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'FIFA 18' isn't out yet and I'm already in love

The return of 'The Journey' is one of the things I'm most excited about.

There was a brief period of time last year when I was playing Pro Evolution Soccer more than FIFA. It was hard to wrap my head around that, considering EA's franchise had been my number one choice since it was known as FIFA International Soccer back in the '90s. But, despite all the welcomed graphics and gameplay improvements we see on each yearly release cycle, I felt the game was getting stale and decided to experiment with Konami's own -- which I much preferred in its Winning Eleven days. This didn't last long, though. FIFA 17 brought a story mode for the first time ever, known as "The Journey," and I was sold almost immediately. Because, let's face it, it's the closest I'll ever get to experiencing the enchanting life of a footballer.

And with FIFA 18, it looks like the game and I will be picking up where we left off. I had the chance to play it at E3 and, after only a couple of matches, I'm already counting the days until it's launched later this year. For starters, EA made the smart choice of bringing back The Journey for a second season, which will seemingly focus on life beyond the English Premier League for Alex Hunter, the story's main character. EA kept the new plot coy at its event yesterday, but we're told he'll visit places such as Brazil and Los Angeles to play football in the favelas and take part in his team's US tour. Not only that, but you'll now be able to customize Hunter's appearance with different hairdos, tattoos and more.

Of course, as is the case with every new edition, FIFA 18 features gameplay and graphics enhancements. One of the first things I noticed when I played, and this isn't necessarily bad, it was how slow and sluggish some of the players I was controlling felt during the game. Sam Rivera, FIFA 18's lead gameplay producer, says this is by design, as his team received feedback about players with mediocre speed easily catching up to the likes of Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo in the previous version. Now if your player's acceleration is rated 90 and you're facing a defender with a 50, he'll have more trouble handling your moves as you can swiftly outpace him. So while some players may feel slower than before, that shouldn't be the case for those with five-star speed ratings.

Aside from that, FIFA 18 comes with new team styles, in case you want to play Tiki-Taka like FC Barcelona; more immersive stadium atmospheres that make each pitch feel original; and Real Player Motion Technology, which EA says will give you the sense that players like Cristiano Ronaldo move and act as he does in the non-virtual world. The AI is also smarter, so you'll notice improved player positioning and tactics across the board, whether you're playing in amateur or legendary mode. I had trouble scoring the first game I played against a colleague, as did he, which means that a) we're both awful or b) the AI goalkeeper was just that good. I prefer to think it's the latter.

Those of you who own a Switch, meanwhile, will get a watered down version. Unlike FIFA 18 for PlayStation 4 or Xbox One, the game on Nintendo's platform isn't powered by EA's Frostbite engine and, as a result, The Journey story mode won't be featured on it. EA says it had to build a custom engine to bring FIFA 18 to the Switch, since the hardware isn't as powerful as Microsoft's and Sony's latest. That said, you'll still get core modes including the popular Ultimate Team, which lets you build your own squad by trading player cards both locally and with the online community. The game looks solid enough that I may buy a Switch just so I can play FIFA 18 on the go.

We'll have more on FIFA 18 before EA releases in a few months (likely around August or September), but you can pre-order now for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC. The standard edition features none other than Cristiano Ronaldo on the cover, while the Deluxe's copy is grazed by the original Ronaldo. And in case you don't know who he is, I suggest you watch this clip of him destroying Germany in the 2002 FIFA World Cup Final -- funky haircut and all.

Image credits: EA

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