FIFA 20 – Review

Every year FIFA is the game that outlasts everything else. It’s always in rotation, sometimes it is the only thing I am playing, other times I am just dropping in occasionally to get my fix of football. My love of the beautiful game is what brings me back just as much as it is the video game itself. This year there are some changes and an entirely new mode to play, but does it all work out to be a better game?

FIFA 20 introduces a new game mode called Volta, which initially looks like FIFA Street in a new form. It sorts of it, but there is less emphasis on the over the top tricks and one on one battles and its more of a team effort. It can be very satisfying to ping the ball between a few of the Volta players as you progress up the small 3, 4, and 5-a-side arena’s which all have their own style and rules. Some have walls reminding me of the 90s FIFA games when you have smaller sided indoor games available.

Volta is a good idea, but it is some way off being the finished article. If you control just your edited character “Revvy” your AI teammates will fluctuate between being useful and being liabilities. The shooting mechanic is a little broken against AI teams as well, as you will find yourself with a shot you think should nestle in the top corner flying wildly towards the corner of the arena, whereas your AI opponent can hit the target from anywhere. The 3 and 4-a-side games don’t feature goalkeepers, so the problems are exacerbated in these game modes. The 5-a-side is good, but keepers are arguably overpowered here, as the tiny goal they are protecting means every shot is very near them. This creates a game where you are constantly trying to pull off a “sweaty goal” where you run up to the keeper and then roll it to the side for your team mates to hit home.

Moving on from Volta, I should touch upon the game mode I love to hate, Ultimate Team. I have played a bit of it this year to understand what’s there, and its largely the same as every season, the game is just a near perfect engine for trying to tease and extract money from you. The satisfactions from seeing a “walk out” player from opening a pack is a great thrill, but I have had one in the entire time I’ve played, and I have well over 300 players from packs. I didn’t buy all the packs, most of the packs are earnt through the game modes one saving grace for me, the squad building challenges.

These are 11-piece puzzles you need to solve using different players with matching clubs, leagues or nationalities to meet the targets of each challenge. They are immensely satisfying to complete, and although you could probably google it and find a much easier way to get through them all, I found the challenge and reward very satisfying. The few games of ultimate team I did play online and offline were frustrating, either way too easy offline or, once I had won against a few teams of similar level to mine online, I got put against a player who had an incredibly overpowered squad. Messi lined up alongside Suarez and Thierry Henry, all 3 players costing more individually than my entire squad of 18. This is an example of broken matchmaking and what I feel is the game trying to entice people into buying packs because when you see those players, you want them.

Enough about that shite game mode, onto Career mode. It’s been a rough launch for FIFA 20, with its career mode reportedly being a bit broken. Weirdly, I haven’t had any of the issues reported, but I have noticed that the squads are still not updated. Whilst I am grateful to have Nacho Monreal still at Arsenal, it does break the feeling of it being an updated new season a little. I played a full season and a half so far with Arsenal, and I have found it a bit too easy. Without playing many games I won the league and cup double, and the following season I bought Kylian Mbappe for just 130m. At that point I stopped because it just felt too easy, so I will wait for the new update and try again.

Career mode’s big new features are more squad interaction and a new dynamic potential system for play progression. The press conferences and the post-game interviews are well presented, but they appear to have very little effect on anything. Morale is present in the game but so far everything I have said has boosted morale. Player interactions are improved as you can now respond to a disgruntled player who wants more play time and explain why, but again I am not sure it has any purpose beyond a morale rating.

The dynamic potential is a feature I am very intrigued by, and I think I saw it working a little bit. In my playthrough I played Matteo Guendouzi a lot, as well as Reiss Nelson and both players improved significantly more than I would have expected them to in FIFA 19. By significantly, I mean 2 overall points, but they will make a big difference long term over a few seasons so I will be keen to see how this plays out over a longer time.

Finally, and most importantly, Pro clubs. It’s the best mode. It just is. Unfortunately, EA haven’t paid much attention to it, continuing the tradition of them ignoring their own ready-made eSport. The player creation is a different but gives you the same pro’s after you’ve been through it, and the skill tree is a bit more intricate, but beyond that it’s the same core game I love.

The actual on pitch gameplay is, and I am not sure many share this opinion, a much better game than FIFA 19. FIFA 20 is a much more challenging game to play at high levels online in Pro Clubs, which is how I will judge most FIFA titles. You can easily batter the AI if you’re an experienced player, but the online game modes like seasons and pro clubs test the games metal a lot more. You can no longer float a ball over the top into space quite so easily, as defenders do seem a lot more aware and switched on to attacks. They attempt to intercept all the time, and whilst it’s frustrating to have what you expected to be a well times through ball cut out by a defender, it does give me that feeling that I can improve and learn to get those passes right.

The close control is better than it’s ever been and for the first time I think FIFA has managed to get pace and physicality between players right. If you’re a faster player, you will notice that now you have enough pace to get past an opponent but it you miscontrol it in slightly the wrong direction the defender will have a chance to get back in and slow you down with a shoulder charge or a well-timed tackle. FIFA 20 has its own pitch problems though, and one of them is referee’s. The inconsistency is a real frustration for me, as realistic as it is. In FIFA, I expect it to get all the decisions right, and it gets far too many fouls wrong. At times you will be booked for an innocuous coming together when you’re running for the ball, and other times the ref won’t even notice a player taking out another with a late slide tackle.

FIFA 20 delivers this season on the pitch with a more realistic, slower game where your pace is a weapon, but not an overpowered one. Slow build up play and smart off the ball runs are rewarded, and there is some really satisfying football to be played. I will be playing it long into next year, and I think with the incoming patch updates and squad corrections, it will become a better all-round game.

