FIFA 23 – the end of an era. EA’s last football/soccer game to wear the FIFA brand is here – are they ending on a high, or is this a stopgap for the launch of EA Sports FC next year? We played the PlayStation 5 version of the game, which is also available for PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, and PC – and in a ‘legacy’ version for the Nintendo Switch.
It’s a bit of a bittersweet goodbye for us, as we remember playing the first isometric FIFA games after having enjoyed the likes of Kick Off and Sensible Soccer for many years. The 3DO version of FIFA revolutionized the entire genre with its TV style presentation, laying the groundwork for what we’re playing 30 years later. And in addition to not quite rolling off the tongue, EA Sports FC 24 just doesn’t quite have the same gravitas to us. So yeah, end of an era, though hopefully also an incentive to do some new things to the formula.
For years now, presentation and content have been FIFA’s big selling point over the competition. Even the pre-match moments look great and give you the sense you’re about to watch a fantastic game, even if in reality you’re playing with two teams you wouldn’t spend ten minutes watching on TV. The in-game action has also received yet another boost, this time under the “Hypermotion 2” banner which promises more realistic animation than ever before – and it delivers on the promise. It might not show in regular play, but when a player makes a desperate effort to try and reach a ball that would otherwise have gone by him, you almost get the sense you’re watching a real individual with a personality.
Gameplay-wise, there’s a major emphasis on goals this time around, with a kind of super shot you can unleash as long as you’re given the chance to charge it up. It results in an unrealistic amount of goals and makes goalkeepers look way worse than they did in the past, as if they’re amateurs who never get shots like that fired at them from a distance. It gives the game an arcade-like feel, which is fun – but at the same time I don’t need my matches to end with a 7-4 score either.
And as for scores – FIFA also still a dynamic difficulty setting on place where (regardless of the setting you’re playing at) the AI forces you to make mistakes and boosts the other team’s abilities when you’re about to run away with it. Sure, you can stay put up massive scores despite this system, but it’s frustrating to see the game derail your playing style for this purpose. If I want to play at the easiest setting and want to string together beautiful attacks non-stop, why can’t I? This is much less of an issue when you play at the ‘correct’ setting that matches your abilities, but it shouldn’t be an issue at all.
That may sound overly negative by the way, and FIFA 23 is definitely still a lot of fun to play – it’s just weird that after thirty years you still feel like it needs refinement. Take that super shot, for example. As most (real life) players will tell you, if you don’t get put under pressure and get plenty of time for a shot, it makes a big difference. It doesn’t feel like you’re charging a super meter though, and should be a more natural part of the gameplay – the more time you have to shoot, the better the shot, without feeling like you just activated turbo mode. Before too long you’ll learn to make sure you keep the pressure on, but it can initially feel overpowered.
One area where we wish that the game had taken a bigger step forward is the commentary. It’s the best in the business and EA offers tons of different languages, but while that’s impressive from a content production point of view we still hope that they’ll some day figure out to make it feel more natural, for instance by making sure that the emotion conveyed matches the scoreline or stakes of the game. They made great strides in this regard a few years ago, but it’s getting to be time for the next phase.
But despite a lack of innovation in terms of game modes (though Ted Lasso fans will enjoy that rather surprising tie-in) and the same old trouble with microtransactions that keeps me from casually enjoying the game’s legends, the foundations here are solid. Sure, some aspects are rough around the edges, but the on-the-pitch gameplay is fun. You can string together a one-touch attack and cut through defenses, and with a high enough difficulty level you can’t rely on a singular way to score either – you’ll have to mix up your playing style, which feels very natural thanks to seemingly random moments in animations, (un)lucky bounces and mistimed shots.
Perhaps it’s more of an incremental change than a ‘grand finale’, but from that perspective FIFA 23 fits right in with the games released in recent years: it’s beautiful to look at and plays well, but there’s plenty of room for improvement.
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