E.A. SPORTS. IT’S
IN THE GAME THE SAME.
Another year rolls around and another Fifa is released. There’s always a flurry of jokes around this time of year about how EA copy and pastes the same formula over and over while repackaging its game with shiny new teams. This year though, it’s hard to argue that that’s exactly what this is.
Look, at the end of the day Fifa will sell regardless of review scores. There are incremental changes across the different games but this is largely the same package, designed to encourage seasoned players to settle in like a comfy, tatty, serviceable pair of shoes – even if those shoes are full of holes and barely stay on your feet,
The year a new generation of consoles release is always marred with a poor Fifa showing. It happened with Playstation 1, 2 and 3. Fifa 14 felt like an identical game to Fifa 13 on Playstation 2, with significant changes reserved for the upgraded console version. In true Fifa format, Fifa 21 follows where its predecessors have left off and releases a game that really does feel like a copy and paste job.
Before the pitchforks come out, there are admittedly a few notable changes this year to the Fifa formula. Attacking has been tweaked slightly and games are now surprisingly balanced online. The defending is still way out of sync (one defender will always follow an attacker ahead of the ball and play him (or her) onside).
To try and offset that, there’s a few big changes to Career Mode and a slightly reworked Volta experience. Fans have been crying out for changes to career mode for years and at least this time it appears EA have listened.
There’s a reworked training program, an added sharpness metric and some nice screens that mirror that seen in Football Manager. The simmed matches come in two flavours – with a quick sim heading straight for the result while Simming allows you to check the coloured dots running around signifying your players like Football Manager. You can even jump in when things are going awry.
There is a significant delay with jumping in and issuing instructions though, and this lag does actually carry over to Volta as well. I’ve had framerate drops, loading screens crash, slow and sluggish controls for changing teams and a significant delay when issuing instructions from the sidelines in Career mode.
There’s the same press conferences as before but your chosen manager never speaks the full sentences given, presenting a hilarious one-way dialogue where you’re asked a question and repeat it back to the commentator in silence. Transfers, scouting and all the other bells and whistles here are decent though and the UI for this mode is slick and nicely presented.
It’s still annoying that your chosen avatar can’t pick glasses to wear (at least as far as I could tell) and there’s one or two outfits tailored for women if you choose to be a female coach. That seems to be the case for both the Volta and Career mode.
The rest of the game modes are pretty much identical to last year. Unlike Fifa 19 to 20 though, the trophy list has actually been updated rather than the same list copied across. There’s still a lot of emphasis on Ultimate Team but there’s at least some variation with the other modes to give them a go and try out what’s new.
Without The Journey this time around, Volta takes up the mantle for a thinly sliced story mode but it’s pretty bare bones in truth. You choose an avatar and play across the world but this mode has been stripped down from last year’s effort. Instead, there’s more emphasis on playing online but in the time I dabbled with this, I really struggled all week to find matches.
Visually, the game looks nigh-on identical to what we had last year. Now, I played Fifa 20 back to back with 21 and the only big difference I saw came from lighting during late-afternoon games. Those pitches look beautiful and the lighting is absolutely stunning.
The rest of the time though, you’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference between Fifa 20 and Fifa 21. The menus are all the same, there’s a couple of new teams – notably those relegated and promoted to lower-league divisions – and most of the badges and star rating screens are unchanged. On the pitch, crowds are still joined at the hip and engage in similar animations, the substitute bench all get up and down together while stadiums are a mixed bag between good and average.
Some pitches and players look really good (most notably those in the higher leagues), while others are horribly disfigured and nothing like their real-world counterpart. Even in the prolific Championship and Ligue 2.
This unfortunately feeds into the physics and glitches on the pitch. This is one glitchy Fifa game and while the past titles have carried a litany of bugs, this one is full of more hilarious and woeful physics that would make Bethesda blush.
I’ve had players falling through barricades, stuck in the goal, stuck on each other, wandering around aimlessly before taking up positions and even during goal celebrations missing the stadium fence and landing inside the crowd, hovering in mid-air like some sort of messiah. These moments are hilarious until you remember you just paid £59.99 for this. And that’s the minimum price.
This leads nicely to Ultimate Team. Most people now will realize Ultimate Team is where the meat of this game – and most of the effort this year – has been placed. The trading card pay-to-win mode has come under a lot of scrutiny in recent years and that doesn’t look like slowing down any time soon.
Most notably, the Belgium commission want these packs listed as gambling which EA are prepared to go to court over, refusing to do such a thing and classing them as “surprise mechanics.” No matter which way you slice it, this mode has turned into a pay-to-win fest and newcomers are out of their depth.
Even those loyal to the mode aren’t treated much better, rewarded with a gold loan pack and a couple of extra cards to start off with. The points needed to even consider a gold pack without buying are absolutely ludicrous and everything here entices you in to buy more and spend more money. To be fair, savvy players will realize the transfer market is your best bet if you intend to track down some gold players but the store is always there, and something you’re constantly pushed back to.
The on-pitch balance has been tweaked slightly though to balance games better. The jockey (with L2) has been slightly improved, there’s a lot more ricochets, last-ditch blocks and unpredictability in the box and wide-open attacking player. All of this has been improved over Fifa 20’s effort. Of course, that also means there’s more goals flying in as attacking play is the real meat and potatoes of this game.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what score critics give Fifa 21. It could get a 1/10 from every publication and fans will still buy Fifa. However, it’s hard not to come away from this one disappointed.
There’s still no inclusion of the Conference or lower division teams, there’s a distinct lack of national female squads (they’re all reserved for International games with a handful of playable countries) and the commentary is repetitive and bland. It’s certainly not as bad as the WWE games but the same stock phrases will haunt you all year long.
While Fifa 21 serves up a few tweaked changes, this feels more like a manufactured, cheap burger doused in ketchup to disguise the taste. There’s little to note here with identical menus, game modes, commentary and ideas overshadowing the few tweaks on the pitch.
This is the same old game we’ve come to know and expect but rather than displaying the beautiful game in all its glory, this feels more like the bland and mediocre effort designed to keep people hooked until Fifa 22.
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