Every year millions of people buy the latest FIFA game, while everyone else complains that EA is making bank on releasing the same game every year. The thing is, these people have never experienced the euphoria that comes with taking a lower league club to the top of the Premier League summit, the bragging rights when you thrash your mate in an online Melbourne Derby (go City!) or hanging on to beat Parisian moneybags PSG with Scottish team Hearts. It’s fun, addictive and I love it. But that’s not to say there isn’t some truth to the criticisms – I mean FIFA generally follows the same formula with a few tweaks being made each year. However in the case of FIFA 20 the on-field tweaks feel significant and the addition of a new street football mode helps shake the foundations somewhat, but does it deliver football’s best experience?
Garcia is loving it, but did we?
For me, FIFA has always been about Career Mode and Online Friendlies/Exhibition games against mates, two modes that I have sunk countless hours into throughout the years. But as with all repetition, things eventually get stale and need a freshen up. So when EA Sports revealed they were doing a story mode called The Journey, my interest became more than playing for online glory. While it was cliché, The Journey, which followed the rags-to-riches story of Alex Hunter, gave FIFA players something they hadn’t had before. The Journey lasted three entries before Hunter’s story concluded last year. In an attempt to give players a little more bang for their buck this year EA has introduced Volta Football – a revamped take on the popular FIFA Street blueprint.
There’s no denying that Volta is a fun mode – whether it’s 3v3, 4v4 or 5v5, Volta is fast-paced and high stakes street football action, and I can envisage many fun afternoons spent with mates playing Volta trying to pull off unbelievable tekkers. But long-term I don’t think it has the appeal that FIFA Street did.
Volta features a story mode of sorts, it’s not quite as fleshed out as The Journey but it’s still got a cheesy story that will make you feel right at home. You play as an upcoming street footballer who joins a team hoping to make it big at the world championships. But on the streets, squad places aren’t just given to you, you have to earn it. After proving your worth tragedy strikes and your squad falls apart, leaving your chances of playing in any tournament in jeopardy. Thankfully the coach is a well-known player and calls in a favour. Game back on. From here you’ll participate in tournaments across the world, continue to win and you’ll progress. Lose and you’ll have to start again (that tournament).
In order to make the street footballer your own, players can customise everything from their look, clothing and nickname. Clothing can be bought by using Volta Coins, a currency you earn after each match, or it can be earnt by completing objectives. Furthermore, EA has introduced a skill tree – yep FIFA is now an RPG. Skills are broken into three categories: attack, midfield and defence, and will improve skills such as shooting and passing accuracy, tackling and the ability to pull off trickery.
However, there are some bizarre omissions from Volta. While you can play exhibition games locally against your mates (with custom house rules too), you cannot play friendlies online. Furthermore, there is no Pro Clubs-type mode allowing you to start a squad with a bunch of friends, although you can play online against people in Volta League, which has divisions (promotion and relegation).
While Volta is a nice addition it’s not the reason you buy FIFA. On the pitch is where the real meat and potatoes of FIFA is, and this year EA has introduced a number of changes that have a real impact on the proceedings.
The first thing you’ll notice is that while it feels similar to FIFA 19 everything feels a little slower, and that’s not a bad thing either, as everything feels more realistic, from player movement to the way players duke it out over a loose ball. It’s much easier to defend in FIFA 20 thanks to an improvement in tackling and the slower pace of attacks. Passing feels more realistic than before, with it being easier to turn it over while trying to pass it around like Barcelona, and shooting feels great – even if the timing mechanic still haunts me from time to time.
FIFA is now an RPG
Another noticeable tweak is that it feels like pace matters, even if you are playing for a lower-ranked club. In previous years, defenders with higher overall ratings have usually always found a way to catch lower-rated players who are clearly quicker in real life. Players like Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar still burst down the pitch with power and impressive skill and usually will find a way to put the ball into the old onion bag.
The biggest change has come in the form of set pieces. Corners remain the same, however penalties and free kicks have had a total refresh and offer more control over your shot. Players can get the ball to dip or swerve all with a flick of the right stick after aiming your shot with the new aiming mechanic. Penalties now work in a similar way, however these feel harder to get right than free kicks. Multiple times I sent what I thought was the perfect penalty crashing into the crossbar without any real reason why.
Career Mode has been in need of some love for a while and EA promised that it would get an upgrade of sorts. First of all you can customise your manager, whether it be the choice of gender, their appearance and what clothing they choose to wear. It’s an improvement on previous years with players only able to choose between a number of preset managers.
Managers can also attend pre and post-match interviews (much like before), with answers either positively or negatively influencing both a player’s and the team’s morale. It’s a nice touch and adds a touch of realism, but where it falls down is in the lack variety in both the questions and answers. After a dozen or so interviews you feel like you’ve heard them all and by the 20th interview you’re far happier just to skip the whole process. You also get the feeling that a player’s morale doesn’t affect their performance, and if you’ve grown up playing Football Manager this mechanic will feel shallow.
The source of Garcia’s happiness
Realism again is a massive shortcoming when it comes to Career Mode. Playing the Premier League or La Liga and seeing teams like Manchester City and Barcelona in the bottom three after more than half a season is a little farfetched given their deep pockets. Plus, players will react negatively if you give them a rest for a cup game or to get back to full stamina.
Career Mode isn’t laden with new features, but it is a sign that EA is aware of its existence and will hopefully continue to improve it.
For those wondering about Ultimate Team it doesn’t really matter what I think about it, because I am not the target audience; the idea of shelling out hundreds of dollars to try and build the perfect squad doesn’t appeal to me. What I can tell you is that it’s still designed around coercing you into paying for Player Packs, however supposedly it’s easier than ever to acquire big-name players without paying for them
If you were hoping for massive, or even minor changes to Pro Clubs then sadly you’re in for a letdown, with the mode largely a repeat of previous year’s aside from new Traits to unlock and the game’s deep player creation tool.
Visually the game is a treat to the eyes. With player models, stadiums and even the crowds looking as sharp as ever.
Has Ronaldo ever looked this good?
FIFA 20 is a solid addition to the EA Sports family, but at this point in time it’s hard to tell whether I love it more, less or the same as last year. Volta Football certainly gives FIFA 20 an added dynamic that FIFA hasn’t had since the introduction of The Journey. But like I said, on the pitch is where it matters, and on this front it delivers a strong footballing experience.
Reviewed on PS4 Pro // Review code supplied by publisher