A Reaction To FIFA 17’s Story Mode, or “Why I Miss Ace Combat, Damn It”

aaaThis year, FIFA has a story mode. It’s fine. The story is incredibly basic, the presentation is overwrought and draws on all of my least favourite trends in modern filmmaking, but it’s mostly competent and provides a nice structure to the game of Playing The Football for those of us unwilling to sell off our belongings and invest heavily in virtual trading cards. Fans of the genre. 7/10.

It’s nothing to write home about, much less an article about, but the entire time I played I couldn’t shake the feeling that this mode could be a lot better in the future, if only they’d learn some storytelling lessons from Ace Combat.

Ace Combat 6 is a masterclass in how to draw a narrative throughline through a game that has very little explicit narrative in its mission design. There are big moments that occur in missions (re-taking Gracemeria, the night-time stealth run, the final boss), but for the most part the missions involve loading a map and taking out the required number of targets until the bar fills and you can fly on home. The bulk of the narrative is delivered through cutscenes which follow civilian characters, placing your war into a wider human context, and in-mission dialogue, which place your individual actions within a single battle into a wider military context. You – Garuda 1 – are never given a name or voice, and your actions are rarely commented on beyond which army is winning the battle. The guiding principle of each and every narrative element is to make you feel as if you are part of something bigger.

FIFA 17: The Journey (yes, it’s really called that) is the exact opposite, in every single way. Major beats are delivered within cutscenes, but narrative texture is built through the commentary team within the match. If you play badly, the commentary team say you have been playing badly. If you have a fight with your friend, the commentary film say you have had a fight with your friend. If a team-mate scores, the commentary team… say the exact stock thing they say when anyone else scores. It belies an incredibly myopic worldview, prevalent within western AAA game design, where narrative is little more than a way to re-enforce the fact that the player has absoloute agency over the world. You do a thing, the game says “wow, they did a thing,” and this is known as immersion.

It’s a real shame, because the approach ultimately feels dishonest not just to the story but the concept of the game as a whole. Football is a team sport, and tying this to a narrative in which The Player rules supreme and their every action has consequence, makes about as much sense as West Brom beating Real Madrid. (Which they did. In their third game. In a packed stadium in Seattle.)

All that said, I’m glad that Sports Games are beginning to experiment with narrative. I’d play them a heck of a lot more if they just shoved a well written visual novel in there a la Dancing All Night. But given that they by far represent the most successful genre of game that isn’t centred around a combination of violence and individual acquisition, it would be a shame for their storytelling to fall into all the same, sad traps.


Abnormal Mapping 41: The Shaven Wookie

Extend Cover Rev Final

The Mappers begin the new year with a new podcast about a new video game! There’s no such thing as too much new, as we delve deep into new characters, new shapes, and new possiblities with some new artwork and some new laughs. We also induct new things into the reading list. New. New new new. Please enjoy this new podcast, and maybe let friends (new ones, but old ones too I guess) know, so that they can be new listeners in this new era.

Meatloaf, Pure Pool, The Witcher, Animal Crossing, Shaven Wookie, Destiny, Mass Effect, Beyond: Two Souls, City of Heroes, Star Trek Online, The Sims, Saints Row, Miis, GTA IV, Sleeping Dogs, I am Become Rihanna, the Destroyer of Worlds, The Natural, Expand, When Two Best Friends Make Video Games, CS Go 1.7 Beta, games for children, the “Tears in the Rain” Blade Runner speech, Minecraft LPs, the car story from the Beastcast

You can get our podcast on iTunes, on Stitcher, or you can download it directly by clicking here.

Reading List Inductees:
Psychology of Video Games
Friends at the Table
Monster Factory

This Month’s Game Club Game: Expand

Next Month’s Game Club Game: Ninja Gaiden Black

Music This Episode
Blown Away by Kevin MacLeod
Mii Channel by Kazumi Totaka
Closure by Christopher Larkin
Slide by Etch Music
Busy Earnin’ by Jungle

Jackson’s Year Of Game, Week One

This was originally written on the old tumblr site, it’s a good piece so I kept it, but I decided not to go ahead with the project – though it’s definitely something I’d love to do in the future when it’s more feasible, presumably with more focus than just “game.”  That said, enjoy this collection of weird short article type things. (more…)

Abnormal Mapping Episode 2: Swapachu

In the second episode of Abnormal Mapping, Matt and Jackson have breaking news about the new console generation, Matt discovers a beloved franchise maybe isn’t as beloved as he thought it would be, and Jackson hears a question so profound it makes him drop his coffee cup.

You can download the episode HERE.

Here’s all the things we talk about!
Games Discussed at Length: The Swapper and Pokemon X & Y
That cool article about the development of Crash Bandicoot!
How much the new Pokemon cards suck. No, really.

Games for next month are as follows!
The Shivah: Kosher Edition

If you want to get a hold of the Abnormal Mapping duo you can get to us on twitter (@abnormalmapping, @litrock, @tylea002) or email us at abnormalmappingpodcast at gmail dot com!

See everyone again soon!