The world of sports never quite stays still, and for football, the recent upheaval caused by the emergence of the Saudi Pro League suggests that there can still be surprises for the ardent fans. But for players of the long-running FIFA video game, the rebranded EA Sports FC 24 is anything but, delivering an experience that has improved in varying ways, but always never too drastic or revolutionary.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, considering the base formula has always been lauded by the millions of players that jump into the annualised entry, but it definitely feels like a missed opportunity to do something significant with a fresh start. The technological improvements do make a difference, but not much.
The core improvement every single year is how a game like FC 24 gets even closer to the real thing, and with HyperMotionV, it certainly comes closer than most. Using the power of machine learning and volumetric data captured from full matches, the technology translates to more organic feeling gameplay out on the virtual pitch.
Players move more naturally and uniquely, the physical battles are more engaging, and there is no mistaking the silhouettes of big-name players without any indicators. Combine all of the shiny new things with the advancements made last year, like the Power Shot, and it’s hard to argue against the fact that this is the best version of video game football there is.
That said, the bar isn’t exactly set very high either, but it satiates a need by capturing all of the action that can now be controlled with the flick of a stick and pressing a few buttons. Jumping into FC 24 will require players to get up to speed with the new systems, and the initial few matches soon surfaced some consistently frustrating issues that continue to plague the series.
For starters, the goalkeepers are back with their shenanigans, transitioning between error-prone messes to unbeatable walls, with the former often happening to the player while the latter stars for the AI. This has always been a constant thorn in the side of the franchise, especially when a new entry is launched, and it’s an unfortunate tradition that needs to be nipped in the bud.
Speed is still a vital tool to unlock most defences, even if EA has been trying to find the right balance when it comes to the meta. It is more prevalent when playing women’s football, with the men’s game slowing down to allow for more tactical acumen to shine through, but even so, having a player like Mbappé or Vinícius Júnior through on goal means the net will bulge most of the time.
The physics engine has made it less possible for unnatural shots and passes to happen, but there are still occasions when things go haywire, and players are left picking up the pieces. The new Precision Passes are in the same state, offering players with vision to play truly glorious passes that elude the defence and into space for a run, but the time and skill required make it something that most players will likely ignore.
The much-promoted PlayStyles mechanic also has its quirks. It’s nice to see star players getting recognised for what they are capable of, such as the tricksters and flair players, but when it’s possible to score a header using van Dijk’s Power Header ability at almost every corner, there’s some hard work to be done.
In many cases, FC 24 feels like it’s taking two steps forward and one step back, hamstrung by a gameplay formula known by many that can be resistant to monumental change. The arcade-like gameplay with skill moves galore remains serviceable, but at some point, there’s only so much iteration that can be done before something’s got to give.
That’s most keenly felt in both Career Modes. Managing your dream club is a job every player covets, but the base gameplay has largely been unchanged for years. Adding coaches to help with upping attributes under a particular Tactical Vision, getting scout reports about opponents, and training specifically for a matchup all sound good on paper, but come out feeling more gimmicky than anything, like the HyperMotionV overlays. The same goes for the revamped training system, which just adds more busy work. Surely, there are ways to explore other meaningful areas in which players can feel more like a football insider.
For those going the player route, it is slim pickings as well. Having an agent to help guide your career may be a natural thing to do in the real world, but in the game, text-based encouragement and feedback do little to affect the experience. Knowing the various goals needed to be achieved to earn a new contract or interest a team is a nice touch; however, it makes little sense for a youth player to be demanding astronomical wages from the off, even if players are somehow able to score 30 bicycle kick goals, an example of objectives that feel off for any respectable club to be looking at when assessing talent.
At the very least, there are more ways to grow the player through PlayStyles and the Personality system, with XP earned from each outing contributing to an overall level and skill points that can be further assigned to boost your attributes. Active participation in training can also pay off, although eventually, it might be more efficient just to simulate those exercises with good results to save time.
Outside of all that, adding cross-play to both Clubs and Volta Football in EA Sports FC 24 is something that should be celebrated, with the Clubs League format likely to be welcomed by regulars who want their progress always to mean something.
Then there’s Ultimate Team, the mode that threatens to take over your life on the journey to opening new packs and hoping to get that one superstar to perfect your team. This year’s biggest addition is Evolutions, which allows certain players to be upgraded by completing challenges. How feasible that will be in the long run remains to be seen, but it provides a good alternative to simply buying or trading for a better player to fulfil a role.
Perhaps the largest elephant in the room is the addition of women’s football in Ultimate Team, with players being able to compete with mixed teams. For what it’s worth, this is a fantasy mode that plays by its own rules, so this move is a welcomed one. The added flexibility for squad-building challenges, thanks to the influx of new players, together with the reworked Chemistry system, should make for a fun time, and there is a more balanced take on the actual game when it comes to the speed of play with both female and male footballers taking to the field.
Despite the rebranding, EA Sports FC 24 is a familiar product for good and for worse. The technological improvements continue to push the experience of mimicking the Beautiful Game in the right direction; having more leagues is always great, and the additional support for the women’s game is commendable. There remains niggling issues, as well as the sense that things are reaching a plateau, but for players looking for their football fix, there really isn’t any worthy substitute out there right now, even if this newcomer feels more like a Europa League contender instead of a Champions League heavyweight.