FIFA 20 Review — League Two Gameplay Wrapped Up in a Premier League Package
FIFA 20's excellent Volta mode, engaging changes to Ultimate Team, and potentially cool features to Career Mode don't make up for subpar soccer gameplay.
Xbox One, PC, Switch
Review copy provided by the publisher
Variety, they say, is the spice of life. Take, for instance, food. Taking a few hours to prepare a five-course, home-cooked meal is a huge investment. However, the pay-off is a great meal that I can enjoy with my friends and family. The experience of cooking helps me grow as a person with useful hobbies, and the compliments I get from the people I’m cooking for are rewarding. Alternatively, I could just order pizza. Pizza’s great. I could save all that time I spent cooking and do something else. Heck, I might even be able to get the pizza place to draw a silly cartoon on the inside of pizza box. That would be fun!
Both meals might have equal nutritional value. They might even bring me the same level of satisfaction from a taste and hunger perspective. That said, the two meals differ in pretty much every other way. That’s exactly how I feel about the comparison between EA’s FIFA 20 and Konami’s eFootball PES 2020. Both are good enough soccer games, but their approaches to getting there are completely different.
“The presentation, the modes on offer, and all the trimmings are among the best in the business.”
I’m going to try my best to keep my comparisons to PES to a different article, but know that these games feel so completely intertwined that I’m bound to bring Konami’s latest soccer sim up quite a bit. In short, PES 2020 is a fine, home-cooked pizza that I had to spend hours preparing, while FIFA 20 is my favorite fast-food chain (Domino’s) on its best service day.
And that’s where FIFA 20 shines. The presentation, the modes on offer, and all the trimmings are among the best in the business. The menus are colorful, attractive, and easy to navigate. Before you step on the field, the entire package is excellent. Then the soccer starts.
It’s not that FIFA 20 is this horrid mess of gameplay. It’s perfectly fine; however, fine just doesn’t cut it when the other soccer game available controls so well this year. There are a number of problems with the on-field product, many of them holdovers from past iterations.
Most importantly for my money is FIFA’s stance on ball physics. In FIFA, the ball is more like an extension of your player’s feet. It never feels like it has a path of its own, which means that you can ping-pong the ball all over the field with perfect precision. Granted, many of these players are absolutely world-class. However, even at its highest level, soccer hardly ever looks this easy in the attack. Maybe if Manchester City was playing my wife’s local co-ed team, the game would look this easy, although even that might be a stretch.
What this means is that there is almost zero build-up play in FIFA. The ball flies from one side of the field to the other with the mid-field being a quaint dream in Pep Guardiola’s dreams. Seriously, there is no setting up your tactics. Once you gain possession, it takes about ten seconds of through-balls and sprinting, and you’re in front of your opponent’s net.
On the surface, this isn’t a bad thing. Many people likely prefer this style to the slower pace found in PES 2020. That said, it doesn’t really feel like soccer, which, for a soccer sim seems important. Plus, even if you’re perfectly fine with your soccer games feeling more like the U6 soccer games I have to endure every Saturday as a coach, FIFA has some issues.
The A.I., particularly the one on your team, seems pretty bad, especially in defense. If I had to guess, they programmed your defenders to run away from the ball instead of trying to make a tackle. This is problem PES has too, but there is a big difference that makes FIFA play much worse. In PES, you have a dedicated button to send your A.I. defenders after the player with the ball. This allows you to effectively trap players or to have the A.I. play aggressively while you protect their backline with another player. FIFA also has a button to call for a help defender. However, they don’t seem to be interested in making a tackle themselves, and, because the ball moves so quickly, the player serving as your second defender is changing all the time. This results in the button being ineffective at best and disastrous at worst.
“If FIFA’s main gameplay is fast-paced, [Volta] is the game at warp speed.”
Other niggles from the past continue to creep in. For example, I hate how FIFA puts my pass-meter in the bottom corner of the screen. It makes passing to the correct player feel more like a guessing game than it should, especially with higher-level players. The CPU continues to be god-like at one-time volleys on higher difficulties. Once a year shots in the real-world quickly become old hat once you’re playing at higher difficulties. I’ve also run into a number of weird tracking and clipping errors that completely derail the game. You’d hope stuff like this would be ironed out by now. I guess this is what happens when FIFA Ultimate Team (FUT) is so profitable that nothing else matters.
Again, many of these things might not seem bad to you. Sometimes the fast-pace of FIFA is exactly what I want. However, there are just so many gameplay issues here that make the game feel completely different from what you watch on TV. Honestly, I think I might prefer them to dip further into arcade-style soccer, which is what makes things like Volta such a joy.
Volta is EA’s replacement for The Journey, their three-part story mode chronicling the rise of the young Alex Hunter. This new mode takes the game to the streets and lets players embrace the insane skills and quick-twitch shots of urban soccer. If FIFA’s main gameplay is fast-paced, this is the game at warp speed.
