Platforms: Xbox One (Reviewed), Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Playstation 4, PC, Switch

Last year, Electronic Arts made, what some fans and industry-folk alike saw as, a controversial move. The company decided to change the base engine of one of its flagship franchises, FIFA, away from its own unique engine and switched to the Frostbite Engine. An engine most famously known for its use in the wartime franchise Battlefield. Thankfully, the switch worked and this year’s version of the title improves on that formula in numerous ways.

EA brings back the story mode it introduced last year with a sequel, “The Journey: Hunter Returns.” The story of 18-year-old wonder kid Alex Hunter continues where it left off last year as he travels to the US to participate in the International Cup tournament. He leaves Europe for the US, following some transfer day drama and the soap opera kicks into high gear with family drama and appearances by Thierry Henry, Cristiano Ronaldo, James Harden, and many others.

Best of all, this does a great job of incorporating various game modes into its story. It starts off with Hunter and teammate Danny Williams playing a round of FIFA Street in a favela in Brazil. You then proceed to a Man of the Match honors with FIFA Ultimate Team cards, a nearly fully customizable Alex, and much more.

Return of the Frostbite Engine

The Frostbite engine has allowed EA to make some massive changes to the game’s Manager Career Mode. As noted in our review of the early beta, the biggest change in the mode is the new interactive transfer market that takes the player out of the in-game menus and into the corporate boardroom for chats with players and agents over their future in real time. The mode also includes new cutscenes and images to promote transfer moves, awards for Player Of The Month, and more.

Other new changes include the training drills as well. Players can create preset drills tailored for specific players in specific areas. Say you have a young player from the youth ranks who you want to develop as a defensive midfielder. You can setup a training regimen to build up his defensive skills automatically.

Ultimate Teams are Back!

The other modes contained within have received updates as well but not quite as substantial as Manager Career Mode. The always popular Fifa Ultimate Team(FUT) returns and players can now collect FUT Icons Stories. These are cards of legendary players during three points in their career. Ronaldo Nazario, for example, is available as his young self, his peak self, and his edging-close-to-retirement self.

Now included are numerous daily challenges that can be completed for rewards, in-game currency, unique football kits designed specifically for FUT. The web app gives FUT gamers limited control of the team in team management and the FUT transfer market while away from their console.

The other online portions of the game remain as competitive as ever and receive an added boost this year thanks to the Champions Channel. The channel provides full-length replays of competitive matches from the weekend leagues. There’s also a direct link to FIFA18’s channel on Twitch via the online game menu. Seasons and Tournaments all make the return as do Pro Clubs with a few additional customization options.

Visually, the game is absolutely stunning. The big leap, as EA has repeatedly shown leading to the game’s release, is the better model renderings for the people in the crowd. There are 3D-rendered characters in the crowd who react to every explosive moment. Best of all, stadiums with the front row close to the action on the field (think Premier League and La Liga) allow for interaction between the fans and players during goal celebrations.

For example, you can celebrate a goal as Cristiano Ronaldo by leaping backwards towards the front row into a group of adoring fans. Teammate Marcelo eventually runs up next to Ronaldo to pry him away from the Madridistas. You can do something similar with Leroy Sane of Manchester City who runs up to the barrier behind goal at Etihad Stadium and hugs fans.

Not quite perfect

Unfortunately, there were a number of graphical glitches in the game that kill the buzz and break the immersion. There’s a massive problem with character models disappearing from the field during a game-resetting cutscene. For example, a player who picks up the ball to set it up for a goal kick will vanish into thin air leaving nothing but the ball bobbling in midair in comical, Disney cartoon-like fashion.

There are times when the white spray used by referees to setup free kicks appears on the ground immediately after a foul is given instead of appearing after the digital ref actually sprays it on the field.

We can’t forget the classic FIFA glitches that never seem to go away. There’s the glitch where a player’s arms will dissolve into the shoulders of his teammate when they hug during a goal celebration. There’s the one where a player’s foot will rotate like a helicopter rotor after a shot on goal. Finally, this year, there is something funny about the top layer of the pitch during certain camera angles. Players laying on the pitch will sink a few inches into it, creating a visible silhouette through the pitch.

Still, it must be noted that my biggest, and, to be honest, the only actual problem with the game is these visual glitches. The game plays well, feels balanced, and any issues I had with the gameplay during the beta appear to have been ironed out.