The bits of RPG elements included on top of the chirping social feed helps to create the feeling of being on a tedious tightrope, at the whim of the masses.

If you don’t feel the Journey right away, give it until its first major twist: young Alex will be shipped off to another team to improve his skills . From thereafter, your game time depends upon your skills.

A heartwarming story about an underdog is all well and good, but what gives FIFA 17’s Journey mode its true kick are the nominal shits given to you, the player. That is, no shits are given to you. None. It throws you into the game with no explanation, so if you’re new then you’re gonna have to learn through trial and error. If you’re a veteran, there will be new mechanics for you to wrangle as well! The story’s few branches are minor differences in the end: either you win or lose. If you’re really shoddy then you might not even make it past recruitment (but I have faith in you). The rest of the campaign will let you know just how terrible you are, but it will continue to trudge on without resting too much emphasis on any particular match. Your canonical Alex Hunter might be the second coming of football-Jesus or he might be a horrible player that was outshined by his childhood friend and failed to make good on promises of grandeur, all while getting repeatedly dunked on by twelve year olds armed with Twitter accounts.

Sometimes, games get too real for comfort.