No one can accuse FIFA 20 of being a repackaged and slightly updated version of last year’s game. Minor iterations rule the roost in the annual sports sim space, and as such, new instalments end up feeling largely similar to their predecessors. FIFA 20 makes some changes on the pitch, which aren’t too massive, while also adding a significant amount of new content that ensures this isn’t just a year-old game with a fresh coat of paint.
The biggest change is, of course, Volta, the street-football inspired mode that replaces The Journey, what with FIFA 19 having brought a close to Alex Hunter’s story. Volta acts as a great foil to FIFA 20’s moment-to-moment action, and ends up being a great addition. While Konami’s PES series has always been about offering realistic, authentic simulation that demands a certain level of finesse and skill from the player, FIFA’s on-pitch offerings have, in comparison, traditionally been more arcade-y. That’s something that works against EA Sports’ series in most cases, but that arcade-y feel is exactly what makes Volta so good.
"FIFA 20 makes some changes on the pitch, which aren’t too massive, while also adding a significant amount of new content that ensures this isn’t just a year-old game with a fresh coat of paint."
Offering 3v3, 4v4, and 5v5 football matches across a variety of different arenas, Volta matches are always quick and fast-paced. Flashy and fast by design as they are, it turns out FIFA’s traditional gameplay is very well suited to such matches. Rebounding passes against walls, constantly running from end-to-end as you continuously transition from attack to defence and back again, and not stopping for anything that resembles slow tactics or build-up play offers a fresh experience, and these quick, bite-sized matches end up offering the kind of enjoyment that can keep you hooked for hours.
One major aspect of Volta, though, is a story mode, which attempts to replace the drama of The Journey, but goes about it in a very different way. You still have control over your character’s progression, whether that’s through creation, or skill trees, or cosmetic unlocks and changes, but replacing a story that focused on the best domestic and continental professional leagues in the world with one that focuses on street football severely lowers the stakes. That, in turn, is bound to impact your enjoyment, and how invested you find yourself.
It also doesn’t help that Volta’s story mode doesn’t really even try to do the best it could with its premise. Honestly, I miss The Journey, and the love and devotion for the sport that it constantly displayed. The twists and turns lack impact, the characters range from annoying to forgettable, and the writing itself is painfully bad. Voice acting and acting performances are good enough, but there’s only so much they could do with what they were given to work with. Where The Journey felt authentic and engaging, Volta’s story mode feels facile and lacklustre.
"Volta matches are always quick and fast-paced. Flashy and fast by design as they are, it turns out FIFA’s traditional gameplay is very well suited to such matches."
That said, where I’ve spent the bulk of my time in FIFA 20 so far isn’t Volta. It’s where I always spend the bulk of my time in FIFA games- the career mode. For years, fans have been begging EA Sports to make changes and improvements to career modes (which seems to be a trend with football sims, it seems), and every year, it feels like the developers only do the bare minimum in an attempt to shut the community up, to put it bluntly. For instance, FIFA 18 added cutscenes and dialog choices to spice up transfers, and while it was a nice novelty, it ended up mattering very little. This year, once again EA Sports have made some changes to career mode, but once again, they’re all flash and very little substance.
Having added cutscenes and dialog wheels to transfer dealings, FIFA has now added cutscenes and dialog wheels to media interactions. This can amount to pre-match press conferences, or post-match interviews in the tunnel. You’re asked questions, and you select your answer based on the kind of personality you want to display, and the answers you choose impact the morale of your team, and at times individual players.
The first few times this happened, I liked it. Shaping my manager’s personality was fun, as was having more control over what goes on in the media, while it all also contributes a great deal toward FIFA 20’s presentation, which already comes impressively close to mimicking real-life matchday broadcasts. Eventually though, I got tired of it. There’s a very limited number of questions the media asks you, so there’s a lot of repetition. Thankfully, media interactions are completely skippable- but that highlights an even bigger issue with them. That they’re completely skippable.
"This year, once again EA Sports have made some changes to career mode, but once again, they’re all flash and very little substance. "
They ultimately have no bearing on the game in any meaningful or tangible way. The right kind of responses are met with a meter for morale going up in your screen’s corner, but in all the hours I’ve played career mode so far, I’m yet to see it making any difference to anything at all. All of which is to say, career mode is still effectively the same as FIFA 18, which was effectively the same as FIFA 16, which was… you get the point. It’s time for EA Sports to stop trying to placate players with cosmetic changes that are ultimate meaningless, and actually put in the work to make much-needed improvements to the foundations.
Tactics have also been changed up in FIFA 20. Team management allows you to set formations for all five game plans – ultra defensive, defensive, balanced, attacking, and ultra attacking – so that when you change your mentality mid-match, your formation automatically switches as well. It’s a good idea, but if you don’t set formations for each mentality separately, when the formation does change, it’ll mess up your players’ positions. Going from attacking to ultra attacking might change your formation from 4-2-3-1 to 4-3-3, but might also send, say, Rashford into midfield, or Modric into the wings. When you make substitutions, the game reads that as you switching tactics as well, and again, automatically changes players’ positions on the field, forcing you to retool you playing 11 all over again. It’s a minor annoyance, sure, but it’s consistent, and I really hope it’s patched out sooner rather than later.
Thankfully, on the pitch, the changes FIFA 20 makes are positive. For years FIFA has been trying to make make defending less automated and make players actually work to win possession of the ball, and while it’s still not something FIFA 20 achieves completely, it does come closer to doing so than any of its predecessors did. Defending requires you to think about your positioning a lot more than you had to before, and timing your tackless right is much more important as well.
"Thankfully, on the pitch, the changes FIFA 20 makes are positive."
Another aspect that’s changed for the better is pace. In the past, more often than not, attacking in FIFA would boil down to a combination of through balls and bombing runs down the wings. Last year, in trying to de-emphasize pace, FIFA 19 essentially overcompensated, and de-emphasized it a bit too much. That desired balance is achieved much more successfully in FIFA 20, so pacey players actually do feel like pacey players, but aren’t cartoonishly pacey either. Combined with more authentic defending, it makes the on-pitch action more engaging that it was last year.
FIFA 20 probably isn’t going to change your stance on the series. If you’ve enjoyed it in the past, you’ll still enjoy it now, but if its brand of football doesn’t appeal to you, FIFA 20 isn’t going to change your mind. Thankfully, Volta is the perfect foil for that brand of football, and even in spite of a lacklustre story mode component, it’s still a welcome addition. On the other hand, career mode continues to show its age, and once again, I’m left wondering whether next year will be the year EA Sports finally gives it the overhaul it needs.
This game was reviewed on the Xbox One.
Volta is a welcome addition; Gameplay improvements make on-pitch action better than it was last year.
Volta's story mode is disappointing; Career mode needs to grow and change; Changes to tactics and team management are mildly yet consistently annoying.