FIFA 20 review: King of the streets
FIFA 20 has likely broken plenty of records in terms of players and the like, but we waited to present our review for a very good reason. At launch, parts of the game itself were also broken.
However, since a title update and several other bug fixes, we now feel confident that we’ve seen it at its best. Yes, it should have been perfect from day one, but such is the way with modern games and release schedules these days that it’s rarely the case.
So, now that we’re getting the FIFA 20 we should have had. The next big question is whether that’s enough?
Thankfully, the answer is “yes”. It is by far and away the best FIFA game we’ve had yet. To be honest, we have said that almost every year during this current generation of gaming, but this time the tweaks and additions are plentiful and it feels a tighter experience.
There’s also several things removed when compared to last year’s iteration. The Journey story mode finished with the end of the trilogy in 2019, which is a big shame. And, there are a few changes to Ultimate Team that can be jarring at first.
However, in the latter case it actually makes sense. The new Ultimate Team is a much better experience this time around, with a keener, cleaner focus on both single and multiplayer matches, with the grind of former years replaced with a more purposeful structure.
And, to replace The Journey, we get a different story mode in the form of Volta Football – this year’s biggest new feature.
Like The Journey, you star as an up-and-coming footballer, but this time in street soccer. There are twists, turns, frenemies and some fairly hammy moments along the way, but it works nicely as a completely different turn of pace from the rest of the FIFA game modes.
And, for those lamenting the loss of Alex Hunter (like us) you might get a smile on your face at some point.
Volta isn’t quite a direct replacement for The Journey – it’s nowhere near as long, for example – but it does present some interesting on-pitch play that was clearly in development for a while (remember the short form game at the start of The Journey part three?). And, it’s a bit of fun as you slam passes off backboards, flip around players and generally use your tekkers more than you would in a full FIFA match.
We thoroughly enjoyed our time with Volta and, as you have to complete the story to unlock multiplayer matches in that mode, it’s just as well.
Our favourite mode of FIFA for the last few years is undoubtedly Ultimate Team and, as we alluded to already, it is a better refined, more friendly feature this time.
Yes, it does have “loot boxes” style incentives with, sometimes, appalling odds to get the best cards from paid-for packs, but it is also possible to construct the best teams through gameplay – even if you’re not that great at the game.
There are plenty of awards to be won, through either single or multiplayer modes, and the transfer market is again a great place to snaffle-up a bargain. Of course, you have to put the hours in to get the most from it, but that’s likely to be the case anyway if you’ve dropped the best part of £60 on a game.
This year, Ultimate Team matches are split into three distinct types: Squad Battles for single-player matches against other players’ squads, Division Rivals which puts you in ranked matches against similar opponents, and Friendlies. The latter is not just great for a quick match in single, couch co-op or PvP, it has some bonkers new gameplay styles that are great for parties.
We particularly like Mystery Ball matches, where the ball itself gains different properties throughout, and Swaps, where you have three of your squad players swapped for three from the other team. They add a whole new element to FIFA gameplay and even reward your Ultimate Team profile with coins after play.
They are a great replacement for the single-player leagues and cups from former years, which became an unsatisfactory plod-through just to earn cash for transfers.
The Squad Battles and Division Rivals modes are timed so, at the end of each period, you get rewards based on your league standing. And then there is the FUT Champions mode you have to buy yourself into. We did once. We got hammered.
Basically, only hardcore players and pros need apply.
The last of the big FIFA game modes once again included is Career – the one most broken at launch. Indeed, it was almost unplayable on day one, hence we waited until it was fully fixed before commenting.
Sadly, even when running at its best, it’s the mode with the littlest amount of upgrades or, seemingly, development effort put in.
It works as well as ever (now, at least), and we know plenty who prefer it over Ultimate Team as they can take an individual player or full team through many seasons, but it is also the most relatively untouched.
There are a few additions, such as live news screenshots grabbed from inside your matches, that pop up in the in-game newsfeed, but it’s more padding than polish. And, while it’s great that you can now have a female manager as your avatar, you can’t manage in any women’s league, nor play as a female player. That would have been a much better new option for sure.
Perhaps we’ll see that in FIFA 21.
On the pitch
Other improvements are reserved for the pitch but, unless you are a truly hardcore or pro FIFA nut, you likely won’t notice most of them.
Dribbling, tackling and controlled finishing are headline tweaks. As are better AI and ball physics. However, while the ebb and flow of a match does change a little more than before (and scoring feels harder at first) you soon settle back into the same sort of play style you likely first adopted a couple of years ago. And it’s still effective.
More notable changes come with set pieces – namely penalties and free kicks. They now adopt a combination of targeting and right-stick manipulation for extra effects. Sadly, not without controversy as both are now more fiddly and, in the case of penalty shoot-outs, less effective.
Still, it’s good to see something new being tried as we weren’t fans of the previous formats neither.
As for the on-pitch gameplay as a whole, it still feels tangible and real, while retaining some of the arcade fun that makes every FIFA game a joy. Plus, with several subtle but smart graphical and sonic enhancements, it’s even easier to lose yourself in the experience now.
It’s easy to dismiss each iteration of FIFA as a mere data and kit update, but it is always so much more than that. To real fans at least.
We were initially disappointed by FIFA 20, we’ll be honest. But that was down to some real game-breaking bugs that have now been thoroughly purged. So, we feel justified in holding off on our opinion to allow EA Sports to put things right.
In doing so, it has delivered the best FIFA yet. Yes, it favours enhancements over innovation, but just about everything seems to now fit.
We would have loved the Volta story to run for longer and Career mode to have a bigger overhaul, of course. However, what we do have is a finely polished and superb football game that will last us as long as our replica kits.