It’s pretty safe to say by now that despite its status as the most popular console sports game franchise in the world, EA isn’t quite sure what to do with FIFA on mobile. The company has already tried making it a fairly straight port of its console cousin before switching gears to focusing strictly on Ultimate Team the last two years, a change that worked out okay.
But apparently that didn’t quite fit the bill, which is why we now have FIFA Mobile. In terms of both game design and the removal of the year from the title, it’s an attempt to do for soccer what Madden NFL Mobile did for football, which was to distill the sport down into bite-sized chunks and create an ongoing platform which would need only seasonal updates instead of brand new titles every year.
If only it worked nearly as well.
The overall framework retains much of the same spirit as the Ultimate Team games, in the sense that you are looking to build the best possible soccer team from a wide selection of real life players. Coins earned during gameplay can be spent on packs of cards for more players, and there’s an extensive system of tokens and trophies that allow you to chase after some of the very best the sport has to offer.
That part works great for Madden and should be perfectly fine in FIFA as well. It’s everywhere else that the head-scratching occurs.
Assembling a team is unnecessarily confusing, as you unlock different formations and tactics as you go. But while you never need more than three forwards, you’ll end up having eight on your roster altogether, with different players getting the call depending on which formation you select. Figuring out who will play in which set-up is a matter of trial and error at first, and part of it depends on where you slot guys on the team screen instead of just picking the best men for the job automatically. It’s not intuitive in any way, shape or form.
The confusion continues when it comes to the various gameplay modes. FIFA Mobile is structured around three gameplay pillars, again very similar to Madden Mobile: Live Events, which are short challenges to earn various rewards; a Season mode, where you pit your squad against various real world clubs; and head-to-head play, either straight up or in user-created League tournaments.
There’s nothing wrong with those first two categories, save for an energy system that can be very restrictive in the early going. The multiplayer is something else entirely, and that’s meant in the most bewildered possible way. Though there could scarcely be a sport more ill-suited for asynchronous play than soccer, that’s exactly what FIFA Mobile presents.
In Attack Mode, you play only your team’s possessions with the ball on the attacking side of the field. The idea is to score as many possible goals in one half, and each “possession” lasts until you score or the other side clears the ball past midfield. It’s a concept that works well in American football, which is easily divvied up into drives, but it feels as bizarre as it sounds in soccer.
That could be at least partially overlooked if the action on the pitch was smooth and satisfying, but it’s not always either of those things. Despite options for both tap and virtual stick-and-button controls, there are times when you don’t feel fully in control of your players. EA deserves credit for tightening things up in this regard while the game was in soft launch, but if the goal is a console quality experience, this shot falls a bit short.
Granted, plenty of soccer fans will still likely flock to FIFA Mobile simply because no one else has as many licenses for real teams and does presentation quite like EA. If that’s enough to get you hooked, you might be able to overlook its warts and have some fun with it. The company is probably tired of tinkering with what should be a surefire winner, but my personal hope is that EA keeps at it with FIFA, because it hasn’t found the right mobile formula for it yet, and its Maddenization is a step in the wrong direction.