The new FIFA Mobile game is a satisfying but less life-destroying alternative to its console counterpart, writes Calum Henderson.
Every couple of weeks I entertain an increasingly vivid fantasy in which I quit my job, buy a PlayStation, withdraw from the world and spend all my time at home playing video games.
By video games I mostly mean FIFA. The dream is to win the Champions League as Burton Albion, to score 50 goals in a season with Chris Wood, to electronically extend Peter Crouch’s career longer than his human body would ever allow.
What this fantasy conveniently ignores is the fact that recent iterations of the EA Sports soccer franchise have become far too difficult for me to play without ending up hurling a controller at the wall. I am a simple gamer, the type who likes to keep the sprint button held down for the whole game and whose one and only tactic has always been to gun it down the wings and pump speculative crosses into the box.
These days the game is all tiki-taka and elaborate stepovers. You have to use both joysticks on the controller at the same time. It’s basically impossible.
This is where the new FIFA Mobile game fills a gap. Making a version you can play on your phone means simplifying the gameplay, reverting it back to an approximately FIFA 06 level. There’s a joystick-like controller on the bottom left corner of the screen and three buttons – pass, sprint, shoot – on the right. You can also pass by tapping where you want the ball to go on the screen or shoot by swiping.
This simplicity is one of FIFA Mobile’s biggest advantages over big FIFA. The other is the customary mobile game stamina bar, which means you can only play so many games or complete so many challenges before you run out and have to stop playing for a while. It seems less harmful this way, like puffing on an e-cig instead of chain-smoking tobacco for eight hours.
The object of the mobile game is not dissimilar to that of Pokémon GO – you want to collect new and better players for your team. There are four tiers: bronze, silver, gold and elite. You start out with a team full of bronze players, real battlers from the lower reaches of England’s League Two, Ireland’s Airtricity League or the Saudi Arabian pro league.
There are two main ways to get better players. Every time you play a match or complete a challenge you earn a certain amount of coins. Once you have 7500 coins you can buy a ‘Pro Pack’ containing five new players, one of which is guaranteed to be gold or better. This part of the game offers a fair approximation of the small thrill of tearing open a packet of Panini stickers – getting a player you’ve heard of before is always a good result; landing a rare elite player feels like winning Lotto.
Getting really good players is more difficult. It involves using the game’s weirdly complex (but essential) Plans mode, which involves saving up the various tokens you earn by completing different challenges so you can eventually redeem them for someone fancy. The plans that let get guys like Paul Pogba or Eden Hazard seem almost impossible, so I don’t even bother – it seems more fun just to wait and see who you get from a Pro Pack.
There are three main modes of gameplay. Live Events provide an assortment of mini challenges and training drills and are the main source of valuable tokens. Attack Mode lets you take turns against other players on the game’s network to see who can score the most goals against each other’s defence. In Season mode you can play full games against the computer, working your way through the many national leagues. The depth and variety means there’s always plenty to do and it rarely feels boring or repetitive.
My team, which started out as a rag-tag bunch of losers from the lower divisions, now consists entirely of gold or better players. At the moment I employ an attacking 3-4-1-2 formation with the Hyundai A League’s pantomime villain Besart Berisha and young French striker Alassane Pléa playing in front of Zenit’s Portuguese playmaker Danny. His young compatriot and recent Bayern Munich signing Renato Sanches is a reliable source of goals from the midfield.
You grow quickly attached to your starting XI. But it is a sad inevitability of the game that you will eventually get someone better and be left with little choice but to ruthlessly flog off a once-loved player in the game’s Marketplace or trade him in for another hollow token.
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There is little room for sentimentality in professional soccer. My team, which I named ‘ZLATAN’ and who play in the Wellington Phoenix’s ugly yellow kit, now have over 400,000 virtual fans. The fans bay for fresh blood. They demand I sign better players to score more goals, to win more matches and earn more coins.
So I give them what they want. A couple of times a day I open the app and sit hunched over my phone, doing free kick challenges and trying to score more goals than some kids from the other side of the world.
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