We often hear from non-FIFA fans that "FIFA games are the same every year", but recently we got our hands on FIFA 20, and we were actually left asking "why has EA changed FIFA so much?"
FIFA 19 wasn't a perfect game, as crosses into the area were virtually useless and the defenders were too fast, but overall we really enjoyed its pace, the controls, and the overall feel of the game. It was a process that began with FIFA 17, improved with the superb FIFA 18, and stabilised with FIFA 19. Details were still lacking, but overall we liked the balance of fun, enthusiasm, and realism that the latest FIFA presented.
This year EA has decided to change a number of elements in order to make the game even more realistic, but we felt like it became a game closer to FIFA 15 and FIFA 16 than to more recent iterations because of these alterations.
The big difference is in the acceleration of the players and the way artificial intelligence covers spaces in midfield. According to EA, this had two aims in mind: to give the player more time to think about the game, and to highlight one-on-one clashes. And yes, that is precisely what happens, but the result is a game with a much slower pace than FIFA 19, and also more frustrating, especially to defend.
In our FIFA 19 review we said that "globally artificial intelligence has been improved. Both the opposing team and the player's team are much more effective in defending." FIFA 20 has basically overruled this.
Players take much longer to accelerate without a ball, which means it takes longer to reach the ball carrier. This wouldn't necessarily be a problem if artificial intelligence occupied spaces well, but that is not the case, especially on the player's side. Players are much more static defending midfield, and it's much harder to get the ball out, even in one-on-one duels. The situation improves a little closer to the area, but the result of these changes is a defensive style of play in which the player spends most of their time running to the ball, not defending it. In other words, it is much harder to exert pressure, and it is also much harder to get the ball off others.
This slower pace of play applies to when the player has the ball at their feet too, as artificial intelligence takes longer to push upfield, and does not occupy the spaces very well. This requires the player to play more static, with more passes to the side and back. Is this more realistic? Perhaps slightly, but as we mentioned at the beginning, if the last three FIFAs had a good balance between realism and fun, the balance leans much more towards realism than fun in FIFA 20. Sure, there are realistic moments where not much happens before bursting into life with a goal, but that might not be to everyone's tastes.
FIFA is an extremely complex game in terms of player contact with the ball. If we consider the height of the players, speed, position, height and speed of the ball, and other players, we can say that the number of contexts the game and the animations to be considered are tremendous. Sometimes this context cannot be properly matched, and the result is somewhat messy animations, such as ball-crossing feet, sudden turns, and other similar details. It has always been that way in FIFA, but FIFA 20 seems a little worse in that regard.
This is partly due to a new physics system for the ball, which bounces more, gets out of player control more often, and is more unpredictable. This is another factor that has added to the frustration, as it's particularly annoying to spend time and effort catching the ball to then lose it at a glance because our player mishandled it and immediately handed it to the opponent, or because a pass went wayward. These are two factors EA has introduced to try to balance defenders' slowness over attacks - passes fail more often, and players tend to dominate the ball with less ability.
Another factor that caused us some irritation involves the commands, which have been changed again. Do you remember the FIFA 18 strong pass that disappeared in FIFA 19, executed with R1 + X in the case of PS4? This pass is back in FIFA 20, and while we don't always notice these constant changes from year to year, actions that change buttons disappearing and coming back only serve to disrupt the adaptation process.
Not all of the changes were negative though. Acceleration lag means that fast players are again more determinate, as they should be, but better yet, crosses and attackers' positioning in the area has improved substantially. In FIFA 19 it was quite difficult to score headers or other goals within the area, but FIFA 20 corrected that situation. A good striker who has proper positioning and heading capability within the area is now a real danger to the opposing defenders.
Off the pitch, however, there is plenty to see, as in Career mode you can now find new interactions between the players, coach, and other elements such as the press. For example, if you put a player up for sale, they will ask you for a justification, which can lead to a significant decrease in morale. This morale will then impact the player's performance on the pitch, and in the case of very low morale, this can be really significant. Another change concerns the potential of young players, which is now greatly influenced by the number of games they have throughout the season. If a player with high potential spends most of the year sitting on the field, or without being summoned, his potential the following year will be lower.
