E3 2016 had many surprises between God of War’s epic live scored gameplay demo all the way to Xbox crossplay with PC gamers. The last thing any of us could have expected to come out ahead of the game was FIFA 17: The Journey. Sports games always had their own niche market for sports loving gamers, but now FIFA 17 might just have discovered what the sport genre was missing to bring sports games to the forefront and scoop up a brand new audience along with it.
Now I must admit I’m not a sports fan. I don’t watch sports so playing a simulated version of a game that I don’t watch or play myself seemed counter-intuitive, but FIFA 17’s official trailer had my ears perked up during its time in the E3 limelight. I usually use the time during EA’s Sports section of EA’s conference time to hit the head or stuff my face with a quick snack before the real game announcements return, but this year I stuck around for some strange reason and to be honest it payed off. As soon as I saw the Leicester City Football Club hallway with the words “EA Sports Presents” sprawled across it, I knew this sports game was going to stand out from the crowd.
For as long as I can recall the only two improvements that have ever been showcased as new additions to a sports series were either improved mechanics or visuals. If you’re like me and don’t follow sports to begin with, however, new render models of unknown people isn’t much of a selling point. This time around EA Sports have clearly found a way around that with The Journey trailer, which plays out not like a game trailer, but like a movie trailer. Hearing about this kid Alex Hunter and his rise from just another Football player to the next Premier League Club star had me recalling trailers like Rocky, Creed and Invincible. The trailer was flawlessly paced showcasing all the highs and the lows of Hunter’s life in the Premier League and by the end of it I was ready to purchase a ticket to see the story unfold in a theater or even settle-in for a Starz series as I am still bewildered by the fact that this is not a film or a series but a video game story.
Stories in games are not new obviously and in recent years strong character stories have been becoming more and more common thanks to Naughty Dog and their dedication to making not only a good video game but also a great story to go along with it. Many sport gamers might not feel like “Story Mode” was a necessary feature for a game like FIFA 17, which at its core has always been about playing a quick match of soccer (Or “football” for you Europeans out there) with a friend or online and then moving on with your day. But this is not only what the FIFA series needed but the sports genre as a whole needed in general in order to draw in a bigger crowd and continue to be relevant within the industry.
Say of EA what you will, I know I have, but this time around I can not deny that they pulled a industry changing idea out of their incredibly old tattered and cheap hat. What better way to get non-sports fans who happened to be gamers interested in their game than pairing it with an interactive story? According to The Journeys official website, the player will have control over Alex Hunters story on and off the field. Not only is his story effected by the way you preform during a game’s match but the decisions you make in Hunter’s life off the field will ripple throughout the course of the games story. Sort of like an interactive Quantic Dream game or more likely a Telltale game where there’s a “good” and “bad” decision to choose from.
As of yet, it’s not quite clear how many branching choices the game will offer the player during their time spent shaping Alex Hunters journey through the Premier League, but it seems like it might be a linear experience. Nevertheless, this could be a new start for the sport genre and depending on how well FIFA 17: The Journey’s story mode is received, it’s entirely possible that we may be seeing more interactive sports careers in our gaming future.