The FIFA series gets a lot of flak for barely changing between its annual editions, both from those who are too addicted to move onto something else and the casual observer. The cyclical nature of sports games means that making a significant leap each year is nigh on impossible, which is also not helped by the fact that there is very little room left to innovate — tactical defending and through balls were both a long time, and many FIFA editions, ago now.
As a long-time FIFA and PES player, I’ve come to accept that some years will see fewer changes than others, especially when it comes to entries that are nearing the cross-gen threshold. That seems to be the case for FIFA 20, as if EA are saving their best for the next generation — or at least you’d hope so — because, apart from pace being more prevalent, I am seriously struggling to distinguish it from FIFA 19
The main changes for FIFA 20 that are touted when you boot up its new demo are, for the lack of a better phrase, impressive-sounding-but-actually-not-that-deep waffle. “Player Instinct” basically just means that AI defenders should be less daft, and “Football Intelligence”, which doesn’t make any sense from its description or is that prevalent in the demo at all. Ball physics have apparently been overhauled, though that again is hard to tell in-game. “Decisive Moments” doesn’t even seem like a new feature at all, it promoting Composed Finishing and Controlled Tackling, both already part of FIFA.
Having played FIFA 19 after a short time away to prepare for the road to FIFA 20, I wasn’t expecting to get right back into the groove with 20 so quickly. In my first few matches, I had already acclimated to the pace changes and then it was like I was back in the old routine. Pace will clearly be king in FIFA 20; I can already see Liverpool being banned from picks between friends owing to the crazy acceleration and power of Mané and Salah.
The similarities are also obvious in the overall presentation, the match intro being what looks like a copy and paste job from last year with similar UCL commentary and “scenes”. A player rubbing their face, for instance, is visually verbatim to last year, so too is a goalkeeper dawdling on their line. Lee Dixon continues to tell his terrible stories, and Derek Rae insists on having an inconsistent volume and inflection as always.
Judging from the demo, the infamous goalkeeper AI seems to have take a step back, especially when it comes to corners. I scored a goal purely because PSG’s goalkeeper came off his line and then just stood still as the ball arrived. They also seem incapable of making strong parries; saved shots regularly go straight into an attacker’s patch, or knocking what should be easy catches out for corners or back into the scrum of the box.
Really, the only major difference for FIFA 20 is Volta Football: a slightly less energetic version of FIFA Street. A 3V3 sprint to four goals on a tiny concrete pitch (at least from the demo) can be a lot of fun, but the pre-release version only you gives the thinnest of slivers for what the overall experience will be like. It looks like Volta Football will be 20’s version of 19’s Champions League license, the shiny, new addition that distracts from the apparent creative block at the core of the FIFA experience.
To give FIFA 20 a bit of a break, it still is only a demo I’ve been playing pretty heavily over the last 24 hours or so, though it is highly unlikely that much will change from now until release on September 19th for certain fans — EA are still on their weird and confusing release date thing, apparently. I’m most interested by the updated Career Mode and if they are going to keep up the momentum of worthwhile changes for what has been an often overlooked gem, as well as Volta Football — and how it’s going to be monetised.
From first impressions, FIFA 20 will be a “conservative” entry into the franchise, one that doesn’t want to overextend itself and try too much so late into the generation. The hardcore fans will no doubt lap it up all the same (and maybe even notice the granular changes better than I can), but for anyone who’s more casually inclined, you can probably skip this one and not miss too much. Put the money towards a PS5 or Scarlett instead.