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Fifa have made a few subtle, on-the-ball changes to 2018 game

Neil McGreevy

FIFA 18 (Multi)

By: EA

Like Strictly, X-Factor and flu jabs, autumn just wouldn't be autumn without the latest numbered Fifa game. And this time it's a biggie as the console juggernaut celebrates 18 years in electronic football.

Having smacked Konami around with their wallet, Fifa owns pretty much everything in terms of licenses. And as a flowering 18-year-old, knows what do with them.

Visually, you won't be surprised to hear, it's a beaut. Sporting the requisite coat of gloss, menus shine with totally televisual pre-game hype while big signings are announced in video form. EA has also turned up the content to Marty McFly's amp levels. With 82 stadia (including all Premiership real estate) and 30 leagues' worth of teams, everyone from Real Madrid to Dundalk features, meaning sport's richest sharing the sod with players in part-time jobs. Better still, each league feels distinct, with the Premiership looking and sounding very different to, say, MLS matches. Say what you like about EA, they've done their homework.

By using back-of-the-net motion capture for the players, their shirts and luxuriant hair plugs fluttering in the breeze, football didn't look this lifelike even on old CRT tellies, though the less salubrious obviously haven't had as much tech lavished on their fizzog as, say, Ronaldo. The result is like Pixar players next to Aardman efforts. It's the little touches, though, that really transport you from your couch. The crowd has been given a shot of Red Bull, now dodging errant balls and rushing towards you to celebrate – even reacting if you head towards the stand. Just don't get punchy. Seriously, whip off the specs and you could be watching Match of Day, with new bewildering bantz from the likes of Martin Tyler, Alan Smith, Ron Atkinson, Clive Tyldesley and Andy Townsend.

The biggest point of urgency was addressing 17's treacly responsiveness, and players now turn on a pinhead, risking their sweet ligaments on tempting reaches.

Defence closes in much quicker, though, so make those passes count. Middle of the pitch action has seen perhaps the greatest improvements, with tighter ball control and team-mates making deeper runs into the box.

The Panini-tastic Ultimate Team, where players earn or buy coins to open packs of cards to create their fantasy team, is largely unchanged – EA won't want to risk alienating all those lovely pockets who pay for it. The canny addition of offline Squad Battles, though, lets you pitch your finest against pre-built EA teams on a chosen difficulty to earn points, and proves a godsend for dads short on time and newcomers unwilling to get slaughtered online.

The biggest difference, however, can be seen with transfers, where players now use a dialogue wheel in live conversations with execs to suggest release clauses, swaps and the like.

A few of last year's wrinkles have also been ironed out, such as the return of terrifying Euro entertainers Iceland. Diego Maradona gets his neb into Ultimate Team as a Legend alongside Pele, Ronaldo and celebrated hand-baller Thierry Henry while this week EA announced in-game Star Wars kit to promote their upcoming Battlefront 2.

One thing's for sure – new content will keep flowing like Dutch football.

Fifa is gaming's most difficult juggling act – don't upset the fans but tweak enough to prise their wallets open again.

And this year celebrates the ability to poke a ball through apparatus with all the uber-budget trimmings you'd expect while kicking it just far enough upfield to tempt fans, who'll buy it anyway, of course.

And next year's too. It's a money old game.

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