Forget footy finals in late September – its FIFA time.

Late September is a dreaded time of the year in my household; it’s when the new FIFA is released. Regrettably, family obligations have made a serious impact on the time I can sit in front of a console these days, but when FIFA comes out, I can clear the room like a poodle with diarrhoea.

The best-selling sports game on the globe, its broad appeal and accessibility extends far beyond passionate adherents of the world game. Outside of basketball, no other sport works better as a video game.

Among diehard football game fans there still remains a deep divide between Pro Evolution Soccer and FIFA, although EA’s procurement of the Champions League license for this iteration is a carrot some might not be able to resist, and it forms the tentpole for FIFA 19. From The Journey right across its new Kick Off modes, the Champions League has a dominant presence.

At the time of receiving and writing up our review copy there was little action in FUT or Online Seasons, so here I’ll centre the words around the new gameplay features.

Timed Finishing is the first noticeable inclusion in our opening games, and it might pay to leave the ‘trainer’ mode on just to get a hang of it. By no means the imposition we first thought it would be, it offers up a less automated shot mechanic. Timed with the animation of boot to ball, if you get it right, the ball will thunder into the back of the net. However, mistime it and your potential Real Madrid glory strike becomes a Gillingham slice of the boot in the blink of an eye; I find it more useful when taking a speculative shot. This feature can be disarmed but there’s little point – you can easily play with or without using it.

Passing feels less automated, too. Hit it hard to a player and it will bobble before coming under complete control, allowing the opportunity for the opposition to intercept; and the reliance of being able to pass to an attacking player while facing in a slightly different direction will often result in an inaccurate pass. This goes some way towards eradicating the reliance on predetermined play styles – I had to change my approach here.

It all comes under the new Active Touch System that builds on the natural flow of play. Again, the reliance on being able to control the ball from a physically impossible body position is removed here; this more realistic approach to play takes a little adjustment, but it’s a good addition.

Pace isn’t as effective a tool either, and clearly the sliders here have been rebalanced. Even players known for their speed, like Eden Hazard or Raheem Sterling, don’t have the clear advantage afforded to them in previous editions. The CPU in general feels tighter, too – tricks employed in FIFA 18 to round defenders fall flat on initial play, forcing a rethink of tactics.

And talking of tactics, another super new feature in FIFA 19 is the ability to change them on the fly. Predictably named Dynamic Tactics, commanding a tactical rethink, whether defensive or attacking, to your team is communicated through the D-Pad and the options here are deep, from flooding the final third with attacking players to combat “parking the bus” to shaping your defensive structure.

Career Mode remains largely unchanged and The Journey returns with, obviously, the Champions League front and centre as the crown jewel. To be honest, after playing through the last two I’m a little bit over this mode now, and its endless cutscenes. But in the final part players can choose to concentrate on the careers of long-standing protagonist Alex Hunter, his buddy Danny Williams or Hunter’s half-sister, Kim. It’s sure to appeal to those looking to finish the final part of the story.

The Champions League also features in the new Kick Off modes, where you can play through the group stages to the final. And Cup Final pitches you in the final, including the aforementioned Champions League and the FA Cup. New modes like Survival, in which every time you score a player leaves the field; No Rules, which speaks for itself; and House Rules, that allows players to determine what, if any, rules their game has, are all interesting alternatives for players who enjoy their FIFA offline.

Visually the face mapping has improved, although many players still feature the dull pallor of Halloween’s Michael Myers. The big stadiums, complete with crowd chants and overall ambience, are excellent. In terms of overall gameplay, is there enough improvement over last year’s game to justify the upgrade? Definitely. FIFA is a franchise that manages to bring something significantly new to the table every year, and that’s no mean feat.

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