A Grand Finale for Alex Hunter
I finally got around to finish “The Journey”, FIFA 2017’s story mode where you get to play as Alex Hunter, a young football player from London, trying to leave his mark on the Premier League.
This is the second part of the story. We pick up from where we left on part 1, straight after knocking out Tottenham from the FA Cup quarter finals.
It’s an Angel
Tottenham was the hardest game of the season (both matches) and I think some of it was due to me being too focused on the outcome. I give credit to “The Journey” for capturing the mystic of the FA Cup and really making it matter. National cups are often snubbed by fans (and game-makers alike) as secondary trophies. Not in “The Journey”; this mode is all about the FA Cup and it does a good job at making it feel special (despite the glaring flaws in game-design that I mentioned in part 1).
Relieved from any pressure, I went back to good form scoring multiple times in the Premier League. My ongoing climb to fame got me to renew a deal with Adidas.
Once I reached the 300 000 followers mark on Twitter, the sports brand invited me to a filming session for a new commercial. This part of the game was kind of cool, though I feel that more interactivity couldn’t have hurt. It would had been great to get asked more questions by members of staff (which I obviously wouldn’t know how to answer) or to have been given a behind-the-scenes type of experience. Part of the enchantment of “The Journey” is to go beyond just playing football and scoring goals; occasions are crucial to allow the player to see what it must be like to be a football star (and that’s what’s cool about this mode).
The coolest part of the episode was definitely when Angel Di Maria made an appearance. The incredible work of FIFA’s Artists really stands out here; the Argentinian is unmistakable in his virtual doppelgänger. The interaction with Alex is fairly minimal but, again, it does the trick of capturing the sense of magic that a young man like Alex must feel when coming face-to-face with the stars he watches on TV.
Angel went back to Paris and I made my way to Wembley. Waiting for Crystal Palace in the Semi-Final of the FA Cup was a stoic Birmingham.
I have to say that this match-up did feel a little bit lacklustre but I suppose that’s just the luck of the draw. I would have loved to play against Liverpool or Chelsea in the semis but it just wasn’t meant to be.
In a way, I guess that a Birmingham vs Crystal Palace semi is in the spirit of the FA Cup. After all, this is a competition full of historic giant-killing games, where minor teams succeeded against bigger foes.
As a fan, I would love if both teams won it but, as Alex Hunter, I had a job to do.
I scored twice to set up a 4-2 win. In the process, I equalled my granddad’s record of 20 goals in my first season. I haven’t had the chance of checking whether the Jim Hunter mentioned in the game is a fictional character or not but I like that the commentators gave me a heads up before the game, telling me that a couple of goals would help me hit that milestone.
Defeating Birmingham meant playing West Ham in the final. Guess who’s there on loan from Crystal Palace?
My good old friend, Gareth Walker.
Meanwhile, at the Premier League
With a place in the FA Cup locked in, I returned my attention to the Premier League.
I have to say that, at this point, I feel that I’ve mastered the game enough that Semi-Pro difficulty is not longer an issue. So it’s no surprise that Crystal Palace is top of the table and pulling off a Leicester (I suppose that, in this comparison, Alex Hunter is the new James Vardy).
With 4 games to go, the Chairman comes to the locker room and gives a bit of a motivational speech. Unfortunately, it feels hollow and slightly out of place. This is one area where FIFA has margin to improve; some of the scripts are slightly awkward and outright fail to convey the magnitude of the moment.
Let me put it this way: in my case, Crystal Palace had been on a hot streak of wins since I returned. During that time, there had been no mention in the Media of Crystal even being a contender. All interactions were about Alex. So to have a Chairman come in and do a speech when the title is pretty much in the bag, didn’t really have much of a dramatic effect since. By then, the writing was on the wall.
This unbalance between FA Cup and Premier League is even more evident on the Twitter feed. Don’t get me wrong, it’s kind of funny to read a tweet from Gareth Walker about how he’s gonna beat you in the FA Cup final… But, for the most part, the tweets are all about how great Alex is. There’s very minimal media coverage of how well your team is doing in the Premier League. It feels forced.
Towards the end of the season, I was still reading tweets about how Alex should be in the starting 11. The thing is, though, Alex hadn’t been benched a single time since returning from loan.
I understand that this is probably more due to game-design restrictions than lack of vision from the developers but it still feels that, in the interest of making the FA Cup the central point of the story, FIFA has overlooked some other areas of Alex Hunter’s journey.
I won’t beat this drum anymore, but I will highlight one more event: eventually, I win an away match (I think at Man City) and Crystal Palace are mathematically Premier League champs.
There’s no acknowledgement in the game that this is the case and that Alex Hunter and Palace have achieved the impossible in their first season together.
In a sunny afternoon in Wembley, the Hero of our story finally came to meet his destiny. The Final of the FA Cup had Crystal Palace pitted against West Ham. Alex Hunter against Gareth Walker. London against London.
The FA Cup is the heart and soul of “The Journey”; it’s the competition that connects grandfather and grandson. Like in an Arcade game, it is the ultimately boss. To win the video-game you have to beat it.
As mentioned during part one of this post I felt that forcing the player down this path was a mistake that ultimately cost the game some of its magic. But now that the time had come to play the final, I felt excited about winning it and see how the story ended.
Whether by accident or intentionally, West Ham had the first chance of the game and Gareth Walker was the one wasting it! I actually hope that this was somewhat engineered as it felt like a little bit of karmic revenge. That said, I wish he had scored as it would have spiced things up a bit.
I didn’t manage to score as Alex Hunter, but I got three goals in before halftime and that basically killed the game. Crystal Palace achieved their Double and Alex finally got to avenge his Grandfather.
The celebrations were somewhat vanilla but, then again, I suppose that was due more to game design than anything else. Nothing takes place on the field and the only scene where you see the players celebrate is in the locker room.
Fade to England
And so we arrive at the last scene of “The Journey”.
We find Alex Hunter in his apartment, watching TV with his mate, Williams. Alex’s Agent finally gets some deserved credit from Jim Hunter, who gives him a signed copy of his football card. Everything is peachy.
An announcement comes up on TV that Alex Hunter has been called up for England’s national squad. At 17 years old of age he’s on his way to becoming a superstar in the game. The end.
I think it’s safe to assume that most players will inevitably get to a point where Alex is good enough to be called to England’s national squad; I do wonder if that is always the case or whether you can win the FA Cup but still not be good enough to get a call.
“The Journey” ends in a manner that leaves the door open for the next instalment of FIFA to pick it up. There’s not a lot of fanfare to it and rightfully so. After all, it is a journey and in journeys, what matters is the road not the destination.