FIFA 24 is never happening but as EA Sports FC 24 tries to fill the gap just how different are EA’s two football franchises?
You’d struggle to find a game whose launch was preceded by more speculation and angst than EA Sports FC 24. Since 1993, EA’s FIFA-branded football games have consistently been amongst the most popular video games in the world. But since EA has now abandoned the FIFA licence, we’ll all have to get used to the bland, unimaginative FC brand with which it is now saddled. Somehow, the phrase ‘Fancy a quick blast on FC?’ doesn’t feel nearly so appealing – like referring to Twitter as X.
However, that particular stumbling block shouldn’t take too long to hurdle. That’s because, while FC 24 may sound different to FIFA 24, it doesn’t feel like some gratuitously radical new departure. Yes, EA has used the change in brand to refresh parts of the game which, frankly, needed it – such as the increasingly cumbersome main menu – and has added a few new elements like PlayStyles, as well as tinkering with the game’s underlying technology.
But all those parts have been blended into a reassuringly familiar mix, and in many areas FC 24 so outshines FIFA 23 that one suspects that EA may have indulged in some deliberate sandbagging, as the FIFA brand reached the end of its shelf life.
One FC 24 conspiracy theory that has been doing the rounds is that its gameplay has been slowed down to the level of sedateness that once characterised Konami’s PES games. That simply isn’t true. Sure, FC 24’s matches proceed at a less frenetic pace than that of FIFA games released at the turn of the millennium, but that was also true of recent iterations. The football you play in FC 24 is truer to real-life, high level football than ever, which has to be a good thing.
If you crave the sort of unrealistically fast football that once characterised FIFA games, you can still find it in FC 24’s five-a-side mode, Volta. It tries to strike some sort of balance between FIFA and Super Mario Strikers and turns out to be a fun, if exhausting, way to play. However, it fails to shake the suspicion that its main reason for existing is to persuade you to lash out even more money on lootboxes containing virtual clothes for your footballer to wear. All its street elements – bar the music, which is consistently excellent throughout FC 24 – have more than a whiff of dad-dancing.
EA’s tweaks to elements like ball physics and player animation are less immediately obvious than the presentational changes it has made to the game, such as such showing scenes from virtual dressing rooms pre-game and at half time (which add an impressive note of extra realism). But you do feel them as soon as you get on the pitch.
That’s because, even compared to FIFA 23, FC 24 feels smoother and more accurate where it matters. Your teams maintain the positions you’ve instructed them to and the old FIFA trait, in which centre backs went galloping down the pitch just as opposing strikers bore down on them, has been well and truly banished. Passes go exactly where you want them to and FC 24’s through-passing, in particular, has much more precision than any FIFA game.
The systems for jockeying with opposition players, as high balls come down, and applying a power-touch when you seek to gain a first-touch advantage both now feel intuitive, whereas previously they had a slightly hit-or-miss feel. Overall, FC 24’s gameplay is excellent: super-smooth, very slick and, most importantly, pinpoint accurate.
FC 24 continues the recent FIFA trend of offering a bewildering variety of ways in which to play the game. For the traditionalists, the two most appealing modes are likely to be Manager Career and Player Career. For the arch-traditionalists, Tournaments lets you jump into pretty much any of the world’s leagues or cup campaigns. It’s basically Manager Career with all the management elements removed.
Manager Career is pretty decent. It doesn’t get into Football Manager style levels of micromanagement, but it does allow you to set up scouting networks around the world, hire vast amounts of training staff, get down and dirty in the transfer market, and take minute care of your players – tailoring their training programmes and so forth.
In other words, it does a pretty good job of showing you that no, you wouldn’t be able to do a better job than the manager of your favourite club, but at least it gives you the opportunity to try, and presents that journey in a compelling and entertaining manner. And, of course, it lets you control your chosen club through several seasons of virtual action that mimic the real thing in an uncannily realistic manner.
As does Player Career, since you can opt to control the whole team in its matches, rather than the virtual player you have developed in your image. We found Player Career particularly compelling and addictive, partly because the new PlayStyles system – essentially a hugely detailed skill tree which lets you buff specific attributes and then, according to which direction you take, gain specific skill moves – feeds into it perfectly.
