JOE plays FIFA 17 - and the gameplay updates are an absolute game-changer
"All changed, changed utterly: A terrible beauty is born."
WB Yeats may have been talking about the Irish rebellion of 1916 when he wrote those words, but he could well have been talking about FIFA 17.
Year on year, not much seems to change in the world of FIFA. Sure, stats are updated and players switch teams. Maybe there's even a new celebration or two. But this year, things are truly different.
We've already told you about our experience of playing around on the game's new story mode, known as The Journey. Although we welcome the addition of a compelling storyline to the offline mode for once, it would all be moot if there wasn't a real change to how the game is played.
Here's what we learned from playing FIFA 17 at a recent EA Sports event in London.
It's genuinely different
Yes, we know that every single FIFA game ever released promises to have noticeable differences from its predecessor but this one actually does. This is the biggest change to the game since swapping out the cardboard cut outs to 3D models.
EA Sports have made the decision to swap from the Ignite gaming engine to Frostbite. That might not sound very important, but it has a marked effect on how the game feels.
FIFA 17 is by far the smoothest experience yet. Players responded to commands in a realistic way. Each player looks like their own individual creature rather than just a series of pre-programmed machines running through simulations.
The FIFA team have worked for two years on making the players' movement more fluid. Rather than running through animations, they're now reacting to what's going on around them. Oh, and it looks damn good too.
It's a physical game, get used to it
The improved fluidity of the players is combined with new ways to get physical in the game like never before. Using what the developers have dubbed "Pushback technology", you can now shield the ball from oncoming defenders while sprinting, meaning dribbling is no longer just a foot race.
Using the left trigger on Xbox or L2 on PS4, you activate the physical mode both with and without the ball. When you have the ball, this means it's harder for defenders to steal the ball.
While shielding, your player will adjust to the oncoming threats and change his position accordingly, and you can even give a sly push off a defender.
Fighting for a long ball is finally fixed
If you've spent more than 20 seconds playing FIFA, you've probably encountered the frustrating mess that is jostling for a header from a long ball. Goal kicks are, for want of a better term, a crap shoot. You just end up button mashing and hope that the game randomly selects your player as the winner of the aerial duel. But not anymore.
Using the new physicality system we just mentioned, you now have more options on a long ball. You can now stand your ground and bring the ball down to your feet to set up play. What about a long ball over the to a striker running into space? Well they can now head the ball onto themselves properly with a flick of the right trigger.
Get ready to customise your set pieces
One of the biggest complaints people have of FIFA games past is the state of set pieces. Like heading on a long ball, corners and crossing free kicks have been more about luck than skill.
Rather than just pointing your player in the vague direction you want the ball to go in, you now get a glowing circle on the ground to aim with. This means more accuracy for your set pieces, and the increased movement of players means we'll be seeing more scrappy, realistic outcomes from dangerous balls into the six-yard box.
It's different for shooting free kicks and penalties too, as you'll be able to move your player around before the kick and even control the speed of their run up. Want to smash it in a straight line? Line up directly in front of the ball and sprint at it. Trying for a more subtle curler? Come at the ball at an angle with a more controlled run up.
Hell, they've even updated the throw-ins so you can sneak a few extra yards up the touchline and even fake a throw before returning the ball to play.
The runs, oh god the beautiful runs
If you like to play a tiki-taka passing style, then FIFA 17 is the game for you. While it's got more physical capabilities than ever before, it's also given you a way to get around contact. Seriously, we've lost count of the amount of counter attacks that have died because our striker has refused to make a forward run.
The AI's spacial awareness in FIFA 17 is absolutely fantastic. It's almost worrying. Pick up FIFA 17 and you'll immediately notice your team-mates making smarter runs. The programmers have gotten rid of "closer to goal is always the best option" line of thinking for support runners and given them more nuance.
Sure, closer to goal is usually better, but not when the keeper is rushing out and there's space at the edge of the box if you curl your run. Oh, and runners can curl their run now. It's not just about straight lines anymore.
Even more than that, runners in FIFA 17 know it's about the team, so they're willing to make runs with the sole purpose of dragging defenders with them and opening space for a team-mate to run into. Seriously, it might be hard to imagine but it's so damn satisfying to play with. The anticipation of your fellow attackers has been dialled up to 11 for this one.
And don't forget all the little extras
It's not just about the big changes though, with smaller things helping to improve the game. For starters, goalkeepers have been given better means of distribution. Instead of taking forever to get rid of the ball, your keeper can become the first line of attack with direct through balls from hand.
Attacking headers have also been given a re-jig, as well as regular shots. By double-tapping the shoot button you will go for a low drive instead of a regular shot, while for headers double-tapping the shoot button will result in your player heading the ball powerfully downwards instead of blasting it over the bar. And yes, you can smash into the keeper like Olivier Giroud if you need to.
Through balls are even better too, allowing you to thread a long ball between defenders like never before.
In seasons past we would have been pretty thrilled with just seeing some of these subtle updates, but FIFA 17 is seriously set to be a game-changer.