By: Johnny Big Fudge Marcondes
The FIFA series have been around for quite a long time dating all the way back to 1994, since then there have been a total of twenty four main FIFA games (games not including the Street series or other “spin offs”) but none quite like FIFA 2k17 and 2k18. Long time fans of the FIFA series will be quick to point out that within every release of the series there are noticeable changes and improvements both with the mechanics and overall gameplay. However, each FIFA game in the main series has always followed the same layout with a few additions made every year. Be it from creating an ultimate team, to creating your own player or trying to take on the role of a manager each FIFA game kept constantly progressing. Nevertheless it wasn’t until FIFA 2k17 had come out where an entirely new element came into play, an element focused on a clear narrative and character.
In FIFA 2k17 players were introduced to a new feature named The Journey and honestly nothing was the same. The Journey was something completely new to not only the FIFA series but to the “sports simulator” genre a lot of modern sport games try to take on. By focusing on a character named Alex Hunter, players are able to go through this frankly well thought out journey of a soccer/football fan turned pro. The Journey isn’t just your run of the mill story mode addition to the game it’s much more than that. The Journey Alex goes through isn’t one that’s too far fetched. Surprisingly enough FIFA of all series manages to capture reality fairly well in a series that seemingly had nothing to prove.
FIFA have been and continues to be the leading (arguable) premium soccer game. Between FIFA and Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer there’s always been this head to head competition as both games lead the market for realistic and fun soccer/football video games. Where FIFA really began to shine was in it’s way of adapting with times and overall giving players a more bang for their buck type of feel. Aesthetically and mechanically both games are incredible but when you take the fact that FIFA seemingly caters to both hardcore and casual fans makes them come across with a better edge. Now I won’t focus too much on FIFA’s controls or mechanics or even try to convince you on which series is better, the main point of this post will be about Alex Hunter and FIFA stepping into uncharted territory.
I’ll be the first to admit, I’m not the biggest sports fan out there. I don’t like basketball, American football or baseball but I do like soccer/football. Being Brazilian it’s kind of something you’re thrown into as minor and having an older brother who was heavily into soccer definitely gave me more incentive to play and leave my bread and butter of fighting games from time to time. Throughout the years the FIFA series has both peaked my curiosity and laid it to rest, it always felt that every step it took forward there was one or two steps backwards. While I enjoy the sport, the yearly release of a series that was mainly geared at die hards made it a little less likely I’d pick up a copy. That is, until FIFA 2k17 came out and I experienced The Journey, the games first official single player story mode that had a likable lead, compelling and believable story and decision making moments that allowed me to project myself into Alex to help further develop his character.
When it comes to new additions The Journey is like nothing else in the franchise and honestly due to it, Alex’s journey has reinvigorated my love for the series. The Journey follows the tale of a young kid named Alex Hunter who has some massively big shoes to fill as he comes from a pretty well known soccer/football family. Both his father and grand father had success with the sport, his grandfather more so than his dad. Alex’s dad from the get go was shown to be the overly pushy/nothing but the best is good enough father who’s living vicariously through his kid’s success. It’s a lot of pressure to impress a man with high standards who almost instantly is shown to be not all swell of a guy.
The Journey packs so much into it’s current two game arc that within each chapter you begin to really feel for Alex as well as want to put your best efforts into his performance. Between a loving and supportive mom, mentor grandfather, a best friend who becomes your greatest rival and an agent trying to make a name for himself as well as you, The Journey is by far one of the best additions to franchise. Having interesting and compelling characters in a story that’s filled with so many strong moments is something I would have never come to expect from a FIFA game let alone a sports game. Adding the Journey to the series really helps the FIFA brand branch out to people like me who may not have been the biggest or most hardcore FIFA fan, players who may want to play offline but get bored of standard matches.
The Journey not only gives you a reason to keep playing or honing your skills it gives you a story that you genuinely get invested in and want to see play out. Alex Hunter never comes across as a generic character or dull, throughout both 2K17 and 2K18 Alex goes through ups and downs both on and off the pitch. Having dramatic moments filled with devastating loses and reveals that completely changes his world upside down to moments of self discovering and accomplishments that fill you with a sense of pride or joy. The Journey perfectly captures real world issues and scenarios with it’s story telling, as a player you never feel as if you’re just on the sideline or watching Alex. Having the choice to determine his answers to questions and picking teams for him you feel as if you’re going through the Journey as Alex as opposed to just watching Alex.
While playing FIFA 2k18 every time I would leave The Journey to go play online or decide to do some offline matches with international I would constantly think about Alex Hunter. There have been numerous times where I would stop a match short or instantly return back to the Journey after playing another mode just to see where the narrative goes. Is FIFA’s The Journey one of the best narratives this year? Probably not, but it is creative and does handle something a lot of games overlook and that’s believable character progression. Every chapter within the Journey is filled with a handful of cutscenes or moments where as the player you have the chance to make decisions for Alex. Each response you give does have an impact on Alex be it from making him more cocky and liked by fans or more down to earth and liked by your managers. While a fun feature it really serves a much larger purpose than getting more followers on the games blatant rip off of Twitter.
Alex goes through a lot, between family issues and troubles with the league as a character things constantly seem to push Alex to the limit. However through all of it you constantly feel invested in his progression and want to see how things pan out. Having a mode like The Journey and a character like Alex Hunter really gives FIFA a much needed break from the norm. Instead of just fine toning their traditional modes, they’re building on something much more. By creating a single player experience like this it gives FIFA and it’s players a chance to have a more personal experience with the series giving both the game and it’s fan way more bang for their buck. Everyone can play Alex differently, make different decisions at key moments and pick different teams making the Journey have numerous replay-ability value.
Even though The Journey is fairly short in both games, FIFA never gives you too much or too little to overstay their welcome. In fact both games have had perfect ending points to that chapter of Alex’s life leaving you both wanting more and genuinely curious as to where things are going. While I enjoy the FIFA games it’s been the time I spent playing The Journey that has had me going back for more. Alex and his family are extremely likable and having the choice to make key decisions in the game for story alternating moments is something that has made FIFA stand out in the world of football based games. Playing the Journey is more of an experience where the portrayal of a fan turned pro is something that’s handled so well you can’t help but get invested in.
Alex Hunter and his journey is helping break the mold of tradition for the FIFA series. It’s such a step in the right direction that not only enhances the game but does so in one of the best ways possible. Having a likable character to lead the brand while backed by a strong and fun narrative the challenges you face on and off the pitch have never been so exciting. The Journey is an incredible addition to a series known for fine toning their game year after year. Hopefully future FIFA games continue to push towards exciting new modes like Journey long after Alex’s journey is finished.