EA Sports has expanded and revamped the standard kick-off for FIFA 19, adding a survival mode and letting you turn off the referee.
For years, the FIFA games have let you jump straight into a friendly match via a quick kick-off, but it was limited in that all you could play was a friendly.
In FIFA 19, the new kick-off lets you pick from a raft of modes and tweak the settings.
You can play some of the licensed matches EA Sports has for FIFA, such as the FA Cup final and Champions League matches (group games, semi-finals across two legs or the final itself). This on its own adds some variety to the standard kick-off experience, but accompanying the different types of matches, you can pick to play a best of series (best of three, five etc) and even a two-leg match.
More interesting is the survival mode. Here, when you score a goal, one of your players (chosen at random) leaves the pitch. The game continues in that fashion - when you score you lose a player and so on. What's cool about it is scoring makes the game harder for you, so there's a strategy to proceedings. Do you want to score early, or late on?
Survival mode isn't quite FIFA 19's take on battle royale, because you can't get to a last player standing situation. Survival mode adheres to the rules of real life football in that the match is abandoned if either team has fewer than seven players. So, to win automatically - that is, before the 90 minutes is up - you need to score five goals, and thus see five of your players leave the game.
"That battle royale thing kicked off long after we came up with this idea, but it's funny people are associating it [survival mode] with battle royale," creative director Matt Prior told Eurogamer.
"I'm sure people won't believe me when I say this, but it genuinely had nothing to do with that! But it is funny how it's being seen as that!
"If you look back to FIFA Street in 2012 we had a survival mode in that - a little bit different, but a similar kind of concept. It is something we've thought of bringing to the main game for a while. People are generally loving it."
Survival mode has custom cutscenes to show players walking off the field in what looks like a somewhat bewildered fashion, and custom commentary from Martin Tyler and Alan Smith, who mention you're playing survival mode and, when a player leaves the pitch, point out that a player is indeed leaving the pitch. It's pretty odd to hear the pair take survival mode seriously and commentate on it as if it were just another game of football.
Most fun, though, is the new house rules mode for kick-off. Here you can choose from a number of pre-set match types, including no rules (turns the ref off so there are no offsides or fouls - you effectively can play like Leeds do but don't have to worry about getting anyone sent off), and headers and volleys (only headed or volleyed goals count, aka 60 seconds from when you were a kid). Headers and volleys is harder than it sounds!
No rules is a huge amount of fun. I had a right laugh crashing into my opponent's players. You almost have to train yourself to play FIFA differently after years of holding back to avoid yellow cards. With no rules, you just knock lumps out of each other and this, combined with FIFA's sometimes hilarious physics-breaking collisions, makes for a refreshingly entertaining experience.
One of the more useful additions to kick-off for FIFA 19 is stat tracking. Now, you can tie your progression in kick-off mode to a new kick-off name you create when you start the game. (If you tie this kick-off name to PSN or Xbox Live, it'll whizz up to the cloud, and you can pull it down on your friend's console when you play them in kick-off mode).
With stat progression, you can keep track of your record against specific couch co-op rivals (no need to etch the score in the wall anymore). The game will also track loads of stats, such as goals scored, where your goals were scored and even in which part of the goal they went in. There's a lot of information to dig into, and it will be pretty cool to see your FIFA play dissected.
And finally, the new kick-off has new advantage settings. The idea here is to level the playing field, so an expert FIFA player can set up a challenging match against a less experienced opponent. You can give yourself a 3-0 headstart and vice versa, for example, and even set the intelligence of your AI teammates. If you want a real challenge, set your opponent's AI to legendary and yours to beginner, and give your opponent a 5-0 headstart. Suddenly, you have a competitive match.
I had a huge amount of fun with FIFA 19's new kick-off mode during a recent hands-on event. Playing with no rules was the highlight, but survival mode is a decent distraction. And stats tracking is a fantastic shout from EA Sports. I play a huge amount of kick-off games, usually at work during lunchtimes against Eurogamer guides writer and inferior FIFA player Chris Tapsell who, by the way, was once actually in Football Manager). It's fire and forget, though. We'll play a best of three to determine a winner for that session, and then it's forgotten. With FIFA 19, it'll matter more because we'll have a tally of our rivalry for the whole year.
In short, kick-off mode in FIFA 19 is wicked good, after years of it being by the numbers. It won't tear Ultimate Team fanatics away from FIFA's most popular mode for long, but when you do get stuck in it'll be a blast.