‘FIFA 19’ Review: Flashy Football Fun That Hides Its True Tricks

Jeremy Ray
Game Reviews Games
Game Reviews Games Nintendo Xbox PC Gaming
of 5
Review Essentials
  • Nice tweaks that have big, positive effects
  • Slower, more realistic build-up play
  • As a whole feels balanced and refined
Reviewed on PS4

Death, taxes, and annual releases of FIFA. It’s the biggest videogame about the biggest real life game, and if you’re not one of the die-hard, perpetual purchasers of the football phenomenon, you might be wondering which yearly instalment is worth your hard-earned. Where does FIFA 19 rate among the FIFA fam?

As big as the announcements are of nabbing Ronaldo as the cover athlete, and getting the rights to the Champions League, we don’t think EA does itself any favours when the marketing message is almost exclusively about rights. We’d always prefer to focus on the gameplay.

It’s especially confusing, considering those gameplay improvements are actually there. FIFA 19 is a good FIFA game. EA just doesn’t seem to want to talk about it.

Some changes are small, some big, and some are small with big effects. We’ll spend more time on the ones we think are the most impactful.

FIFA 19 Champions League Ronaldo Benzema
Champions League versions of Ultimate Team cards will be available as well

Timed Finishing

It’s but one dot point on FIFA 19‘s list of features, but we think this small mechanic will have a large effect on how people play. When shooting, players now have the option to press the shoot button a second time to give the ball some extra oomph.

The goal is to time that second input just as the kicker’s foot touches the ball. Time it well, and you’ll not only have better speed and accuracy, but a better curve too. Get it wrong, and your shot will actually become sloppier. FIFA 19 will indicate your success by either flashing green or red on the player icon.

This is a mechanic that follows the animation, as opposed to the other way around. Players will shoot, then closely watch the animation. At the point of impact, boom. It can give you the necessary power to get that screamer over the line, and it works for headers too.

What we love about this is how, in its simplicity, it mimics real life. If you’ve got time to take a comfortable shot, your Timed Finish will be comfortable. If you’re in a crowded box with defenders shouldering into you, you’re already spending a lot of mental energy and muscle memory on that final hit. You’re probably being forced into an awkward, less than ideal position. The kick animation will be smaller and quicker, decreasing your time to react.

In short, it’s harder. Just like real life.

We’ve spoken to a few people in our FIFA-playing cadre who’ve had a hard time getting the hang of it. For whatever reason, we managed to pick it up quickly and we’re having success with it on headers and long shots. For screamers, it’s damn near essential, and we expect mastery of this feature to become important in competitive play.

Your mileage may vary, but it’s completely optional. Don’t want to hit shoot a second time? The shot command will go through as normal. In cases where you’re just tapping it in, that’s probably better anyway. And if you’re a fan of mashing the shoot button, FIFA 19 lets you turn off Timed Finishing for your controller, independent of your opponent’s.

Neymar FIFA 19
Highly skilled players like Neymar will trap the ball with special, flashy animations.

House Rules

In addition to being able to start a “best of” series, or other kinds of cup tournaments, FIFA 19 has a few more quirky options under its House Rules umbrella.

Rather than a customisable “do whatever you want” feature, there are actually a set amount of game modes here that compliment your usual “Classic” match option:

  • Long Range: Goals scored from outside the box count as two.
  • Headers and Volleys: These are the only kinds of goals that will count.
  • Survival: You lose a player for every goal you score, self-balancing the match. If either team falls below seven players, the match is abandoned.
  • First To: Set a number of goals, and the first team to that number is the winner.
  • No Rules: No fouls, offsides, or cards.

We’re a little surprised to see that last option in there, given FIFA’s (real life FIFA, that is) desire to impose its fair play policies on the videogame. It’s one of the main reasons we’ll never see a “dive” button in the game. But now you can slide tackle from the back whether they’ve got the ball or not, and you’ll have no one to answer to but the fictional post-match sports press.

It’s great to see these additions though, and EA has clearly been listening to player suggestions and paying attention to how people play the game in their living rooms. We expect the First To mode to get lots of playtime, and the others will be fun to try out.

FIFA 19 Champions League Neymar
The sights and sounds of the Champions League are well handled here.

Other Series Changes

There was talk of 50/50 battles being improved, as well as shoulder-to-shoulder battles, and flashier traps for star players. We didn’t notice these affecting the game too much, but we did notice less situations in which the ball tumbled away without anyone to chase after it.

The animations for players closing in on a ball have had a rework, and the result looks like players “want” the ball more when it’s free. It was always a little jarring when the ball wasn’t going out of play and yet no one chased it.

We’re a fan of the indicator showing which player the autoswitch will pick when we press that shoulder button, and it’s also nice to have fun camera angles in the stands to see your supporters celebrating goals.

FIFA 19 Guardiola Dynamic Tactics
Dynamic Tactics is promising to give us more high-level control

FIFA 19 will also save your rivalries now, provided both you and your friend are logged in. You can take that feature wherever you go — head to a mate’s place, log into the EA servers, and the list of wins and losses versus that mate will be remembered. However triumphant or embarrassing that may be.

We will say though, that the dependence on online features can be annoying sometimes. Constantly logging in, and waiting for EA servers adds unnecessary time before we jump into a match — especially the first time you’re setting it up. It’d be nice to be able to tell FIFA 19 to chill with its attempts at networking for a while.

Finally, and there’s a lot that goes into this, but build-up play seems more realistic and slower than previous games. You can still play the counterattack, to be sure. But defenders are a little smarter about what they intercept, and when they automatically stick a leg out. It forces the attacker to work for it more, and consequently when you find yourself in that advantageous forward position, you know you’ve earned it.

Is FIFA 19 Good?

FIFA has its ups and downs, going through years when the company seems to care more about swaying grass and player celebrations than tactics or responsiveness. Happily, FIFA 19 is one of the good ones.

Let’s all let EA pat itself on the back for the big rights deals it’s done, safe in the knowledge that somewhere on that game design team in Vancouver is a secret society of developers making meaningful gameplay changes.

With so many moving parts, a game of FIFA is very much about the whole. FIFA 19 introduces a lot of smaller tweaks that, when you pull back and examine the overall balance, are satisfying improvements that retain the magic.

Jeremy Ray
Managing Editor at FANDOM. Decade-long games critic and esports aficionado. Started in competitive Counter-Strike, then moved into broadcast, online, print and interpretative pantomime. You merely adopted the lag. I was born in it.