EA Sports make it their mission to release a new instalment of their hugely popular FIFA series each and every year, promising all manner of gameplay improvements, and occasionally, new modes. Football is football though, and as such, you can’t re-invent the wheel; what you can do is ensure it’s the very best version of said wheel. With FIFA 20 now here, does it manage to deliver a better experience than ever before, or is it really just an expensive way to get up-to-date squads?
Well, FIFA 20 is certainly superior to FIFA 19 in some aspects and it’s clear that a handful of modes have been given a fresh dynamic. There’s also a brand new mode to replace the large hole vacated by The Journey, however the deeper you look, the more the cracks begin to show.
Starting off with the gameplay itself and the biggest change comes into play when trying to defend on FIFA 20. No longer will players be able to just sit back and allow the A.I. to do all the dirty work, nor does using the contain method bring about an easy dispossession. Defending is much, much harder and as a result, the tackling mechanic has been drastically enhanced to enable you to time those crucial tackles to perfection. Due to the amount of control you appear to have when one-on-one with an attacker, sticking a foot in as the opponent dribbles towards you feels immensely satisfying.
There’s a real appreciation for the art of defending this year, which is confounded further by the increasing number of interceptions taking place. If a member of your team can stick a leg out and cut out a pass that could tear apart your defence, then they will. It’s like having N’Golo Kanté in every position. This almost forces the attacks to become a little more measured, encouraging better build-up play, but without compromising on the pace that the game is played at.
The way in which you can approach proceedings when in possession is ever so slightly different too, with additional control over passes, including the ability to perform a lovely dinky through ball that looks classy. As for the shooting and it does seem as if the physics are improved from the moment you strike the ball, right through to its movements in the air. I do like that mistiming and snatching at shots will probably ensure that the ball goes high or wide. And much like the shooting efforts, attempting to pull off anything with the ball at your feet whilst off-balance will simply see things go awry; as it should do, although witnessing a miscued shot that ends up going in is great too.
Set pieces aren’t the same either, especially with free-kicks providing additional emphasis on shooting opportunities and being able to add spin to the ball. While the extra options here are welcome, the setup is a tad complex and trying to do anything other than shoot is quite restricted.
All in all though, the gameplay is better overall and so it’s been left to the game modes to complement these efforts. Big things are expected of the new VOLTA experience, which aims to step into the void left by The Journey. In short, just think back to FIFA Street but imagine something less tricky and not quite as fun. There’s a story to take in, the possibility of competitive online matches and a tour of the world either alone or alongside a few friends locally.
Matches come in 3v3 Rush, 4v4, 4v4 Rush and 5v5 varieties, with the Rush aspect meaning no Goalkeepers are allocated – whoever’s nearest tries to protect it. The goals can be tiny, making the shooting tougher, and using the walls, if there are any, is an essential part of play. Everything about VOLTA is fast and furious, providing end-to-end action and regularly seeing the ‘First to 5’ matches reach their conclusion in a minute. Unfortunately, the novelty soon wears off and it won’t be long until you’ll want to get off the streets. It probably doesn’t help that the online aspect is 1vs1 only; EA have missed a trick as I imagine it’d be far more enjoyable alongside a couple of mates.
The VOLTA Story is your typical narrative of joining a rookie team and wanting to be the best in the world. You’ll follow them through the highs and lows, the betrayals and the reconciliations, with surprise cameos from famous street footballers including a major role for Jayzinho. The cutscenes look great, character models are decent and the different locations around the world are full of life. Throughout the tale, you’ll recruit new players for your squad and improve your own guy (or girl) by earning skill points.
There’s no doubt it’s cool to take a trip to the likes of Barcelona and Tokyo, kitting out your created character with all sorts of clothing items along the way, but the storytelling is lacking. Proceedings are rather predictable, cringeworthy and scenes tend to drag on too long. What doesn’t help matters either is the re-use of player models, meaning you’ll come up against teams that have identical looking members to yours far too often. And to top it off, losing a match mid-tournament – which is easily done – will frustratingly lead to a restart from the first round. When all of this is combined with short matches, VOLTA is something of a flash in the pan.