Good: The presentation as always is great, and the gameplay is better than it’s been for a while. New models are promising but need a bit of refinement to be a viable regular game mode for me.

Bad: Ultimate Team is still there, and the referees are frustrating. Career mode needs an overhaul, and it has for a long time.

8/10 – FIFA 20 is a solid platform, hopefully next year they can build on it and address the community’s concerns. 

 

PES v FIFA: The Great Debate

There are some debates that have been going on since pop culture began. Pineapple on pizza McDonalds V BK V KFC. Xbox V PlayStation. Star Wars v Star Trek. Is it Gif or Jif? These debates are rarely settled (Except the pineapple one, get that off my pizza) but there is one that I feel has been settled for a while now. That is the yearly battle between PES and FIFA.

In my formative years, PES what where it was at. Presentation wasn’t as big of an issue when nobody looked right anyway, so in the days of PES5 and PES6 it was the only football game I played. FIFA struggled in the 2000s to get back on top after the heights of FIFA football 2003, and it waned and lost its way. Enter the PS3 generation, and FIFA picked itself up off the mat to fight back and beat down PES, almost to the point of it no longer being a debate.

In recent years, FIFA’s dominance has led to them perhaps focusing on the wrong things. Ultimate Team has been the main mode that development time has gone to, and aside from the story based “Journey” the rest of the game has remained similar for a long time. My personal favourite game mode, Pro Clubs, has been largely unchanged for years. There has been tweaks here and there but nothing to blow anyone’s mind.

I tried PES again in 2018, it was available for free on Xbox or PS4, and I downloaded to give it a try. It was a strange experience. I had pretty much ignored all the innovations over the years and just stuck to FIFA because that’s where my team was. Playing a football game that approached things from a different point of view was a refreshing break, but it did have its problems.

I don’t know lots about game development or programming, but I know enough to kind of understand how things can go wrong and the problems different obstacles can provide. Refereeing in football games is one problem I cannot even begin to understand how it is done. Unfortunately, the people at Konami who are responsible for the referee’s also seem to have very little idea either. 2018 and 2019 both had problems with the ref’s which at times break the games immersive and realistic simulation style. FIFA’S referees are by no means perfect, but they are consistent, and that makes it much less of an issue.

In recent years FIFA has completely redone its defending, and I think it’s the best innovation in football games since they introduced 360 dribbling. Gone are the days of sending your defenders after the ball like target seeking missiles by holding down one button. Defending on FIFA is an art now, and it’s made the game a much more rounded experience. PES feels a few years behind FIFA in this sense. The players still can be launched after the ball, but now they rarely win it. The idea is that you defend more with positioning than by charging at the ball and that is realistic, but only if your entire defence is paying attention.

PES 2019 lost me at around the 100th time my AI centre back just ignored a run and lost his man in the box, making my attempts to keep in shape and press at the right times irrelevant because the oppositions striker has the space to make a cup of tea before he dispatches the ball into the goal beyond my hapless keeper. PES 2019’s keepers are mostly there for show.

I do not have FIFA 20 yet, but I do have PES 2020, or eFootball PES 2020 to give the game its full title. I paid the money downloaded all the option files and updated all the kits, waited 2 days after release for the live update to refresh the players to their correct teams and then I dived in. It is weird. the previous year’s crisp passing feels a bit floaty; the natural movement of the players feels more robotic than I expected. The dribbling feels unnatural and it’s hard to predict what your player is going to do when a player is on their back.

Sometimes your player will shift his body weight to shield the ball, fighting off the player behind whilst maintaining possession and allowing you to control the ball until a pass is available. Other times, the AI player will just strut past you and take the ball with your player bumping off them and then having to go through the animation of him wobbling a couple of steps before you can control him again to win the ball back, by which point they’ve left you for dead.

Then you try to switch players to defend with you next in line, and instead of the defender you expect, you get given the right winger. This means more frustrating half seconds of them bearing down on your hopeless AI defence as you switch frantically between players. When you do get a hold of the right player, you then have to jockey and time the tackle perfectly, taking the ball and leaving the man stumbling over it as you emerge with the ball from what feels like a perfectly executed tackle. Then the ref blows his whistle and awards the opposition a free kick for your perfect, satisfying feeling tackle. There is a great feel to it when you master a tackle, but the fact that several of my best tackles end up in free kicks is so frustrating I nearly launched my controller into space.

What the game does well, is the finishing and the possession play. Passing around the defence and midfield in FIFA feels pointless. The opposition don’t hurry across from side to side to allow you to pull them out of position, and FIFA doesn’t appear to be heading that way. PES rewards you for patient, possession football, knocking it about and moving across the pitch leads to their defence starting to bend and flex until an opening appears and you can attempt the final pass to get a player into a goal scoring opportunity. It’s very satisfying and the best part of PES by far.

In terms of attacking game play, I would give the edge to PES between the two games. The new dribbling mechanic is difficult to use, but when you pull it off its immensely rewarding, as you send a defender for an ice cream and break into the space beyond him. The issue it has is that its main rival doesn’t have the same issues. FIFA is a remarkably consistent game. Each year it makes some tweaks, some gameplay changes, and it takes a period of adjustment. The basics of the game are very solid though, and for me I think PES has some brilliant ideas that feel like they’re standing on flimsy foundations. The defending needs a huge overhaul, while the refereeing will hopefully be fixed by a patch in the coming days or weeks. For now, though, PES is still climbing up the mountain that FIFA is sitting on top of.

ChAzJS