Can the new version of FIFA build on last year's solid outing on the Nintendo Switch?
FIFA 18 on the Switch was something of a revelation, at least in its own understated way. While it didn't really compare to last year's stellar main entry on PC, PS4, and Xbox One, it still offered a satisfying football experience in its own right. It was missing the story-driven mode, The Journey, and was built in an older engine and therefore lacked some of the more recent gameplay advancements, but it offered solid football with the tantalising twist that you could play on the go.
And play we did. Not on the go, mainly we played while the kids were falling asleep, perched at the top of the stairs, Switch in hand as we chomped through several seasons of the career mode. And it was in that manner that we took Norwich FC from the second tier of English football all the way up to the lofty heights of European competition, turning over pretty much the whole squad during a managerial campaign that spanned years of in-game competition. Being able to play decent FIFA on a handheld for the first time (the Vita version back in the day was OK, but nothing more) help rekindle our affection for the series.
And so we jumped at the chance of taking a closer look at FIFA 19 on the Switch, eager to get stuck into another campaign, this time enhanced by all the gameplay improvements that you can always expect from a new FIFA game. The first game in the series to grace the Switch was, after all, not quite perfect and there was certainly room to refine the experience this time around.
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This version of FIFA 19 once again boasts portable play, but the novelty has somewhat worn off in this regard and we're disappointed to report that nothing else of significance really stands out in this year's Switch version. Gameplay wise we've seen little in the way of evolution, and while we've gotten tweaks to the formula over in the main branch of the series, on Switch it all feels a little... rushed. To that point, we experienced a number of annoying little bugs and glitches that constantly tugged away at the immersion that the game is otherwise so good at providing.
The goal celebrations, for example, often involved characters repeating animations several times over, or running through the goal net, or clipping through other players. Another frustrating glitch saw the cursor that indicates which player is selected completely disappear, an annoying quirk that popped up several times, often following connection issues with the left Joy-Con (also annoying, but we're not blaming EA for that). The commentary would go missing, as would the replays and the on-screen score/clock; it's uncharacteristically rough around the edges, especially from a series that in the past has always excelled when it comes to presentation.
The new look UI looks quirky and clean, and we were once again impressed by the menus, but the match day experience simply isn't as polished. At least it still looks sharp when played in handheld mode (when docked it doesn't look quite as crisp on the big screen). Either way, this is still a decent looking game thanks mostly to some stellar player animations. The textures might not dazzle and the crowds look pretty ropey, but the Switch version certainly performs where it matters.
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We've not played through a whole season of the campaign yet, but everything there looks largely the same, which is a bit of a shame because that's our favourite part of the game and a seasonal refresh always helps spice things up. FUT, on the other hand, is still busy with lots of complicated systems working together as players look to build a winning squad via the completion of a wealth of challenges. EA's pay-to-win mode lets you create your team using packs of players and performance boosters, all powered by that little thrill of unlocking a random reward. Some of the challenges are on fussy side but we still enjoyed cracking open the packs and building a team out the parts found therein. We also had fun playing without spending, but then again, we weren't trying to be competitive.
One part of the game that we very much liked was the new game modes that have been added in Kickoff 2.0. You can tweak the house rules to change the dynamic of matches, which is done via game types that add rules or restrictions which change the feel of each game. One mode strips teams of players as and when they score, another limits your goal scoring to headers and volleys, and you can even remove fouls and offsides if you like a bit of chaos. We particularly liked the randomised team selection, and we paired that up with the other modes during a local multiplayer evening that went down very well with everyone in attendance. If you're the kind of FIFA fan who likes nothing more than getting a few friends over for a digital kickabout and a couple of beers, we think you'll get a lot of mileage out of the new house rules added to this year's game.
The addition of the Champion's League is another boon for players, and EA Sports makes use of the license wherever possible. We started a few matches with different teams and sampled some of the best in Europe in the process. AI tweaks made for this iteration seem to offer a slight improvement, and we noticed a bit more personality when controlling and playing against the elite teams. That said, the goalkeepers weren't as reliable as we expected them to be, and there seemed to be a fair few soft goals scored at both ends of the pitch. Perhaps the keepers were rebalanced to suit the new shooting system, another new addition this year and one that took us a while to get to grips with - fumbling with the extra button press often undid our good work in front of goal. Overall there's plenty of ebb and flow when playing against the AI, and there's a stern challenge waiting for those who kick it up to World Class and beyond.
However, a lick of paint, the Champions League, some minor AI tweaks, and a handful of admittedly fun but local-only multiplayer modes didn't do enough to leave us dazzled, and combined with the technical hiccups we've endured this week, we came away from FIFA 19 on the Switch feeling a little underwhelmed. It's a solid football sim, make no mistake, but EA Sports is going to have to do better next year or the Switch version is going to end up facing a relegation battle in the years to come.
7 / 10
The new house rules are fantastic fun, the AI tweaks seemed to have added more personality to teams, the underlying game is still solid.
Career mode could have done with more of a refresh, the game isn't keeping pace with the main series in terms of innovation, bugs break the immersion.