eFIFA19 continues

You can almost feel the ‘damp Autumn night away to Stoke’ vibe coming off this picture, can’t you? One thing that FIFA certainly doesn’t skimp on is the atmosphere. It’s there in bucketloads.

I’m playing Career Mode. During setup I moved Coventry City from League 1 into the Championship, lock, stock and barrel. So I’m playing with a League 1 squad, with League 1 finances, in the Championship. And I’m playing on World Class – for now.

Last time, all was going well, but I was fretting about the lack of challenge posed by the AI. After coming from PES2019’s hyperdrive-level AI, the FIFA19 AI seemed plodding and passive by comparison.

For example – this was an early match in my first season that worried me a lot. It’s not just that I won it, but look at the goal attempt stats per side:On World Class, the AI managed 1 solitary shot on goal that wasn’t even on-target.

But I’m pleased to report that things soon turned. This is a more representative sample of more recent matches:Nearly every team is now turning the screw on me in a way that they weren’t doing at the start of the season. So much so that I’m considering dropping down to Professional for a while, just to score a few goals and get my bearings again.

I am the league’s lowest scoring team, something that the commentators and the pre-match captions are always keen to remind me.

The league table after 13 matches:

That Goals For column really does need beefing up, hence my plan to drop to Professional for a while to find my shooting boots again.

I had a good run in the Carabao Cup, beating two lower-league teams (one on penalties). But then I came up against Burnley from the Premier League. They thumped me 4-0. A true lesson in just how vicious this AI can be. I think it’s a good thing, overall, that the AI can be curiously passive sometimes. You never know what it’s going to do and not do at any moment.

I’ve also worked out that the d-pad left/right settings, which moves you from All-out defence to all-out attack – through 5 stages – ISN’T just a straightforward ATT/DEF thing, as it is in PES.

No, in FIFA the superficially ATT/DEF thing is a very flexible and deep system for setting up alternate formations and instructions that can be switched to on the fly in-game. You can have 5 different sets of formations, positions, and team/individual instructions, mapped to a simple d-pad toggle. This is just one of many systems in Career Mode – and in FIFA19 as a whole – that I am having a great time discovering for myself.

I have bungled nearly every transfer negotiation I’ve embarked upon. The agents and players usually just get up and walk out, and that’s it, no second chances.

I’ve gone back to Broadcast camera, and it finally feels natural and good.I’ve usually scuttled back to PES by this point. Which means that FIFA19 is already my most successful FIFA since FIFA15.

Another video to finish with.

A good goal to start, a nice mid-ranger. The feel of these shots in your hands as they happen is very rewarding. It takes work to find the space.

Then there’s a comical miscued volley that shows me still exorcising the PES muscle memory.

Next there’s an attempt to get on the end of a cross that shows me committing another PES muscle memory howler, and making my player jump way too early. I record and post these things to show how genuinely tricky it can be to move from one football game to another. In PES you can press the button that early without consequences. Not so here.

Then there’s a shot that was almost a spectacular first-time arrow-straight finish from my left-back, that cannons back off the crossbar.

Then I get one of my players sent off. It is possible!

FIFA19 Begins

For my summer project I will try to play a FIFA and love it for the first time since FIFA15.

FIFA19 is this year’s attempt. Seeing on ‘the forums’ and on ‘the YouTube’ that it’s said to be one of the most disliked in the series only encourages me. Any football game disliked by the new generation of football gamers is likely to be… an actual football game.

My warmup matches went very well indeed. I played a Custom Tournament with England and won it – starting out on Professional, and going up to World Class from the semis on.

The game feels wonderful. It looks superb and handles beautifully. At times I catch myself thinking ‘now this is a proper football sim’. The way the action unfolds, the way the players move.

PES muscle memory is a problem. I keep wanting to play the PES way. Sometimes it works, but most often it doesn’t. When my PES-conditioned muscle memory recedes and I start to play the way this game wants, it’s amazing.