There are three main ways to play Volta. The first one most people will likely jump into is Volta Tour. Here, you’ll play through a decent-sized story mode that takes your around the world as you learn the game. It certainly doesn’t have the love and care of The Journey, but it’s a solid story-mode that does a good job of getting you accustomed to the mode. You can also spend time in the online Volta League and the Volta Tour mode, which lets you visit the many courts around the world and recruit players to your squad.
I wasn’t able to play much Volta League as the servers were in-and-out for me pre-launch. That said, the other two modes are a ton of fun, so I wouldn’t expect anything different online. I was quickly pulling off fancy skill moves and stunning goals. The defense is still a bit wonky here, but with the field shrunken down, it doesn’t feel nearly as bad.
My one big concern with the mode is how heavily they’re focusing on cosmetics for your Volta player. Currently, everything looks to be attainable in-game; however, I can’t help but see all the places EA could add microtransactions if the mode proves popular. After all, it’s not like they have a problem charging an arm and a leg in FUT.
“As fun as FUT can be, I feel the need to remind that it is absolutely lousy with microtransactions.”
Speaking of FUT, the game you know and begrudgingly give all your money to is back with some cool additions. The most important of which is the new Season Objectives. Essentially, this is a list of rotating objectives for you to complete. As you do so you’ll level up through a sizeable list of awards. You can earn things like star loan players, card packs, and different cosmetics. For season one, the rewards culminate in an 85 overall star player that will be added to your lineup. It’s a great addition that gives players who don’t want to spend a ton of money options for acquiring new items.
The other big addition to FUT is the new FUT Friendlies. These are new match types that were previously available in Kick Off mode. Things like Mystery Ball and Survival inject some levity into a mode that often feels a bit too serious. Instead of fully concentrating on beating your opponent, you’re having a blast with all the wacky new match types. In particular, I can’t get enough of Survival, which adds the ridiculous rule that sees any player that scores permanently lose a player. It’s so silly that losing hardly matters and gigantic swings in the score happen regularly.
As fun as FUT can be, I feel the need to remind that it is absolutely lousy with microtransactions. I was very fortunate to be playing in pre-release and end the first round of offline Squad Battles as the 45th best player in the world (that currently has access to the game). This gave me several high-level packs that I absolutely will never get again once the game is in the wild. This let me acquire a squad of highly-rated players that are able to be competitive early. I do not think this is going to be your experience. It’s either going to take lots of time grinding out games or a not-insignificant amount of money to put together a highly rated team. Whether that works for you or not is something you’ll have to answer for yourself.
Outside of FUT and Volta, the mode I spend the most time with is Career Mode. Here, you’ll have complete control of your chosen squad as you take on the role of manager. There are a few changes to the mode that are worth talking about. For one, you can finally customize your manager to the same degree you can a player in modes like Volta. This isn’t huge news, but it is nice to finally have my manager not either look like an awkward 35-year-old or a 70-year-old man.
Along with the manager customizations are the new dynamic cutscenes that pop up from time-to-time. These don’t add much to the game but do let you influence your player’s morale. If you can improve your squad morale, your team’s overall ratings will start to go up. That said, I barely noticed it in the three seasons I played through, so I’m not sure it has much of an effect. In fact, I didn’t do a single press conference in the last season and couldn’t tell you what was different.
“FIFA 20 is such an attractive package. Everything is clean and easy to use.”
I should also make a quick note of the new dynamic player potential. This means that when players on your team play well, their potential will go up. In the past few FIFA games, potential was completely static. Everyone’s save was exactly the same. FIFA 20 lets the potentials change a little bit, but only if they play on your team. That’s right, the hundreds of other players in the game will still have their same set potential. So, in a lot of ways it’s basically the same except now you can hold onto someone like Lionel Messi into his late 30s and he’ll stay a world-class player. That’s cool, I guess, but hardly the game-changer dynamic potential could be if applied to everyone in the game.
FIFA 20 is such an attractive package. Everything is clean and easy to use. Volta is fun and unlike anything else on the market. FUT has some neat changes that should make the mode much more playable for those of us who don’t want to grind games or spend oodles of cash. Everything off-the-field is, at worst, good. However, the on-field product is so off-putting for me that it’s harder than I’d like to recommend.
Obviously, the game is playable. Some people are going to like it more. I’ve said this and I want to make it clear. However, the gameplay in FIFA does not feel like a simulation of actual soccer. It feels like some weird mix of magically perfect passes and shots and players with zero soccer IQ. For me, that makes FIFA 20 just a step below PES this season. Hopefully, in the future, we get some kind of Frankenstein monster of PES‘ gameplay and Master League and FIFA’s everything else. Now that would be a beautiful game.