The end of September will see the release of FIFA 2017 in different parts of the world, the latest edition of the world’s best-selling football video game. There is a lot of hype flying around – it’s already being lauded as the most realistic soccer game that has ever been produced thanks to the Frostbite game engine; the same one that powers Battlefield 4 and Star Wars Battlefront.
FIFA 2017 is actually the 24th edition of the series and it’s amazing how much it has changed through the years. Let’s look at the evolution of FIFA.
FIFA International Soccer
The first ever title in the FIFA series, FIFA International Soccer was a ground-breaking video game. It saw the debut of isometric viewpoint, breaking away from the birds-eye view or top-down view that had been popular in the past. And, for its time, the presentation was pretty slick – the player animations were impressive and the crowd effects were an upgrade on anything that had been seen before. The game as launched in December 1993 and it was a huge hit, laying the foundations for the FIFA series.
While the first game consisted only of national teams, FIFA 95 introduced clubs from six leagues across Europe. As EA hadn’t yet acquired the licence to use real players’ names the game still used made-up players. FIFA 95 didn’t see an awful lot of improvement over the first title – the same game engine with used and the gameplay was simply tweaked (look out for this theme later on). Nevertheless, it was released to hugely positive reviews.
This was the first title in the series that was released on the PlayStation which meant that it was also the first to make use of real-time 3D graphics. Highlighting the success of the franchise, FIFA was granted a licence to use real players. The game was actually put out on a number of different consoles and formats include some with vastly different graphics capabilities.
That meant that while the PlayStation and Sega Saturn versions of the game made use of the brand new 3D graphics, older consoles like the SNES and Mega Drive simply used an upgraded version of the previous game. This led to fairly mixed reviews. However, it was on the PlayStation that FIFA 96 gained its most positive reception, and this would be the console that the game would be most closely associated with.
FIFA 97 saw the series take some huge steps forward. The game engine made use of polygonal models for the first time – this provided the gameplay with a far more realistic look. It was also the first game in the series to offer commentary by John Motson and Andy Gray, as well as presentation from Des Lynam.
The commentary was not without its flaws; there were a number of pronunciation issues as well as glitches. It was felt that while the changes made improved the look and feel of the series, some gameplay issues brought the quality of the game down.
FIFA Road to World Cup 98
Having received criticism for the previous title, EA made a huge range of changes for the 1998 edition of the series. The graphics were tweaked but it was aspects such as the improved artificial intelligence, customisation options and a licenced soundtrack that really made the difference. One of the more impressive aspects was the scale of the FIFA’s dedication to a realistic presentation of the World Cup. All 172 national teams who took part in the official competition were included in the game.
The graphics improvements for FIFA 99 were impressive. For the first time in the series players’ faces were animated and heights were taken into account. This version also featured the ‘European Dream League’, a generic version of the Champions League which the series did not have the licence to use.
With more leagues than ever before as well as national teams and legends teams, FIFA 2000 also saw another overhaul of the graphics. But this was a fairly difficult time for FIFA. The game received mixed reviews with criticism for the fact that it was simply too easy to score.
This title saw the game’s debut on the PlayStation 2 and the first game in the series that could be online on the PC.
The series was ticking along at this point. It had achieved critical acclaim and many years of success and the 2002 edition made relatively few changes aside from a few tweaked aspects of the gameplay. But not all was well. Pro Evolution Soccer launched against the title and received exceptional reviews. PES outsold FIFA – it was smarter, slicker and more intelligent than EA’s football game.
With a genuine rival that looked capable of overtaking them as the number one football game in the world, FIFA made big changes for the 2003 edition. The graphics upgrades were exceptional, blowing out of the water anything that had been seen in a soccer video game before. All aspects of players’ physiques were taken into account and the animations were jaw-dropping. But in terms of gameplay it still lagged behind its PES rival.
Competition appeared to be good for FIFA. Around the turn of the millennium it was completely dominating the football video game marketplace. But the series had run out of steam somewhat. Reinvigorated by the quality and success of PES, FIFA 2003 saw a big step forward.
The same couldn’t be said for the 2004 version. The game made few changes and released to mixed reviews. Once again PES was outperforming FIFA in terms of reviews.
In an attempt to gazump its rival, FIFA 2005 was launched earlier than usual. This may have helped FIFA with sales, but the critics still considered the PES title the superior game. An upgraded career mode and the inclusion of ‘first-touch’ gameplay helped differentiate this incarnation. It was also the final FIFA title to be released on the original PlayStation.
Understanding that big changes were going to be necessary if the game was to take back dominance in the marketplace, EA took the decision to completely change the game engine. Team chemistry and player AI were upgraded significantly. The game also saw a change in commentary with Clive Tyldesley and Andy Gray taking over from John Motson and Ally McCoist.
Still, FIFA was lagging behind PES. Sales were still strong for the EA game but every year PES was gaining the critical acclaim where FIFA saw mixed reviews. But as FIFA 2007 settled into the new game engine, steady improvements were being noticed.
2008 was FIFA’s debut on the PlayStation 3 – a chance to establish a strong position on a new console. FIFA 2008 was seen as a genuine attempt to innovate rather than just in tweaking the successful formula. The brand new ‘Be a Pro’ mode allowed the player to control a single footballer throughout the course of a match. PES’ transition to the seventh generation consoles was not as smooth.
FIFA 2009 concentrated on improving realism and responsiveness. Weather conditions and the time of day were improved and specific details like weight, power and speed were used to simulate more life-like collisions between players on the pitch. The title also introduced Ultimate Team mode for the first time. This allows players to create their own teams buying, selling and trading players.
A huge difference in the 2010 edition of the FIFA series is the implementation of 360-degree player control – previously players only had 8-direction control. Now FIFA had really hit its stride again; not only was it hugely outperforming PES both in terms of sales and its critical reception. Selling more than 10 million copies, FIFA 2010 was the most popular in the franchise’s history at the time.
It was eclipsed by FIFA 2011 which sold more than 16 million copies.
For the 2012 version of the game, FIFA once again placed an emphasis on upgrading the realism. Bringing in an advanced physics engine that took into account player statistics as a part of every physical interaction on the pitch as well as revolutionising the dribbling and defending systems.
This was the first game in the series to be compatible with PlayStation Move and Kinect.
Once again it seemed that FIFA has fallen into something of a slump. While the 2013 edition had sold well, players were becoming tired with the small tweaked upgrades, rather than seeing anything new. Thankfully the eighth generation of consoles forced the game to reinvent itself. Bringing in the new Ignite game engine, not only were the graphics significantly upgraded but the gameplay was given a huge boost, with improvements to AI and player motion.
FIFA 2015 continued a run of very strong games, upgrading the exceptional work on its counterpart from the previous year.
This is the first title in the series – and the first mainstream football video game – to feature female athletes. Once again FIFA outperformed PES in terms of sales but slipped a little its terms of its critical reception.
The 2017 edition of the game will be the first to incorporate the Frostbite game engine. It’s also set to feature a story mode called ‘The Journey’ in which players will take on the role of fictional 17-year-old player Alex Hunter and attempt to guide him to success in the Premier League.
Article written by independent writer Mike James, working together on this post with Soccerbox.