Scoring An Own Goal in the 90th Minute
I’ve played every Fifa game since 1998 and last year I scored Fifa 5/10, bemoaning a lack of significant gameplay improvements on-pitch. Fifa 20 is a game I’ve had since launch and is quite possibly one of the trickiest Fifa games to review. On the one hand, Fifa boasts a lot of improvements over its predecessor this year, with improved ball physics and the addition of Volta Football adding another dimension of play to the game.
Having said that, the career mode is riddled with bugs, animation glitches pop up during games and the Volta story mode doesn’t quite match up to The Journey from last year. That’s all before mentioning the microtransaction-driven Ultimate Team which remains the only polished and stable game mode in Fifa this year. The result is a game that pulls you one way and the next, somehow solidifying itself as one of the best and worst Fifa games in recent memory.
This is made even more frustrating because gameplay-wise, Fifa 20 is much improved this year. The ball has a good weight to it, volleys are unpredictable and defending is suitably difficult to get right. Balls pinball around in the penalty box a lot more organically during a fast cross while the team tactics actually do make a difference to play.
Fifa is still an incredibly fun game but it’s not perfect, especially with goalkeepers who are plagued with bizarre decision-making, see-sawing between world-class saves and incredulous blunders, sometimes with the next shot on target. I’ve had shots squeeze in at the near post while keepers watch it sail by their head, holding triangle to rush the keeper sees the AI slice it out of play instead of taking it down on their chest and simple, floaty shots are often scrambled out for a corner instead of simple saves. Despite the improvements made to attacking and the ball itself, goalkeeping still has a long, long way to go.
The inclusion of Mystery Ball and King Of The Hill to the list of available matches this year are probably the more pleasant surprises added to Fifa 20. Playing with my son, Mystery Ball has quickly become our go-to game mode. The rules are very simple and play out just like a normal game with one big difference. The ball is injected with different super-stats every time it goes out of play. From perfect passing and super speed, right the way through to the coveted “every goal counts for 3”, Mystery Ball injects some frantic arcade action to proceedings and is all the stronger for it. When Fifa embraces these arcade elements, it really makes for some incredibly enjoyable match-ups and for me, this is the direction Fifa needs to go in because when it comes to realism on the pitch, Pro Evolution will always come out on top.
With The Journey bowing out for this year’s title, Volta football takes its place. Playing out as a spiritual successor to Fifa Street, Volta sees you take to the pitch with a chosen avatar and compete for glory across various different regions. The set-up is very similar to The Journey, with optional skill games interspersed around match-ups that progress the story.
The actual matches themselves play out just like in Fifa Street, with walled areas playing host to intimate 3v3 or 4v4 matches with a heavy emphasis on trickery and flashy moves. With no slide tackling and a frenetic pacing, most of the matches see you score 3 or 5 goals before your opponent in order to progress through the tournaments. There are exceptions to these rules of course, with the later matches seeing you compete in a New York invitational with 3 minute halves, as well as the subsequent final tournament which removes the walls and showcases 5v5 matches. There’s enough variety here to see you through to the end but the mode lacks any lasting appeal to see you returning to this 3-hour mode again in a hurry.
Along with Volta, Fifa also boasts numerous improvements with its Career Mode. At least on paper. With the inclusion of press conferences both before and after games and a slick new aesthetic, Career Mode has long been an area of Fifa that’s been neglected in favour of Ultimate Team. Unfortunately, Fifa 20 only reinforces rather than silences this belief. In the 5 hours I spent playing this mode, press conference answers showed coding instead of actual replies, teams played their reserves rather than star-players and hilariously Manchester United found themselves in a serious relegation scrap… with Chelsea and Manchester City.
I could go on as I found a whole litany of other glitches here but I’ve intentionally waited to see if EA address these issues with a post-game patch. At the time of writing this, two weeks after release, there’s no patch and the latest news state it won’t be available anytime this week either. For a big blockbuster title like Fifa 20 to be released with these major problems, this really isn’t good enough for a company the size of EA.
Ultimate Team is, as expected, the most polished mode here and if you’ve played this before in previous games, Fifa has perfected its formula to make this the staple game mode of the franchise since 2014. For those unfamiliar, Ultimate Team sees you take control of a squad made up entirely of collected cards, with a heavy slant on upgrading and perfecting your squad by earning in-game coins and exchanging them for card packs which hold better players.
While these can be grinded naturally through numerous matches, both online and offline, there’s a heavy emphasis toward buying these, especially given the eye-watering amount of time it takes to naturally earn a Gold Pack featuring the best players. This is especially evident for the online portion of the game too, which will almost certainly see you decimated by the competition if you aren’t prepared and go in loaded with the best players.
The rest of the game is largely unchanged, right down to the main menu which uses the same block-tiles for each screen. Pro Clubs is virtually unchanged too, and the Champions League portion has a slight graphical upgrade, along with a few new lines of commentary, but largely Fifa 20’s core exterior remains the same as it has for several years.
Fifa 20 has all the parts to make for a competent, impressive footballing title this year. I played Pro Evo last month and was pleasantly surprised by the fluidity and realistic football on display in that title and wondered whether Fifa could compete on the pitch. In a way it does, at least for a little while. Matches are genuinely balanced with a good use of physics and improved animations, but various glitches and bugs hold this game back from ascending to the level it should hit. The career mode is almost entirely unplayable if you want a realistic experience and unless you’re prepared to put some serious time into Ultimate Team, Volta’s short story mode may not be enough to keep you coming back for more.
All of this culminates in a game that should be one of Fifa’s best entries but frustratingly falls way short of that bar. EA’s scored an own goal here when it matters most, delivering an uneven and tumultuous game in serious need of stability. Perhaps over time Fifa 20 will grow into the footballing title it’s always aspired to be with its promising changes but right now, Fifa 20 is a game in serious need of refinement and patching. Perhaps with the new wave of next-gen consoles on the horizon we may see some genuine innovation from Fifa but right now, it’s hard to know whether this will ever come to fruition.
All of our videogame reviews are also featured on OpenCritic