The Champions League is the highlight in another fantastic football game from EA Sports.
FIFA players come in all shapes and forms, with fans for every one of the game's many modes. Still, the bulk of the community is divided into two groups: those who mostly play Ultimate Team and those who prefer the Career mode. This is why we were a little disappointed when we realised that career mode hadn't seen any substantial changes this year. The mode itself was already quite good in FIFA 18, and it's still great in FIFA 19, but there's room for improvement and that was completely overlooked this year.
Fortunately, FIFA 19 is not just the career mode, and there are many new features in other areas of the game. The big new addition is the introduction of the UEFA competitions, namely the Champions League, Europa League, and the European Super Cup. After several years of replacing these competitions with fake tournaments, EA Sports has finally managed to steal the license from Konami and was able to take advantage of it by extending the license to a number of game modes.
From Kick Off to Career mode, from Journey to FIFA Ultimate Team, every mode includes the Champions League in some way, and there is even a new mode based solely on the tournament, allowing players to recreate the whole experience. Both the design and the logos, as well as the iconic Champions theme, are present. Even before the matches, you can see specific animations for the Champions League games, and there are even new English commentaries specific to such games, voiced by Derek Rae and Lee Dixon.
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Another new feature is Kick Off 2.0. Here you will find a number of new options, including the possibility of simulating Champions League games, several cup finals, and even alternative ways to enjoy FIFA 19. The most talked about mode has been Survival, where the team that scores loses a player, but there are others. One mode only allows goals from outside the area, another only allows you to score when the ball in the air, and there is even the option of playing without rules. Kick Off 2.0 is a fun proposition, especially when you have friends around, but it will hardly keep players' attention in the medium or long term.
If you appreciated The Journey so far, you will enjoy the latest and final chapter in Alex Hunter's story, which this time sees more screen time for Williams and Kim. Alex Hunter remains the focus of the experience, but you can also follow episodes starring Alex's best friend and his sister. You can even play the episodes for only one of them. As EA has already announced, the focus of this third chapter of The Journey is the Champions League, and that implies a transfer for Alex Hunter to Real Madrid - which is mandatory. Hunter will also have to deal with being an icon, a brand, and this will raise many situations where you will have to interfere and make decisions. Again, there are several surprises waiting for the player, and we have to take our hat off to EA Sports as yet again the studio has found new ideas to keep the story fun and surprising.
Lastly, there's Ultimate Team Mode, FIFA's most popular mode, and here you will find a few new features. The biggest one is Divisions, a new option that allows players to face adversaries of a similar skill level. The first matches will serve to define your ability, and then you will be assigned a division. After that, you will play matches to earn weekly rewards, and you can even win qualification for the Champions Weekend League, a tournament which, as the name implies, takes place over the weekend. There's also new Champions League elements, and the inclusion of new icons such as Eusébio, Johan Cruyff, and Rivaldo.
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Other modes are still present, including new Skill Games, Seasons Online, Pro Clubs, and customisable tournaments. As a package, FIFA 19 is extremely robust and includes options for virtually all types of players, and on these terms, there are few games that can compete with EA Sports' football sim. This, of course, is on top of numerous fully licensed leagues, dozens of stadiums, and localisation for multiple languages.
In terms of the general presentation, little has changed compared to FIFA 18. The menus are very similar but functional, modern, and accessible. The soundtrack continues to create a positive and energetic atmosphere, and there is even a theme created by Hollywood favourite Hans Zimmer. Graphically, there are improvements over last year's game, with lots of new animations during the game, more specific video sequences, and even new celebrations in the stands. Presentation-wise, FIFA 19 is a massive production, and it shows.
One of the most functional new features of FIFA 19 is the new tactics system, which makes it easier to adjust a team's behavior. You can set when the team should press the opponent, how high the defensive line should be, whether players should wait for the ball or try to make runs, and other similar options. Most importantly, you can now set specific tactics for each moment in the game. As in the past, you can use the D-Pad to define a team's attitude during matches (namely Very Defensive, Defensive, Neutral, Offensive, and Very Offensive). The difference is that now you can define what each setting implies. Each one can have its own formation, style of pressure, and behavior, opening up a whole new tactical side to FIFA.
And finally, there's the gameplay.
FIFA 18 was already fantastic in terms of gameplay, and FIFA 19 builds on that base. The main highlight is the introduction of a new level of aerial ball control. You can lift the ball more easily, make headed passes, control the ball with your chest, and do a series of other actions that elevate FIFA 19 to a degree of aerial control the likes of which we've never seen in another football game. It's really fantastic, and it will certainly allow more creative players to come up with some impressive goals.
Globally, the artificial intelligence has been improved. Both the opposing team and the player's team are much more effective at defending, and there is even a new option to allow the AI to block passes and shots automatically. This made attacking a bit more challenging, especially in the middle of the pitch, with greater pressure being applied and more effective positioning from players. You will need to be more creative than you were in FIFA 18 if you're going to create chances here.
Less impressive is the addition of Timed Finishing. To start a shot you must press the button once, and then once again just before the player touches the ball. If you get the correct timing, the shot will be more precise, but if you fail, there's a greater chance of the shot going wide. Honestly, we're not fans of Timed Finishing. It seems an unnecessary complication, and EA Sports is probably aware of this, as they included an option to disable it. Certainly, some players will enjoy it, but we're not among them.
FIFA 18 was a phenomenal football game, and FIFA 19 follows suit, although not quite to the same degree. Is FIFA 19 better than FIFA 18? For sure, but we were a little disappointed with the lack of new features in career mode, and we found Timed Finishing more of a gimmick than a valid gameplay addition. We've also noticed a few bugs, both in the menus and during games, though nothing that has undermined our experience (and we hope that the next update will further refine things). FIFA 19 is not as obvious a leap as we saw in FIFA 18, but it's the best football game we've ever played, and it's bursting with great content. And with the addition of the Champions League, that should be enough to bring several players back into the fold.
9 / 10
FIFA finally got the Champions League and the Europa League. Kick Off 2.0 is a fun and creative mode. New ways of controlling the ball in the air. Great new tactics system.
Career mode was neglected. Timed Finishing is not that great. A few bugs.