Fortunately, the main draws of FIFA 20 have been given an upgrade. I am of course referring to Ultimate Team and Pro Clubs, with the latter being the initial focus for the time being. For too long now, the up to 11vs11 Pro Clubs mode has stuttered in terms of progress and its Cup mode remained partially broken for a good few iterations of the series. Finally though, the Cups have been fixed and to liven up the action, a new theme is in place every so often. These ideas could cause a man to be sent off after scoring a goal, reward a team for holding possession in specific areas of the pitch, or encourage long range shots. It provides a fun alternative to League matches for the most part and is a great way to try fill up the trophy cabinet with your mates.
Ultimate Team benefits from a number of improvements, but a simple feature implementation makes it more addictive than before. The overarching Season Objectives presents a huge amount of objectives, including long-term and daily, that give purpose to almost every area of FUT. It may require you to score a header in a Divisions Rivals match or have a selection of nationalities in your dream team. Completing these earns XP, which then levels you up to garner different rewards and the higher the level, the better the prize – ranging from a loan player or badge, to a player pack or special version of a card.
The other major change is the introduction of Friendlies, which provide matches with no adverse effects to your team whilst still awarding coins. Whether you’re up against random folk or friends, the game types available are normal matches and House Rules. The House Rules types are mostly the same as those found in Pro Clubs Cups and these are ideal for a friendly bout, but the real highlight is one called Swaps where you’ll get three of the opposition’s players and they get three of yours. Just imagine stealing Harry Kane, Mo Salah and Sergio Aguero from a pack-lucky mate, with them ending up taking Danny Welbeck, Andy Carroll and Andros Townsend from you.
Aside from the general interface when managing the squad, not much else has changed, but that’s fine because the Ultimate Team mode is the freshest it’s been in ages. Squad Battles return, competitive 1vs1 in Divisions Rivals is still the way to test your might against the masses, Squad Builder Challenges are as puzzling as ever and the transfer market is on hand to help mould your squad piece by piece.
Outside of Pro Clubs and Ultimate Team, gamers who prefer to go it alone with FIFA 20 can invest hours in a Career as a manager or sole player once more. It all feels very familiar though and there’s not much difference from last year’s version in that sense. And the same can be said for the local Kick-Off options, tournaments and Champions League mode. Whilst we’re at it, the Seasons and Co-Op Seasons don’t appear to have altered either, but I guess you can’t alter every aspect of a yearly title at once.
What you should expect, at the very least, are old bugs/issues to be fixed and to not rear their ugly head again. Unfortunately that’s not the case. Firstly, the referee’s magic spray lines are about 20 yards long and stay on the pitch for ages, nowhere near the foul committed. That’s not too bad, but then there are forwards who, in certain formations, are found standing at their own corner flags during kick off. It gets worse than that though and I’ve seen corners given as goal-kicks, throw-ins awarded to the wrong team and cards not shown to last man tackles – not even a yellow.
The problems aren’t limited to the gameplay either, with commentators’ lines occasionally not making sense in relation to what’s occurring. If we have to listen to Derek Rae and Lee Dixon or Martin Tyler and Alan Smith, at least we should be hearing correct audio. Furthermore, the mid-game stadium atmosphere is a bit choppy, cutting in and out randomly. At least there are no complaints to be made regarding the soundtrack, which is full of decent tracks from artists you probably won’t have heard of; they’ll grow on you rather swiftly and ensure any lingering in the menus is far more pleasant.
In terms of FIFA 20’s visuals, anticipate more of the same as in FIFA 19 when it comes to player faces and how realistic they look, or don’t look. You’ll be wowed by a few, yet be left grimacing at the mere sight of others, even those in the almighty Premier League. When playing a match, the game does seem a bit sharper, but I wouldn’t base any decision as to whether to get FIFA on its visual prowess alone.
Taking everything into account though, FIFA 20 on Xbox One has brought in more control to the experience; in particular the defending which feels refined. The Ultimate Team mode shines brighter than ever, whilst Pro Clubs receives the boost it needed, with many other areas still delivering solid modes without changing much. Sadly, there’s no longevity in VOLTA as it is, with a yawn-inducing story not helping matters, however that doesn’t mean it can’t be built on for future FIFA titles. Hopefully the technical issues will be ironed out, because when they are, then this can surely be regarded as a better game all-round than last year’s effort.