When in comes to the FIFA series, maintaining a huge amount of choice has always been key. This has often come down to an ever-expanding roster of clubs and leagues, making best use of the official licensing that the franchise has. This has sometimes come at the expense of improvements from a gameplay perspective, and this is something that FIFA 19 has needed to address.
In essence, FIFA has come to encapsulate a level of realism at a surface level. The series, FIFA 19 included, has relished its chance to capture the authenticity of teams, player faces, and competitions whenever it can, resulting in matches that - to the untrained eye - could sometimes be mistaken for real games of football at a glimpse. However, there's always been an issue with the rigidity of play, an over-reliance on static tactical mechanics that Konami has managed to avoid with its Pro Evolution Soccer games.
With FIFA 19 however, things do feel better than ever before. Although the sport still doesn't quite move with the rhythm of real life soccer, it's inching that little bit closer, with an improved take on the chaos that football can be. There's both a greater level of flexibility to be found in attack and an added level of physicality to defending, with quick-passing creation and crunching challenges battling it out.
There are a couple of new elements at play that really make FIFA 19 stand out from the previous games in the series. First and foremost is the introduction of Timed Finishing, which adds a whole new dynamic when closing in on goal. Effectively it acts as a high risk, high reward strategy, allowing players to take the chance of gaining a much more precise shot through a second tap of the shoot button at the right time.
It's a neat move, and freshens up goalscoring in a series that has long been criticized for sticking too close to its roots. However, it's not the only change that can be found, and some of the others take the game in a very different direction to the much-lauded need for realism. In particular, FIFA 19's addition of a variety of more arcade-like modes is a welcome change of pace.
It's certainly worth mentioning the game's Survival Mode, where each time a goal is scored a player from the scoring team is removed from the field. However, the best of these new gameplay modes is No Rules, where offsides and fouls are removed entirely. This is as ridiculous as it sounds, descending into blood and thunder football that would have felt over-the-top for the 1970s, and it's a mode that is hard to grow weary of.
The game's story mode, The Journey, has had a nice overhaul as well for FIFA 19. This time around, players can choose from three different narratives to follow, including women's football through the character of Kim Hunter, a continuation of brother Alex Hunter's story, and that of friend Danny Williams. Having three stories to hop between is a nice change of pace, although it can feel a little disjointed at times.
That said, not everything has seen an improvement. The title's Career Mode, which still has a strong following for those after a single player experience, doesn't feel all that different from last year's entry, and although it's still compelling there's a risk that things will feel a little stale. The acquisition of the rights to the Champions League makes it feel even more realistic that it did before, but this is effectively just a name swap to the top tier of European football, and doesn't make an impact from a gameplay perspective outside of being able to access it as a competition directly if the player so chooses.
FIFA Ultimate Team is instead a clear priority, perhaps understandably given its popularity and that it makes EA around $800 million annually. As such, there have been tweaks here and there, albeit nothing that rocks the boat. The biggest and most obvious change is the inclusion of the Division Rivals system, which puts the player up against another of a similar skill level to earn rewards, and feels a little less like a chore than prior entries.
That said, previous problems are still here. FUT is a money-maker, but its microtransaction elements have been deservedly criticized and FIFA 19 is no angel in this regard. With EA Sports revealing the odds this time around, already its first promotion - for Ones To Watch cards that are highly regarded in the online mode - shows signs of serious loot box issues. The chances of getting one of these cards in a pack are less than one percent, and although this isn't the worst that the gaming industry has had to offer it still leaves a sour taste.
All in all, this may well be FIFA 19's perfect example of emulating the beautiful game; the excitement of play, and the spectacle of the sport are ever so slightly undermined by a greed that stifles its purity and unpredictability. Nonetheless, when it comes to football it simply cannot be beaten, and as long as players go into the game with a critical eye it's more than enough to keep them happy.
FIFA 19 is out now for PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch. Screen Rant was provided with a PS4 download code for the purposes of this review.