A few weeks after the annual update edition that was the new PES, football/soccer fans are looking at EA’s FIFA 21 to see what its latest iteration will bring. We checked out the PS4 version.
With a new console generation just around the corner, this was never going to be a year where annually released sports games were making a big leap forward. PES was very transparent about this, WWE 2K even went in a completely different direction this year and we won’t see anything groundbreaking in NHL 2K21 either.
FIFA 21 certainly fits into that mold, with incremental changes to last year’s excellent version serving as the foundation this time around – many of them having been applied to the career mode with a few smaller tweaks appearing in the core gameplay portion of the experience. Movement and dribbling feels slightly more natural, which can best be in seen when you pay attention to where teammates position themselves. They used to have a tendency to hide behind an opponent, making it impossible to reach them with a pass, and they do a better job of finding the open space this year.
Defending is still a mixed bag though, with tackling being difficult to pull off without too much risk of a yellow or even red card. When playing online, this is especially frustrating, as it encourages a playing style that’s very unrealistic, with players just spinning and turning non-stop while dribbling to try and evoke a foul. As a result, I preferred playing most of my games offline against a very competent AI.
The career mode steers FIFA a bit more towards the old days of EA’s FIFA Manager games. Rather than having to watch entire games play out ‘live’, you can now just follow them on a more schematic overview screen where the games are being simulated – letting you make decisions quickly without having to assume control on the pitch. Of course you can still do this and you can also go hands on with the various training exercises, but those who are more interested in the managerial side of things will appreciate the change.
As is the norm, FIFA excels when it comes to the licenses it has – though the current pandemic requires the game to download a few post-release roster updates so that all players are with their correct teams. It also feels a bit strange to play games in front of full stands, but I suppose those are just the times we live in right now.
Legendary players also return in FIFA’s Ultimate Team mode, but sadly it’s not changed much from last year’s offering. The main draw for me was being able to play with some of the all-time greats, but besides spending real life money on FUT coins the only way of getting there is through a very long grind, taking out a lot of the appeal. I wish there was a mode that would just allow me to play with these legends in a friendly game (playing with “all stars” is one of my favorite parts about the NBA 2K games), but EA hasn’t given us a way to enjoy them without investing time and/or money up front first.
Other areas that haven’t changed much include the returning Volta mode and the audiovisual presentation – the latter leading me to believe that most of the efforts there are being invested in next year’s version since EA (unlike 2K with NBA 2K21) hasn’t teased any next gen footage for FIFA 21 yet.
Although FIFA 21 makes bigger strides than PES did this year, they’re still incremental steps forward rather than game-changing improvements. With most of the changes this year affecting the managerial side of things, those looking for a new football/soccer experience on the pitch are left waiting. Luckily, they’re still getting a solid and fun simulation of the sport, especially offline.