Overall, Career mode is very similar to FIFA 19, but these minor changes help make the experience more varied throughout the season, and also make the mode more immersive.
Ultimate Team fans will also find some new features, especially in the form of the new Season Goals. This is a mode within FUT itself that seems to be inspired by game season systems like Fortnite and Apex Legends. Each season will offer new challenges and rewards for the player to accomplish, but there will also be long-term goals that extend over the seasons. With FIFA 19's returning Squad Battles, various types of leagues and tournaments, and a host of challenges for the player to meet, FUT is more complete than ever, offering plenty of content and variety. Of course, FUT also includes player packages, which are essentially loot boxes, something that seems increasingly out of step with today's gaming landscape, but at least there are many ways for players to earn coins to buy packages.
In addition to Career mode and Ultimate Team, you can count on the usual Tournament, Champions League, Skill Games (there are a lot of new practices), Seasons, and Kick-off experiences, which include a number of variants with their own rules. Lots of content and a lot of variety, all wrapped up in the high levels of production that FIFA has accustomed us to.
And then we have Volta, the big news of FIFA 20.
With Alex Hunter's story wrapped up in The Journey, this year we've got a new addition in the form of Volta, a street football experience that changes the way you approach the game. We're introduced to these principles via the story-driven Volta campaign, but we're also allowed to take our skills online and against others.
It's not exactly FIFA Street with this down-to-earth offering, but it is certainly very different from your usual FIFA offering. There are several types of street football, affecting how many can play in a squad, pitch sizes, walls around the pitch, and more. The story mode gives a good taste of all of this, although don't expect a gripping narrative - if you've seen an inspirational sports film, you'll see a lot of these beats coming.
That said, it does offer an interesting premise, in the sense that you'll need to build your own squad, keeping in mind factors like chemistry and positions, which should come as second nature to fans of Ultimate Team. At the same time your own player gets better depending on your performance in each match, and there's a skill tree to invest in and customisables to unlock, based on in-game objectives. In short, there's a lot to see and do in just the story alone, before taking your talents elsewhere.
Interacting with the space is a lot different as well, since you don't need to smash a ball down the field anymore, and the goals themselves are much smaller. Instead it's all about fancy flicks, precision shots, and flair, since skill moves have been made easier to execute in this mode. You can even make use of the walls for deflected passes and celebrations, if you're feeling creative.
It's the same core controls as FIFA on a full-sized pitch, but it takes some time to adjust. You can't slide in when defending, for example, forcing you to rely on well-placed blocks and lunges in (fouls still count on the streets though), and shots need to be direct and pinpoint accurate, since all the goals are small and can even be protected by a keeper. Without prescribed kits it can sometimes be hard to tell what's going on, but with time everything starts to fall into place, especially with the help of dedicated Volta training games.
Volta can also be very interesting for those who enjoy futsal, as it allows you to play futsal matches with most rules of the sport. As fans of futsal, we would love to see this side of Volta expanded in the coming years, perhaps even with official licenses and more pavilions.
Those expecting FIFA Street with this mode won't find anything quite as eccentric, but what EA Sports has done here is offer a deep and detailed mode recreating the feel of various types of street football, and it's convincing to say the least. The different pace, tempo, and playstyle might not be for everyone, but there's certainly every chance this could be your new favourite way to play FIFA.
Much has changed in FIFA 20. Volta is a great new way to enjoy football, the traditional Career and FUT modes include new features, and the overall FIFA 20 package is amazing. The quality and quantity of game modes, licenses, soundtracks (there are two, one for the base game, one for Volta), the graphics - all of this help make FIFA 20 a top-level game in terms of content and value. That said, the gameplay falters. It's not terrible - far from it, as it allows for some superb football moments - but we feel it has taken a few steps back which makes it more frustrating and less balanced than FIFA 19.