I played FIFA 19 for an afternoon at a recent hands-on preview event, and what stood out for me were the new animations.
I've already reported on the new timed finishing mechanic, but it's worth going into detail on the animations that form a part of FIFA 19's active touch system.
New animations are hardly revolutionary for FIFA, but as someone who's put a lot of time into FIFA 18, I can report FIFA fans will definitely notice them - and they do let you do things you've never been able to before.
FIFA 19 has new animations for pretty much everything. There are new animations for passes and shots, new animations for striking through the ball, stretching for the ball and even bicycle kicks.
These new animations look nice, but they're also useful. If a ball is in an awkward position, maybe behind the player you're controlling, you can still pass it because there are new animations that support the pass request. You can, for example, do a diving header to get a pass away. Your player might find one of the new animations that lets them stretch to keep the ball in play, too.
Controlling the ball is perhaps the area that benefits from the new animations most. You can control a ball that's behind you or to the side - areas players struggle with in current and previous versions of FIFA.
A lot of the new animations are contextual, but there are new manually triggered animations to get to grips with. For example, you can spin with the ball with your first touch. The new disguised first touch technique, which you can request on demand using the right bumper, lets you fake as if you're going to turn with the ball but at the very last second change directions. Toni Kroos of Germany and Real Madrid does this a lot in real world football.
You can also flick the ball up with your first touch - in any first touch situation - using any part of your body. This lets you set yourself up for a volley, or you can flick the ball up in a particular direction by flicking the right stick in the corresponding direction, which is useful for beating a nearby player. The longer you hold the right stick down, the higher the ball will go, so you can set yourself up for different kinds of shots. If you're dribbling on the ground, clicking the R3 button in flicks the ball up to set yourself up for a volley.
Talking of cool skills, one of the new skills in FIFA 19 lets you bounce the ball down with the sole of your player's boot to flick the ball over your onrushing opponent (a skill move the developers spotted on social media after a video of a footballer doing it went viral). This skill move is connected to the left trigger, and is only possible with players with the flair trait. So, if you're controlling professional tumbler Neymar, for example, you can hold the left trigger then flick the right stick forward to trigger the new animation.
EA Sports says the new active touch system gives FIFA 19 a greater level of responsiveness and fluidity of animation, as well as more variety. Playing the game, you do get a sense of this, but I'd hardly call it a gameplay revolution. FIFA 19 feels better because there are more animations at play, more ways to control the ball and more skill moves, which you kind of expect with each version of the game. There's added variety to the way you manipulate and come into contact with the ball, which as someone who's pumped hundreds of hours into FIFA 18, I definitely appreciated, and there were multiple points during my hands-on when a new animation let me do something I can't in previous versions, but otherwise FIFA 19 gameplay feels pretty familiar. I didn't detect a significant change in game speed, and I found success playing the game as I play FIFA 18 - quick, accurate passing, plenty of one-twos and low driven shots (although I quite like the new shooting mechanic, which, again, adds variety).
Elsewhere, there's a new system for 50 / 50 battles which means your player should get stuck in more. In FIFA 18, your players sometimes avoid the ball in a 50 / 50, which is one of the more frustrating aspects of the gameplay. In FIFA 19, your player will go in for a 50 / 50 - as long as you mean to make the challenge. You may not win the 50 / 50, but at least your player will try.
The result of a 50 / 50 in FIFA 19 is determined player input, the game's physics system and the attributes of the players involved. Do you go in aggressively with a tackle or stretch for a pass or a shot? Is your player big and strong? All this is factored into working out the result of a 50 / 50 in FIFA 19.
I found myself aggressively going for loose balls a lot more than I normally would during my hands-on with FIFA 19, but a lot of that had to do with testing the new system. What I will say is the collisions certainly look the part - both players smash into each other more realistically than in previous games. But this is FIFA, after all, and you do end up with some hilarious animation tangles that look like some nightmarish ragdoll crumpling. I don't think these are necessarily bad - just part of the FIFA charm.
As with each FIFA, FIFA 19 won't reveal its truth until launch and, even then, only after hours and hours of play will we get a handle on gameplay. The key question to answer is whether these fancy new animations have a genuine bearing on gameplay, or whether they're nice to haves. Will these new ball-flicking animations and first-touch gubbins turn out to be useful for winning, or inconsequential crowd-pleasers?