Early misgivings are the extreme no-fouls environment. I haven’t kept a formal count but I’d estimate the average at 0.33 per match. i.e. 1 every 3 matches on average. The reasons for no fouls in modern football games are well-known, and of course they’re best known of all to the people who make football games today. They know the reasons best of all. It’s quite amusing how Konami and EA have a shared priestly code of silence around the whole issue. You can’t shut them up – especially EA – about every other aspect of their games, but when it comes to fouls (a prominent feature of the sport, that has a massive impact on things)… nothing.

The other slight wrinkle in FIFA19 is the AI, which chooses its moments to come to life. In all my Professional warmup matches, it was completely passive and did the proverbial eff-all. So I moved up to World Class difficulty. Note that I play with the current set of Operation Sports sliders, all assists on, and with Legacy Defending.

A bit better, but not much. In a few matches, notably my Career Mode pre-season European Tournament with top-tier opposition, the AI was pretty good, sometimes great, delivering that deadly threat. I lost in the semi-final there.

But here are the post-match stats for my first Career Mode match, on World Class, remember:Just 2 shots from the AI, neither of them on target. At least I got a foul. I’ve played a couple more matches since this and things have been much the same. I’ve conceded 1 goal.

At the moment I’m too preoccupied with settling into the game and learning its intricacies to be much bothered about the AI’s passivity.Yes, I have started a Career Mode, as Coventry City, despite saying I wouldn’t. My name in this one is John Manager. I moved the club into the Championship during the setup process using the ‘Swap Clubs’ option at the bottom of the screen. You can swap places with any club in any division.

My first First XI and formation:Career Mode is of course far more advanced than Master League in terms of features and things to do. There’s a lot to take in here, to say the least. The TL;DR version of my transfer policy at the start of Season 1: a few loanees have come in, but I want to take half a season to get to know these players in the Championship before having a clear-out. (And if that strangely passive AI continues to be a thing, who knows, this lot might get me up.)In my early months on a football game I like to rate how the sessions have felt and give the game a provisional running score out of 10. My FIFA19 sessions have all been strong 9/10 and 8/10 sessions. All were ended reluctantly, because of time pressure from other things in life. This is the best sign of a good football game and a good experience to come.A brief set of FIFA19 highlights. Three misses, and three goals. The point of the misses at the start is to show how PES muscle memory has conditioned me to expect certain outcomes in certain situations. I applaud FIFA19’s strict stats-and-context-based shooting system, needless to say.

And then, when I finally started to get the hang of things, there some goals. Each one of which caused me to grin and do a fist-pump and say ‘jolly good’.

The Double

After 15 seasons’ worth of incessant PES2019 wordage, I will keep this one relatively short and sweet.Season 15 of my Master League is over. This is likely to be the finale of PES2019. I have sucked the marrow of this game, and I am now full up. I have learned never to say never, but such is my feeling currently.

I won the League title. And I won the FA Cup. A classic domestic double.These felt like somewhat anti-climactic celebrations, lacking the focal point of a physical trophy. What the hell, PES Productions?! (PES Productions is the company that makes PES; Konami is merely the publisher.) They were capable of inserting a bogus but perfectly respectable trophy into this game’s version of the Europa League. There was one for the Champions League too. So where is the one for the domestic League and domestic Cup?

Here are my lads celebrating the FA Cup win too:It was super-tough to win this Cup, as the key matches came in a session where I was Not Allowed to play with my customary panache. I ground out a couple of wins, including one on penalties.

Here is the final League table:I completed the season in 3 long sessions, the middle one of which was that troublesome session – one of the hardest single sessions of Pro Evo I have ever played.

Couldn’t score, couldn’t win, all very puzzling. Is there a single football gamer in the world who does not know that feeling as well as the proverbial backs of their figurative hands?

