The Sports Desk – Setting The Stage For Alex Hunter's Return In FIFA 18
New information has come out for FIFA 18's The Journey II: Hunter Returns and career mode that deserves mulling over, from playable cameos to negotiation cutscenes. Let's take a look at what we expect from the modes and where they seem to be headed.*
THE JOURNEY: HUNTER RETURNS
Which Side Are You On?
Last year's The Journey story mode featuring Alex Hunter conspicuously did not involve leagues outside of England's Premier League. This year's does, but it appears to be constrained. The recent official blog post from developer EA Canada covering the mode says you'll "compete at" a specific list of clubs: Paris Saint-Germain, Bayern Munich, Atletico Madrid, and LA Galaxy. This tells me that there are opportunities to play in different leagues, but only at those listed clubs. In the mode's recent trailer (see below), Hunter is also shown in a Chelsea kit, so my guess is he'll be loaned or transferred to one of the above non-Premier League clubs but at some point return to England. Given the time and energy spent to capture likenesses and create cutscenes involving players at those clubs such Atleti's Antoine Griezmann, Bayern Munich's Thomas Müller, and the LA Galaxy's Gyasi Zardes, I doubt you will be given the option to just skip going abroad and stay in the Premier League the whole mode. The trailer also shows Hunter getting hurt. Perhaps this is his ticket back to the Premier League.
Speaking of teams, Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo is involved with FIFA 18 on numerous levels apart from The Journey II: Hunter Returns (including being the cover star), and yet Real Madrid is not one of the teams the official blog post says you can compete at. Perhaps Ronaldo is this season's foil or represents some sort of objective. Hunter interacts with Ronaldo (and has his jersey framed on his wall), and the superstar is in the mode's cutscenes, so I bet that he's more integral to the story and experience than just a drop-in cameo like James Harden, for instance.
The trailer also brings up another team question: What about England? At the end of FIFA 17's The Journey, an England call-up for Hunter was teased, and I'd be shocked if Hunter Returns didn't do more with this exciting possibility.
The Cut of the Competition
The mode lets you compete for "multiple trophies," but does that mean there's a European cup on the line? FIFA does not have the Champions League license, so I have a feeling they won't make up a fake European tournament of top league teams. The trailer shows Hunter facing off against in-league competitors such as Borussia Mönchengladbach (Bundesliga), Lyon (Ligue 1), Celta Vigo (La Liga), and Toronto FC (MLS), and I'd wager his competition is going to stay within those leagues.
Friends & Enemies
It looks like all of Hunter's cast mates are back: His mother, grandfather, agent, best friend Danny (who goes with Hunter to Brazil), and even nemesis Gareth. Hunter Returns lets you play as people other than Hunter for short spells, and experiencing what Danny is doing looks like a given – including more run-ins with everyone's favorite Gareth Walker.
Off the pitch, the trailer could show a potential love interest for Alex Hunter. While this isn't hinted at in the trailer, delving into Alex's personal life away from football would be cool for the mode. The Journey did a good job with Hunter's family drama, and given the quality actors EA Canada has used thus far for the mode, I trust that this continues with the trailer's mystery female. If the mode explores Hunter's love life, it will be interesting to see how the dialog tree handles potentially important situations.
We also see a very brief glimpse of a U.S. Women's National team player. It would be a great interlude to be able to play them in the mode, but how does that fit with Hunter's story? Back when EA got the license for women's national teams for FIFA 16, there was a license stipulation that the women's and men's sides would not play each other, so it's not like Hunter and his team are going to be taking on the USWNT in some sort of exhibition (the trailer's glimpse shows the USWNT going up against another women's team, BTW). Which again, brings up the question of how this is all going to fit together. I doubt EA would throw in the USWNT just to advertise that they're playable in exhibition mode in a trailer specifically about the Alex Hunter story mode.
FIFA 17's The Journey struggled with judging and assigning appropriate match ratings for your performance, as well as controlling the other players on your team. How is FIFA 18 going to handle Hunter and Neymar on the same time at PSG? It would be laughable if somehow Hunter deposes Neymar in the lineup if Hunter is the same position as the newly signed superstar. The presence of Neymar (and other star players on any team Hunter is going to be on) puts pressure on the A.I. to make sure they're acting appropriately. If you're playing with Griezmann at Atletico Madrid, you can't expect him to pass up a clear shot on goal just to appease Hunter.
Hunter Returns uses shorter chapter objectives to break up the mode's overall flow, which is good, and it's going to be important for these chapters to get the match ratings correct if your progress to the next chapter is based on such criteria.
A Continuation of Co-op?
A local friend can drop in and join you when you're playing matches in the mode, which would make a perfect segue between Hunter Returns and FIFA's Pro Clubs co-op mode. The Journey linked up last year with Ultimate Team (which I expect to happen again this time around), and it would be great if Hunter Returns also did it with Pro Clubs in FIFA 18. How cool would it be to have Hunter and Danny Williams on the same Pro Clubs team?
A New Look For The Transfer System
FIFA 18 isn't overhauling its career mode, but it is adding a more personalized touch to transfer negotiations. Courtesy of the Frostbite engine, gamers will now see cutscenes with negotiation choices built into a dialog wheel when trying to sign a player. From what has been announced and shown, there are only a few new options during transfer negotiations, and it's how everything is presented that is dramatically different. You'll now use a dialog tree to suggest transfer fees, add-ons, release and sell-on clauses (both which are new), counter offers, and many of the usual negotiation options you've previously had, and you'll see cutscenes of managers, agents, and players acting it all out – including player facial reactions to some of your proposals.
Adding a much more dynamic visual component is nice for a game that already has a great presentation package, but since this year's career mode isn't an overhaul but more of a visual makeover, I hope that the A.I. behind the decision making for players and the clubs you are negotiating with is sound. Because if the logic behind the negotiating isn't good, it's only going to make the fact that a player is nodding and smiling to a bad deal all the more conspicuous.
I like that transfer negotiations are all wrapped up without having to advance the calendar, but I'm also curious how that affects the team on the other end of the transaction. In real life, teams are constantly dealing with multiple players and readying personnel and financial backup plans to respond to the daily and sometimes hourly changes in the transfer market. How astute and forward-thinking is the A.I. going to be during these deals?
*FIFA 18 appears on Switch, but without the Frostbite engine. Thus, the game on Nintendo's platform does not feature The Journey: Hunter Returns nor any cutscenes or features in the career mode and the game made possible by the Frostbite engine.
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