Tom Hat­field ex­plains why FIFA17’ s story is bet­ter than you think.

PC GAMER (UK) - - CONTENTS - By Tom Hat­field

When FIFA 17’ s story mode was an­nounced, the re­sponse was mostly mock­ery. Will there be Rene­gade and Paragon op­tions for post-match in­ter­views? (Yes). Will it end with a ‘sui­cide match’ con­sist­ing of all the char­ac­ters you’ve met so far? (Sadly, no). Yet when I ac­tu­ally gave it a try it ended up be­ing one of the most un­usual and in­no­va­tive sto­ries I’ve ever played.

Let’s set the tone: the game be­gins with you, Alex Hunter, as a ten-yearold boy play­ing foot­ball in the park. Af­ter win­ning or los­ing the match, Alex goes back to his tiny, pokey ter­raced house and dis­tracts him­self play­ing keepie ups while his par­ents ar­gue down­stairs. This is not the kind of scene I’ve ever en­coun­tered in a videogame be­fore. It’s more akin to East­end­ers than Mass Ef­fect.

There’s a rea­son for this: the story is set across a full sea­son of Premier League foot­ball and Alex can sign for any team in the di­vi­sion. Be­cause of this, there’s no way FIFA can tell a tra­di­tional un­der­dog sports story, af­ter all I might be play­ing for an aw­ful team and lose a lot. In­stead, they’re forced to make a story about hu­man drama. Mostly about Alex’s re­la­tion­ship with his best friend Gareth. They both sign for the same team (which­ever one you choose), but Gareth is ini­tially more suc­cess­ful, and the fame and me­dia adu­la­tion slowly go to his head, lead­ing him to de­mand a trans­fer (and also sub­tweet Alex on the in-game Twit­ter).

Gareth isn’t the only NPC in­jected into a real foot­ball ros­ter, there’s also two veter­ans, Gallo and Bernard, who men­tor you in what­ever team you sign up for. Then there’s Danny, a fel­low young­ster play­ing for which­ever lower league team Alex gets loaned out to. When you first en­counter him at your try­out ses­sion he’s a swag­ger­ing prick who is con­vinced he’s headed for the big time. He pops up again once Alex gets loaned out, but not mak­ing it to the top level has hum­bled Danny, and he slowly comes to re­place the dis­tant Gareth as Alex’s new clos­est friend. He’s still self ag­gran­dis­ing, but now it feels like a joke you’re in on, rather than a one-di­men­sional cock­sure swag­ger. It’s not easy to cre­ate a like­able char­ac­ter with these traits, and yet some­how Danny be­came a per­sonal favourite of mine.

Fan­tasy Foot­ball

At other times the cracks in the real-world/fic­tion ar­ti­fice be­gin to show. Since none of FIFA’s recre­ations of real-life foot­ball man­agers are voiced, you only ever talk to their as­sis­tant, while a silent Arsene Wenger looks on ap­prov­ingly in the back­ground. At a cer­tain point in the plot your team will make a big money trans­fer for a player in your po­si­tion, which can re­sult in the bizarre spec­ta­cle of James Ro­driguez mov­ing from Real Madrid over to Mid­dles­brough.

There’s also lit­tle nuggets of pro­ce­dural nar­ra­tive lurk­ing around. When I was near the top of the ta­ble, play­ers sud­denly started talk­ing about a ti­tle chal­lenge. Pick­ing a team that had qual­i­fied for the Cham­pi­ons League got me a talk from the As­sis­tant Man­ager about how dif­fer­ent Euro­pean foot­ball is. If I’d done poorly, would that story have in­stead piv­oted to a des­per­ate rel­e­ga­tion bat­tle?

Sea­son Fi­nale

I was lucky, my sea­son ended in the most per­fect pos­si­ble way, with Alex play­ing in the fi­nal of the FA Cup against Gareth. This fi­nale is semi-planned, Gareth’s team will al­ways make it through to the fi­nal, and Alex doesn’t play in the first few rounds, en­sur­ing his team can progress. Yet there was still the very real pos­si­bil­ity I could’ve lost the whole thing, ru­in­ing the fairy­tale.

Next year’s FIFA is con­firmed to carry on Alex’s story, and I can only hope they con­tinue this weird ex­per­i­ment. Per­haps they could lean even more on the fic­tional side, I would hon­estly be happy if Alex played for a fic­tional team staffed en­tirely by NPCs. Yet re­gard­less of which di­rec­tion they go in, it’s worth go­ing back to FIFA 17 and sam­pling Alex’s first story. Yes, for the first time ever, an out-of-date FIFA game is ac­tu­ally worth buy­ing.

I was lucky, my sea­son ended in the most per­fect pos­si­ble way

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