Fulham and Chelsea drew right up on top of me, both breathing down my neck, both threatening to spoil the victory parade. I held them off and won the title with a couple of matches to spare, thanks to my newfound love for walking the ball into the net, mostly. One of the reasons I’m jaded with PES2019 and looking forward to something else now is this game’s dearth of long-range strikes. Having to hit circa 100 to score just 1 is just not on.In the middle of my bad run I was eliminated from the Europa League in shady circumstances. I think I had 10 clearcut chances in a crucial second-leg decider versus Lens, but the superkeeper and/or the post-crossbar, stopped me scoring. Or my players just inexplicably dragged their shots wide.

Despite all that it was a superb domestic season for my front two.I was satisfied, pleased, proud, everything. It’s been a long, long road getting to this point – and it kind of did take me getting a good old-fashioned fantasy team of Galacticos to accomplish it.

Here are very brief highlights from the clinching match, a fine 3-1 away win at Newcastle. There are some celebrations, after all my goals – the third goal being the moment when I knew that that was it, it was all over:

So what now?

FIFA19 is now.

This will be interesting, as I can tell from my 10-or-so warmup matches so far that FIFA19 is a different beast from the last two years’ efforts.

Tuesday’s post will likely be the equivalent of my ‘England versus Scotland’ warmups. I have a few interesting replays stored up.

I hope to get something out of FIFA this year. I never usually make it past a few sessions. We shall see.

But as for PES2019 – what a great run it’s been, and I will of course be at least mentioning the game again on the blog when I come to the End of Year Review in late August. And history, at least, suggests I will play it again at some point.

Eight points clear

Here is my team joyfully celebrating after winning a penalty shootout at the end of the FA Cup Quarter Final against Chelsea.

I’m now in the semi-final, where I will play Leicester.

This QF was a tortuous match. I was 2-0 up before half-time, which is of course a Bad Move in any Superstar match in PES2019.

I spent the rest of the match unable to keep the ball, until it was 2-2. At that point I was allowed to keep the ball again. I scored again to make it 3-2 to me with mere seconds left – only for Chelsea to do me straight from their kickoff. And yes, I was pressuring and sliding and scything all over the place in a frantic effort to prevent what I knew was in the process of occurring. The old scripted straight from kickoff goal. Sigh.

So when it went to penalties I was annoyed enough for it to strangely help me focus. Cech is quietly the best GK I’ve had in a PES game in a long time. He saved the first two of Chelsea’s penalties, I scored mine, and it was soon over. No aiming reticules were used.

I’m through to the semis of the Europa League again. And so I am still in the hunt to compete for three trophies this season.

I will definitely be competing for the League title. Check out the table after 27 matches. With 11 matches left to play, I will really have to be careless not to be at least in the mix on the final day, and arguably I should be wrapping this up long before then.An 8 point cushion. I am very happy with my goal-scoring and goal-preventing. The ‘walk the ball into the net’ approach is what I needed all along.

I’ve opened up a gap at the top, but I had to meet my nearest challengers to make it happen.

For many seasons now, one of the powerhouses of my Master League world have been… Fulham. They’ve won titles, and I think they’ve won a Champions League. They’ve not gone away. Their players aren’t world-famous names. One of them is my former Youth promotee, Joaquin, whom I sold to them probably 10 seasons ago now. That’s the kind of player they’ve got.

We met in a 6-pointer, and I made damn sure I focused 100%.

Finally today, a replay of a rare team goal from me. I think there are 14 passes between several outfield players in this one. Enough to get the imaginary pundits back in the studio gushing about it.

I did enjoy it though. Note the touch Forlan gets early on, and then how it’s him who pops up at the end of the move, having continued his run.

I tend to dislike the slavering adulation that this sort of goal receives. I know why they’re praised so much in real life, but they do little for me. A century break in snooker is also technically impressive but they likewise don’t much quiver my needle.

By Friday i should have finished the season (and PES2019). I have a couple of days off this week and will definitely get through the remaining 11 league matches, plus however many FA Cup and Europa League fixtures I might have left. A couple of long sessions should do it.