It’s also great because it offers a perfect opportunity to pursue the virtual football career that you weren’t sufficiently talented to have in real-life. Naturally, as a Tottenham Hotspur fan, I cast myself in Player Career as the fresh-from-the-academy hotshot replacement for Harry Kane. Also, you find that the AI indulges in all sorts of wacky transfer activity, swiftly diverging from what is happening in the real footballing world, which is pretty entertaining.
Ultimate Team has also been tweaked, in ways that may generate a certain amount of controversy. It now seamlessly integrates female players, to the extent that you’re more or less obliged to field teams featuring both sexes. That ought to be seen as a good thing, but the more reactionary sections of Ultimate Team’s fanbase are bound to complain.
Another new feature is Evolutions, which lets you take specific player cards and improve their stats. However, there are conditions in place: you can only perform Evolutions on players who fall below a certain overall rating and it’s currently costlier in terms of in-game currency than buying new packs of players. But Evolutions offers the chance to improve the weaker players in your team to an at least acceptable level.
It’s a mechanism which could have ameliorated, to some extent, Ultimate Team’s voracious appetite for your microtransactions cash but, of course, it doesn’t do so in any significant sense. As ever, despite the ability to grind with your team in a vast array of different online and offline activities, Ultimate Team’s main purpose is to get you to spend as much time in its online store as possible.
For those whose skills are never likely to extend to full-blown esports levels, there are two main modes: Seasons and Clubs. The former puts you at the helm of your chosen club and can be pursued co-operatively with a mate. In Clubs you control a single player, starting off with pretty unimpressive stats, who acquires skill points and thereby improves as you play matches or complete training style skill games.
We found matches in Clubs pretty intriguing, because all the players on your team, and the opposition, are controlled by humans, some of whom have a greater idea of what constitutes playing for the team than others. It felt a bit like park football recreated on the PlayStation 5, containing archetypes like ball-hogs who refused to pass and those who seemed incapable of doing anything other than passing straight to the opposition. That said, it’s still pretty good fun.
Online, we found a worrying level of glitchiness, in the form of possibly broadband-related mini-dropouts, which weren’t bad enough to end the matches but caused momentary freezes followed by periods in which the action fast-forwarded. Hopefully EA will have ironed that out by the time of FC 24’s launch as it’s very out of keeping with the game’s otherwise stunning level of polish and slickness.
Those who were worried that EA’s decision to ditch all mention of FIFA would turn its new franchise into something different or inferior can rest easy. If FC 24 had been called FIFA 24, it would be lauded for raising the bar far more than you would expect from a mere annual instalment.
Whatever its name, it still possesses FIFA’s DNA, and this time around that’s wrapped in production values that tower above those of any football game in history, and are underpinned by on-pitch gameplay which is smoother, slicker and more accurate than ever. Even the new main menu is a triumph, since it’s good at shunting to obscurity those bits of the game you really aren’t interested in.
If anything, FC 24 suggests that EA has been liberated by sending FIFA packing. When the biggest complaint about the new franchise is its name you know things have turned out well. Whether this is the best football game ever will be hotly debated over the next 12 months but the mere fact that it’s in the running for that accolade says it all.
EA Sports FC 24 review summary
In Short: The slickest, smoothest and most technologically advanced not-FIFA game ever made, that makes an encouragingly positive start to a new era of football video games.
Pros: On-field action feels better than ever, with fabulous TV-style presentation. Player Career works beautifully with PlayStyles. Multiple modes to please every tyle of player. Impressive new main menu.
Cons: Ultimate Team is still a thinly veiled excuse to get you to spend money on microtransactions. Volta is enjoyable but a bit try-hard. A hint of pre-launch glitchiness online and some may find it all bafflingly complex.
Formats: PlayStation 5 (reviewed), Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox Series X/S, and PC
Developer: EA Vancouver and EA Romania
Release Date: 29th September 2023
Age Rating: 3
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