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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 19 June 2018

Fifa 18 review: Ultimate football game comes with added pack-opening addictiveness

The annual update has arrived for EA's hugely successful franchise

Cristiano Ronaldo is the star of the show in Fifa 18. Courtesy Electronic Arts
Cristiano Ronaldo is the star of the show in Fifa 18. Courtesy Electronic Arts

Got, got, got, need, got, need. These are the words which echoed around many a school playground during the 1990s as kids impatiently scoured the football sticker collections of similarly obsessed pals.

A trip to the local corner shop in the UK brought similar joy, as a packet of Panini stickers was modestly priced (compared to that of Pokemon cards these days), and produced that tantalising moment of ripping open the packet and finding … another Jonathan Gould, the Coventry City goalkeeper who must have been in at least 10 per cent of the packs opened countrywide one year, or at least it felt that way.

Football sticker albums are still going these days, but, given that we are now in the digital age, the concept of pack opening has been taken to a new level thanks to EA's popular Fifa franchise.

Anyone who has played Fifa during its past few incarnations will know all about opening packs in Ultimate Team mode, which is probably the most addictive sports feature in a computer game since Championship Manager first showed itself as a sugar substitute on the PC.

The idea is to start a team from scratch, earn coins to buy players in the transfer market in which prices are governed by real life supply and demand economics, play against people online or against the computer, move up the divisions to earn more coins, and buy and earn packs which contain players and items such as stadiums, balls and kits.

For those not aware of the pack-opening phenomenon, take a look on YouTube where you will find people trying to find fame from opening Fifa packs in creative ways — jumping off tables, driving over PlayStation controllers etc.

Fifa 18 takes Ultimate Team to a new level. Firstly, it is supported by a fantastic new version of the companion mobile app from which you can tinker with your squad, lose yourself in the transfer market, and open packs all day long without sitting in front of a television.

A new addition is Squad Battles in which you play in single player mode against pre-determined squads — including one chosen by Atletico Madrid superstar Antoine Griezmann. The more games you win, the bigger the rewards, including you guessed it, more packs.

It adds to what is already a game of extensive depth and value — and that's before you even step on the pitch.

I know of one Fifa player who spends as long mixing squads and earning and buying packs on the app as he does actually playing matches (his team has been labelled Credit Card FC).

But is the action actually any good? Has it made a leap forward from Fifa 17?

Thankfully, the answer is yes.

The most noticeable change is the speed of play which is slower. It's a more physical game — gone are the days of collecting the ball on the edge of your own penalty area and running the length of the pitch with Cristiano Ronaldo.

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Passing is crisper and crossing is more accurate with deliveries whipped into enticing areas making wing-play more appealing than before.

Animation is also improved — Ronaldo actually runs like Ronaldo having played his part in the motion capture technology.

There's still a few issues which need some attention — goalkeepers should be able to kick the ball a lot further than they do, and the ball mechanics could still benefit from some random spin and bounces making play more unpredictable.

Understandably, finding top-rated players in packs is extremely rare as EA entices players to buy them with physical money (credit card).

Other positives include the presentation which is of the standard of a satellite channel that has pumped billions into its coverage. On the pitch the Frostbite engine produces moments where you want to pause the game just to have a look at the stunning lighting effects.

Meanwhile, The Journey mode is back with a new story for Alex Hunter. If you liked this on Fifa 17, you should be even more excited this time around as Hunter starts off the new season being booed by his own fans.

The Fifa series has its detractors who complain about incremental improvements, much like you find with each new Apple iPhone.

But there is no better football package on today's consoles, and EA has found a way to entertain not only those in the "youth" bracket, but adults who want to relive their childhood when all that mattered was the six cards inside the paper pack.

The version reviewed was for the PS4. It is also available on PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360 and PC.