Fifa 18 new features: Improved AI, '4K' animations and more realistic crowds

EA Sports reveals new Fifa game and the improvements they hope will make it the best ever.

Real and Atletico Madrid come face to face to show off Fifa 18's improved lighting. EA

EA Sports' latest Fifa game is set to release on 29 September, which means its producers have been touring the world telling the media exactly how they're attempting to make Fifa 18 the best in the series to date.

The big news for Fifa 18 is that there's no big news. There are changes, quite a few of them actually, and among them improvements we've seen in practice, but no headline new feature like Fifa 17's The Journey or Fifa 16's introduction of women's football.

That's fair enough though really. Fifa is an annual series and EA can't be expected to make sweeping changes every year. What is expected of the developer however are tweaks further honing the series' beloved gameplay.

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Here's what Fifa 18 has in store for players when it launches in September.

Year 2 with Frostbite, animation overhaul and pitch friction

Last year Fifa made the transition to EA's Frostbite engine, but no game gets the best out of an engine with the first crack at it. In this second year, EA Sports is boasting about improved lighting and a whole new system for animations.

The former was instantly noticeable in action, greatly improving player likenesses. The latter promises more responsiveness, greater visual feedback in a player's movement and more varied player animations.

What this means is that six animation archetypes will be applied to players depending on their build or speed, helping to differentiate the Olivier Girouds from the Raheem Sterlings. Speaking of the Man City forward, he was singled out as an example of EA capturing specific, recognisable running styles for certain players.

The other example of this was cover-star Cristiano Ronaldo, but in practice it seemed to be laid on a little too thick, with the Real Madrid star running in an almost comically 'Tom Cruise' style.

An example of how the new lighting system afforded by Frostbite improves the atmosphere inside stadiums. EA
Another, showing La Bombonera in Buenos Aires.EA
The Bernabeau. EA

What will have a huge impact on responsiveness, on paper at least, is EA Sports' attempts to create better blending between animations. This was painstakingly demonstrated to us with wire-frame, under-the-bonnet clips comparing Fifa 18 to Fifa 17. EA says the difference will be like comparing 4K visuals to a standard 1080p resolution.

This animation overhaul has also impacted dribbling, which is now influenced by the distance a ball moves thanks to the speed players build up, as well big changes to the one-touch system, making it easier to master.

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One change that was easy to spot was how the ball moves across the pitch with greater friction, slowing down the play. In the past my problem with Fifa has been how frustratingly slow-paced it has felt, but with this change and many of the others EA have made, the slower play seems more methodical and realistic, rather than feeling like you're playing on a pitch slathered in treacle.

Team AI and tactics

Another frustration I've harboured for recent Fifa games has been the often incredibly unhelpful AI, but of all the changes to Fifa 18, those EA has made in this regard impressed me most.

It was a change I noticed in play only because I didn't really notice a thing. Whereas before I've been constantly aware of players failing to occupy obvious areas of opportunity or even consider trying to help me get a pass out, in Fifa 18 teammate positioning has seemingly improved so much that it felt natural enough for me not to really notice it in the moment.

EA says its changes mean teammates now provide "coordinated support" both directly - creating opportunities for you to pass into - or indirectly by creating space with runs. Attacking runs will be better timed too, which will hopefully lead to fewer errant through balls.

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Similar to how there is now a set of animations for differing player sizes and shapes, Fifa 18 also includes a set of varying tactical set-ups certain teams can adopt. Players will be able to choose, for example, whether they play a tiki-taka style, wait for perfectly timed counter-attacks, play long-balls into the box, harass players when off the ball or put a great emphasis on defending.

Fifa 18 also introduces quick substitutions players can set before a game and activate quickly whenever the ball goes out of play, removing the need to root around in the game's menus.

Ronaldo's running style has been motion-captured for Fifa 18.EA

An international feel and more authentic crowds

Fifa's stadia often feel uniform, but Fifa 18 hopes to capture an international feel with improved lighting and sound.

You'll now hear the familiar roar of a Spanish football crowd, while in South America a sun-baked haze will hang over the field. Streamers from the crowd are left on the turf, fans hold up huge banners and regional advertising boards occupy the space between the pitch and punters, all adding to Fifa's already-stellar presentation.

In the build we played however, the effect was less pronounced than it first seemed. The lighting effects made some games appear as though they had murky Instagram filters laid over them, while other games appeared dark and dingy. EA certainly has work to do here, but the intention is there.

Another minor but impactful change is the one that's been made to Fifa 18's crowds. Seeing a crowd of people jumping up and down in unison will be a thing of the past, replaced instead with more varied animations that greatly improve authenticity. Fans even clambered over seats and poured down aisles when goals went in, and players now have the ability to celebrate with them.

The Journey

Fifa's single player story mode The Journey returns for Fifa 18 with new features we've covered in a separate article you can read here.

The Journey was a huge new mode for Fifa last year. This year there's no equivalent announcement, but EA Sports has laid out a feast of smaller, iterative changes that mark a noticeable improvement to the core game, and position Fifa 18 to be one of the best outings in years.

Fifa 18 is out on 29 September on PS4, Xbox One and PC.

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