It's that time of year again. Across the globe, folks are getting ready to hunker down and avoid direct sunlight for weeks at a time. The yearly FIFA update is upon us.
In the space of digital football (that's soccer, for you Americans), there have always been two camps: You're either FIFA or Pro Evolution Soccer (PES), rarely both. As one gets better, the other has to up its game, and a few years back EA gave FIFA a massive overhaul and moved it onto the Frostbite engine, becoming the outright champion once more.
FIFA 20 isn't that type of an update, but it's still absolutely packed to the rafters with content. The competition remains fierce, but FIFA retains the edge overall. FIFA 20 might not be anything revolutionary, but it's still the one to play, and it's got a surprisingly good party trick this year.
Bottom line: Still the king, mostly the update you'd expect but with a welcome surprise in the superb VOLTA mode.
- VOLTA football is superb fun
- Set pieces finally don't suck
- All the licenses you can shake a stick at
- Immense selection of content
- Great soundtrack and stadium sounds
- FUT remains pay to win
- Some of the faces are a little odd-looking
- VOLTA story is too linear
FIFA 20: A yearly update with no surprises (and that's a good thing)
Here's the thing with FIFA. Unless EA made something noticeably worse, then an update that looks, plays and feels as good as last year's game is perfectly fine. It may sound boring, but that's the yearly update cycle for you. FIFA 20 is, at its core, FIFA 19 with a little added polish.
That polish though is actually not half bad. Set pieces, particularly free kicks, are so much better with the upgraded system that lets you properly place your shot. Free kicks have long been my most disliked part of the gameplay, so a rework is certainly welcome and no longer do they just plain suck. The ball physics have also been given some love and its behavior does feel a little more natural. Spin actually means something and no longer is every shot from range a straight laser.
There's a ludicrous amount of content in FIFA 20
As always, FIFA 20 comes with an insane amount of licensed clubs, tournaments, and stadiums, and bar one particularly high profile absentee (we'll miss you Juventus), all of the world's top clubs in the top leagues are represented. So are a heap of clubs that aren't in the top leagues. There are so many different teams to choose from in FIFA 20 it's hard to know where to start.
FIFA does a grand job with those licenses as well. Player likenesses are (mostly) on point, though some of the facial expressions leave something to be desired. Harry Maguire, for example, looks like Harry Maguire, but at times like he swallowed something nasty. And in the career mode, your digital manager created in your own likeness doesn't ever seem to smile. It's a small thing, but when the rest of the game looks absolutely stunning, dodgy faces stand out.
Stadiums, kits, balls, and trophies are all matched impeccably, and when you first fire up the game you're given the chance to download the latest post-transfer window squads so you're on the very cutting edge. Nobody wants to see Chris Smalling in a Man Utd shirt, do they?
The game modes on offer are largely the same as FIFA 19, which is neither bad nor unsurprising. Career mode is what I'd consider the core experience of FIFA, especially for old hands like myself. In it, you can either be a manager or a player and as the former, you'll pick a club, do all kinds of managery things, then play the games and take them to glory.
FIFA 20 also retains the UEFA Champions League and Europa League licenses, with an achievement for winning each, no less. Ultimately, all the single-player content you would expect to find in a FIFA game is here, and it plays as good as you would expect it to.
FIFA Street is back and the star of the show
FIFA Street was a spin-off franchise that began way back in 2005, had a couple of sequels, then a reboot in 2012, then faded away into the mist. Street was a very different take on FIFA, and many, myself included, had a lot of fun with it.
In FIFA 20 it makes its return as VOLTA, which also takes the place of the single-player campaign mode. And it's terrific. Well, apart from the dialog in cut scenes, but otherwise it's superb. In the story mode, you start out as a nobody gunning for the top, pretty standard fare, but as this is FIFA with a stack of licenses, it weaves in real-life personalities from the scene such as Jayzinho.
VOLTA adds some new spice and it's brilliant fun
I won't spoil the campaign, but everything in VOLTA is also available to play outside of the story mode and with a variety of different rulesets. The arena choices are superb, each representing a different location from around the globe. London will look a lot different to Barcelona, for example, with the latter being a lot sunnier and generally brighter looking!
Progression follows a similar trend to the main game, and as you progress you earn XP and skill points to further your abilities on the skill tree. You'll also unlock cosmetic rewards through completing challenges or by spending the VOLTA coins you earn as you play. Right now it looks like you can't actually buy VOLTA coins with real money, which I'm perfectly OK with.
VOLTA rewards a very different style of play to the main game, not least because of the smaller teams and pitches. It's very quick, you'll have plenty of fun tossing in tricks and turns and you'll also find it's pretty challenging. Whether you play with goalkeepers or not, the goals are so much smaller than regular you'll need to use all your skill to score.
About the only real downer on VOLTA is that the story mode is entirely single-track. Early on, for example, you play in a tournament in Tokyo. If you lose, you have to go back to the start and try again. It's pretty frustrating, and there should at least be an option A for if you win and an option B if you fail to win. It takes the shine off an otherwise enjoyable experience.
Like everything else in FIFA 20, it'll ultimately be overshadowed by the goliath that is Ultimate Team, and that's a shame. VOLTA is immense fun and it's precisely the sort of game mode that would be perfect to play with friends. I just hope that EA runs with it and continues to develop the mode, and we don't see it disappear when we get round to FIFA 21.
FUT conquers all
Another year means another FIFA Ultimate Team grind will begin. And it's another year I continue to have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, the opportunity to put together your ultimate fantasy team remains immensely appealing. It's also no surprise it continues to be the top played mode in FIFA.
But FUT is also a microtransaction nightmare of mystery packs and real money purchases. I don't really need to focus much on this because the mechanics are essentially what they've always been, and so long as players hand over fistfuls of cash to EA it will never change.
But it's still essentially gambling, and even though you could grind away to get enough FUT coins for a gold pack, the only real way you're going to get enough to pad out your squad is by buying them with real money.
That's still my biggest frustration with FUT; pay to win. Clearly, though, I'm in the minority. It's a shame because as a gameplay mode FUT is absolutely rammed with content and challenges. It's engaging and rewarding, but it will always have that loot box cloud hanging over it for me.
The bottom line
The bottom line is perfectly simple. If you enjoy FIFA you'll buy this year's game and you'll love it. There's nothing radically different to it, the recipe has basically been the same since the days of FIFA 17 when EA made the jump to the much superior Frostbite engine.
It's fast and fluid, challenging and fun, and the license pack teamed with some quite excellent stadium sounds and production values a TV station would be proud of makes it wonderfully immersive. The all-new VOLTA mode is the surprise package though. It's great for a quick fix and such a lot of fun.
FIFA 20 is still the king
Mild rant aside, there's little reason to dwell on the pay to win microtransactions, because it isn't new and it's so incredibly popular and lucrative it's here to stay. On a more positive note, FUT alone has more than enough content to keep you playing every day until FIFA 21.
And that's perhaps the killer feature. FIFA 20 has an insane amount of content on hand. If you're a regular, you'll be happy, and if you've perhaps given the last game or two a miss, go ahead and jump back in with this year's release. Ultimately, and unsurprisingly, FIFA 20 is still the king.
FIFA 20 launches on September 27 on Xbox One, PC and PS4 with a three-day early access period prior for buyers of the Champions Edition.
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