Published on October 23rd, 2020 | by Jamie Kirk
FIFA 21 PS4 Review
Summary: FIFA ends its run on this console generation as the undisputed champion of sales, and will probably remain that way for years to come.
As the current generation of crossroads come to an end FIFA 21 finds itself at something of a crossroads. Sales-wise it has been a powerhouse, ably brushing aside Konami’s eFootball PES series. However, the critical praise that it spent so long trying to achieve is being chipped away at. Long term fans have registered their unhappiness with the stagnant career mode, pointless additions and what they see as a regression of the core gameplay. With their last hurrah for this generation will EA Sports work to make their game the best version of football it can be? Or are they content to watch the money roll in as fans carnivorously rip through yet another FUT pack?
On field action should always be the primary area to focus on and here EA have made some key improvements. The first is probably the biggest and most necessary course correct from FIFA 20, crossing. Previously a pin point cross was next to useless due to the dodgy heading of every single player in the game. Your most powerful forwards could leap over defenders, only for the connecting header to loop wildly into the stands. This has now been fixed and headed goals are a much more viable goal threat. It certainly resembles the actual game of football better and adds some much needed variety in FIFA’s goal scoring options.
The other big one that has been an issue with FIFA recently is pace, or rather their complete disregard for it. Playing with someone like Kylian Mbappe you can tell he feels fast, but it ultimately means nothing if a League Two defender can keep pace with him. Now a drop of the shoulder and a sprint can leave defenders in your dust.
These changes have made FIFA 21 a more free-flowing attacking game. Goals are much easier to come by than in previous instalments, mirroring the real life trend of more goals than ever. Ultimately this makes FIFA 21 the most accessible and fun to play version in a number of years. This doesn’t suddenly make it an arcade game where scores will more resemble a basketball game, but those who feel that football games should mostly feature dour 1-0 slugfests may be disappointed.
EA has also made changes across the board to its off the pitch modes. Fans have been registering their discontent about the Career mode for years now and EA has promised they were listening. Unfortunately in this case they seem to have taken a half measure and added many new features that don’t add much depth to proceedings.
Career mode is probably never going to satisfy management junkies, especially those who have discovered Sports Interactives wonderful, deep and time-consuming series Football Manager. FIFA has always felt like a pretender in this respect, with all the gloss of official licenses and top notch match engines crumbling when it comes down to the nuts and bolts of football. This year FIFA pretty much lifts Football Managers old top down 2D match engine for its match simulation. It looks neat, but there’s none of the underlying depth that makes Football Manager so satisfying.
The more successful addition to Career mode is the upgrade player development system. Here you can really indulge your management dreams by aiding the way players stats improve. If you think a box to box midfielder could flourish in a more advanced role, you can make plans to permanently shift their position, and tinker with how this effects their stats. It’s much better than previous entries although ultimately it still rings a little hollow.
The reason these new additions don’t hit as hard as they could is because Career mode is still the static, stagnating mode it has been for years. What you do off the pitch doesn’t matter at all as long as you are good on it and FIFA can’t reconcile these two things. Behind the EA gloss is a barebones framework just aching to be updated.
Whether this happens or not remains an unanswered question, as for now EA is going all in on FIFA Ultimate Team. FUT is probably the most important addition to FIFA ever, for better or worse. It’s brought in more fans and cultivated a bigger online community than anything FIFA has done before. It’s also brought in a pay to win system with its microtransactions that are a license to print money, but show a deep disregard to the player base.
The core idea behind FUT remains fun and provides a deep online experience where you can find yourself sinking an ungodly amount of time in. But if you don’t want to pay for the best players and the best perks, you are forced to submit yourself to game after game just hoping that a decent reward comes out of it. If there is anything that can suck the fun out of FIFA to spend ages grinding for the most negligible of awards, and then getting your butt handed to you by someone who has assembled a squad of the world’s best players just by buying them. It’s an unsettling business model that looks unlikely to change, because it continues to be an enormous success.
The other big mode EA is sinking their resources in is the returning Volta Football. Volta’s aim is to bring a little of the FIFA Street arcade style gameplay to their main game. It is also where the story mode for this year’s game is. It is not worth it. A generic sports story with none of the charm of Alex Hunter or Danny Williams, if you want to experience Volta just stick with the game itself. Volta remains a fun diversion but feels like it is missing something. It doesn’t quite have the arcade craziness of FIFA street and sometimes just feels like the regular game awkwardly grafted on to a smaller pitch.
So FIFA ends its run on this console generation as the undisputed champion of sales, and will probably remain that way for years to come. Whether EA will try to further innovate the actual game, or if they even want to remains unseen. eFootball PES continues to outshine it on a pure gameplay level, but without the flashy licenses and expensive bells and whistles many will be content to keep rolling with EA’s juggernaut. FIFA is still a fun game to play and at times can still be addictive as anything. You just can’t help but wish for those two or three major signings that would take it to the next level.