Opinion: EA Play Review

A rough night for EA and for FIFA 18...

This is the second year now that EA have broken away from the E3 conference pack, again opting to do their own thing, at their own venue, in their own way. And if you cast your mind back to last year’s EA Play, that was the core rationale behind the whole move; control.

And last year it definitely paid off. EA weren’t hamstrung by the strict E3 conference timings, and were instead able to give their entire suite of games, from shooting to sports relevant and deserved air time. Which after such a successful first year, is why I was incredibly disappointed to see the show slide back towards the chaotic hit and miss formula of past E3’s.

First and foremost we’re here to talk about FIFA which apart from an extended look at the teaser trailer, failed to gain any additional momentum after the big 'Ronaldo's' reveal earlier in the week. EA trotted out their favourite duo the Men in Blazers who did an okay, if at times awkward job of relaying the changes made to FIFA 18. I’m a firm believer that the spotlight on day’s like this should belong to the devs and producers, who have a much better chance of delivering a passionate and compelling overview of the product. The Men in Blazers sadly conveyed neither.

Then there was the first look at The Journey which see’s the return of Alex Hunter for a second season, and a big decision looming about his next destination. Whilst impressive, last night’s Journey trailer was strikingly similar to last year’s cutscened fuelled overview and again it failed to convey concrete feature changes. Perhaps that’s all to come, but anyone who played The Journey to completion last year will be very keen to know about the nuts and bolts of how the gameplay elements are going to improve. Because if anything let The Journey's story driven experience down in FIFA 17, it was the gameplay.

And this style over substance approach continued through EA’s portfolio of games, with the sports scene suffering the most. There was a jazzy trailer for Madden’s Journey-esg ‘Long Shot’ and the same for NBA’s ‘The One’. But the time devs actually stood on stage and talked about their work was miniscule. The 30 second NBA demo of a Lebron dunk they’d “literally just captured” (yeah, sure…) was painfully put together but that said, at least we saw some actually NBA gameplay on screen. A luxury not afforded to FIFA.

Away from sports there was the all new A Way Out, for which the couch co-op elements really captured the imagination of how two interlinking stories could operate on the same screen. However, even that was tinged with some cheesey “slap this guy on the head, it wasn’t me it was him!” scenarios presented as puzzle solving opportunities. Perhaps slapstick is what they're going for, but for me it ever so slightly took the shine off an admittedly interesting concept.

Then there was Need For Speed Payback which for some unknown reason EA are continuing to push a narrative driven, Fast and Furious style experience. Rather than just letting us bloody race! I’m a huge NFS fan throughout the modern console era, but Hot Pursuit in 2010 was the last time they really nailed it. Fast, frenetic, blood pumping racing with some incredibly fun challenges, a big roster of exotic cars and not a story thread to be found. Glorious.

Even EA’s newest and most mysterious IP Anthem only got the tiniest of teasers, with EA then pointing everyone towards the Microsoft conference for the full reveal the day after. It was a confusing move to say the least, and it felt like another missed opportunity to land a killer punch in a conference which was at the time very much on the ropes. I guess we'll see if Anthem can deliver anything beyond a Destiny/Titanfall hybrid later today.

The stars of the show were undoubtedly EA’s shooters with a new Battlefield 1 expansion and the all-new Battlefront 2 both looking absolutely fantastic. But at this point EA Play became even more lopsided with over half an hour of the 90-or-so minute conference dedicated solely to Battlefront 2. Which don’t get me wrong looked incredible, but it felt odd to spend time running a live multiplayer match mid-conference, when so many other games like FIFA were squeezed. Surely that would have been much better off as a “stick around after the show for a live Battlefront 2 stream” type thing?

As I’m sure you will have read in Tom’s previews of FIFA 18’s gameplay and Journey mode, there is actually some meat to the bones of these announcements, but none of it came across at EA Play, which was disappointing to say the least. As I wrote earlier this week, FIFA 18 got off to an absolutely storming start with the reveal of R9 and Icon’s coming to all platforms. But it kind of feels like EA have perhaps blown their load a bit soon? As they were left scrambling to fill even the smallest of FIFA 18 time slots last night.

As i’ve discussed above, the critique of EA Play this year isn't solely about FIFA, as I felt EA sold their entire line-up (excluding Battlefront 2) pretty poorly, and the lack of devs on stage was a big concern for me, because as fans of the games they’re the people we want to hear from, not the guys from the big offices upstairs. And given that the whole point of EA Play is to free EA up to do whatever they want, I was sad to see a disjointed, and disconnected set of reveals.

There’s a long way to go yet until September 29th, but after the bombastic start to life FIFA 18 experienced, I think we were probably all expecting a whole lot more from EA Play than we actually got.

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