FIFA 21 Review: Soccer Simulation Is Next-Gen Ready

For most people who read this review, FIFA 21 will not be their first foray into what is now a 27-year-old franchise. FIFA has come a long way since then, as you’d hope, and by the end of the year, FIFA 21 will be a next-gen title. In some ways, the current-gen version feels like little more than a stepping stone on which players won’t be waiting very long. However, that’s not to say EA has been lazy. FIFA 21 boasts plenty of new features when compared to FIFA 20, and something about this year’s offering feels different in a very promising way.

It might seem silly to praise a game for being different than the version that came 12 months before it. However, it can often feel as if developers have changed nothing but the rosters in games that demand annual releases. FIFA has fallen foul of that in the past. Those waters are difficult to navigate. Other than improving on the graphics where possible, how can a developer make a game with 26 previous chapters, in which players do nothing but play soccer, feel new again?

Yet somehow, EA has managed that via FIFA 21. Don’t get me wrong, anyone who walks past while you’re playing won’t be able to tell the difference. However, there’s something about this year’s gameplay that’s different. Something I can’t quite put my finger on. It feels a little slower, but not in a bad way. As if more thought has gone into it. The way the ball bounces, how players react, their first touch. It all feels a little more real. Perfect for a game that is about to tackle a whole new generation of console where games will need to look and feel more real than ever before.

Volta Could Be Paid DLC (But Don’t Tell EA)

Veteran FIFA players won’t be happy with that alone, though. In fact, the changes are so intricate that more casual players might not even notice them. Onto the big changes, and the biggest and best ones of all have been made to Volta. Anyone who misses FIFA’s spinoff series FIFA Street, Volta is for you. Smaller teams, pitches, and goals in which skill is the name of the game. Volta could well be a game all by itself, but let’s not go giving EA any bright ideas.

Players were first given the opportunity to step into Volta in FIFA 20 and can do so again in an even bigger way this year. There they will find Volta’s story mode, the ability to compete against others online, and even a Volta-themed Ultimate Team, of sorts. While the players that make up the five-person team to kick-off are nobodies (no offense ladies and gents) progressing in Volta will earn Volta coins. Those coins can be spent on real players, but remember, a soccer star’s abilities on a full-sized pitch might not translate to a smaller Volta court.

Speaking of Ultimate Team, what might be FIFA’s most popular feature is back for a 13th straight year. Controversy surrounding loot boxes and packs be damned. There’s nothing much new about FUT in FIFA 21 as if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. However, there appears to be a bigger onus than ever on playing together in this iteration of the game. That has ushered in a feature called FUT Co-op for the first time. FUT managers are able to invite their friends in to play alongside them using one of their assembled squads. It’s a small and simple addition, but one that will mean a lot to those with a horde of FIFA-playing friends.

Back-Up That Bragging With Facts And Figures

The simplest of FIFA’s modes has been completely overhauled in order to help people better play together too. Kick-Off. When playing a match in Kick-Off, players will first be asked to assign a name to themselves. That name can then be selected from a list forevermore after it has been entered, and also be saved to the cloud so it can be accessed on other consoles. Not only will that generate a label for the players on the pitch, but detailed stats of different players’ head-to-head records will be kept. Any time a friend gets big-headed, throw up the stats page showing how many times you’ve beaten them and bring them right back down to Earth.

As touched upon above, there is a stepping stone feeling to this game. FIFA is released at around the same time each year, so the reveal that the next-gen consoles won’t be coming until November must have been quite the thorn in EA’s paw. Then again, it would have released versions for each gen anyway, so perhaps not. Either way, when playing FIFA 21 it feels as if its creators are whispering “you like this? Wait until you see what it’s like on PS5” in your ear. It almost feels like a preview. A starter, if you will. The main course is yet to come. Next-gen FIFA with graphics and gameplay that will blow our minds. Best of all, unlike a restaurant, FIFA 21’s main course comes free with the starter. Anyone who buys the game on the current generation of console will be upgraded for free once the next-gen arrives.

A pretty major downside for those who will be making the leap to a new console during this iteration of FIFA: not all progress will transfer across. EA has revealed that while FUT and Volta progression will follow you to the next-gen, any work done in modes such as Seasons and Co-op seasons will be console specific. That means starting over again in Division 10 once the new consoles arrive.

FIFA 21 is not FIFA 20: Part 2. It isn’t a complete reboot of the franchise either, and nor does it need to be. EA has also done more than “just enough” to set itself apart from last year’s game. This is something developers of games that release annually can be guilty of. It feels different, and for anyone who doesn’t agree with that, Volta feels like a whole new game within the main game for a completely fresh experience this year. Yes, it might be a stepping stone, but it’s just the stepping stone FIFA needs to bridge the gap between this generation and the next.

A PS4 copy of FIFA 21 was supplied to TheGamer for this review. FIFA 21 is available now for PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC.

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Josh has been gaming for as long as he can remember. That love began with a mild childhood addiction to the Sega Genesis, or Mega Drive since he lives in the UK. Back then, Sonic 2 quickly became his favorite game and as you might have guessed from his picture, the franchise has remained close to his heart ever since. Nowadays, he splits his time between his PS4 and his Switch and spends far too much time playing Fortnite. If you’re a fan of gaming, wrestling, and soccer, give him a follow on Twitter @BristolBeadz.

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