Thursday, 5 November 2020

FIFA 21 ★★★☆☆



Welcome to our review of FIFA 21, available on PC, PS4 & Xbox One. Just a note that we won’t be covering the Switch Legacy Edition, as this is a different package to the main game. We’re going to tell you everything you need to know before you play. 

You know we’re in the run-up to Christmas as soon as the new FIFA game drops. It’s a sign of the changing seasons just like pumpkin spice lattes and the Coca Cola Lorry. Yet in recent years, the magic of the football juggernaut has somewhat faded. FIFA 20 was plagued with unbalanced gameplay, and with a greater collective awareness of exploitative loot boxes, we quickly grew tired of playing it. And this is coming from a reviewer who usually plays FIFA up until the new release. But a new entry brings new possibilities, and we were excited to find out if FIFA 21 could redeem its predecessor. Would it get the franchise back on track? Read on to find out.


Firstly, there have been some slight tweaks to the overall gameplay, most of which are pretty positive. The speed of play is much more realistic, meaning you can now only abuse pace with players who are actually pacey. Otherwise, you’ll have to be more methodical and pass your way across the pitch, something that’s a little overpowered in our opinion, with the ball sometimes pinging about like a pinball. What’s much less controversial is that heading the ball actually works this year, meaning corners are finally worthwhile again. And after a lengthy absence, finesse long shots are back, evoking memories of screamers from FIFA 13. What a time to be alive!

Looking to defence, there hasn’t been the same level of improvement. The new collision system does make for more satisfying tackling, that sees you win the ball more often than not, but it’s just not enough. The AI is at times, woefully bad, letting attacking players glide past them without so much as sticking a foot in. 

But that’s nothing compared to the comically inept goalkeepers. Even the most decorated shot-stoppers in the world seem to be incapable of comfortably catching a ball, instead opting to punch or flap at it with very mixed success. This coupled with the dodgy defending can lead to some unrealistically high score lines, like Aston Villa beating Liverpool 7-2. I mean in what world would that ever happen?

Looking to Career Mode, there hasn’t been all that many updates. The UI and format remain largely the same, which is a real shame as it’s felt pretty stale for a few years at this point. However, the new interactive match sim feature works remarkably well. You can watch a match unfold in the same style as Football Manager, and you can seamlessly transition into the match if it's not working in your favour. 

Volta has also had a very minor revamp. It now comes with a new single-player mode called ‘The Debut’, featuring legends from football’s past. It’s a nice way of getting reacquainted with the FIFA Street style of play but won’t take more than a couple of hours to complete. What’s much more exciting is the inclusion of online co-op, which was bafflingly omitted last year. But be that as it may, Volta is still pretty shallow, and we still can’t see ourselves playing much of it this year either.

That’s because, like most years, much of our time will be spent in Ultimate Team. EA’s big moneymaker is yet another part of the game that’s only seen small, iterative changes. On the plus side, they’ve removed the need for fitness cards, which means you don’t have to waste coins because your digital man’s digital legs got tired. The dreaded ‘shush’ celebration has also been pulled, as it had been appropriated to bully other players. We doubt it’ll do much to stop toxic behaviour, but it’s nice to know we’ll never have to see it again.


In other positive news, you can now play Division Rivals and Squad Battles in co-op, which helps to make Ultimate Team that bit more sociable. We’re not sure whether sharing players with a friend will help or hinder you in the super-competitive divisions, but it’s good to have the option to try it. Yet at its core, Ultimate Team is still built upon hugely exploitative microtransactions. Players willing to splash real-world cash on the in-game currency will naturally get better players faster, putting those of us that can’t (or would rather not) give EA more of our money at a huge disadvantage. Hopefully, as world governments continue to crack down on the practises the game will continue to become fairer, but until then it does leave a sour taste in the mouth. 

To wrap up, FIFA 21 doesn’t really change the formula up from last year’s entry. The gameplay does feel much nicer, but the packaging around it is far too familiar. Whether this game has more longevity than the previous one will come down to how much the microtransactions affect the collective experience. But with a promising start, we’re hoping it doesn’t become another case of pay to win. 

★★★☆☆
Tom Baker




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