There's a very technical term known in certain circles of popular Youtubers – "FIFA life cycle." What is the cycle about? It's simple: Around summertime, we're bombarded by news of the next installment of the football/soccer sim being the most innovative ever entry in one of the most popular sports games series of all times. Stage two is buying the game with hopes for amazing gameplay, and then learning all its flaws by heart in the subsequent months. Stage three is the firm declaration: "Not again. We won't get fooled again. Farewell, FIFA." And then, summer comes again, and a deceptive team of specialists dupes and bamboozles us again.
Will the 28th installment in the series be remembered by gamers as a high-quality production and, most importantly, a breakthrough? Unfortunately, this is not one of "those years," and the sceptics will once again have the right to point out EA's utter complacency. But I would be very unfair to say there are no changes. There are, and some of them even have a direct impact on the game and the feel, none of them actually gives FIFA 21 the right to call itself an actual, full blown product. Again, it's little but an update.
7/10 has double significance in this case. On the one hand, it's a reminder that it's a bit unfair to disqualify FIFA 21 just for toeing the line established by EA Sports over the years. We're still talking about a decent soccer game that can suffice for months. On the other hand, it highlights the stagnation and inability to learn from past mistakes. It took me more than a week to start complaining again. Passes are inaccurate in some games, the main menu stutters sometimes. Every year, the same mistakes are rehearsed, and the attempts at mending them are always half-hearted, with new issues being created in the process. So yes, EA, you did it again. Another FIFA failed and not failed at the same time.
Disposal and recycling
- still a worthy sports sim;
- more control of players without the ball – more options constructing attacks;
- a few changes further develop the manager mode;
- full support for playing with friends;
- eradicating some annoying random incidents on the pitch – including fixing the system of player collisions;
- satisfying mode of manual control of headers.
- playing with artificial intelligence is still a nightmare;
- a new type of dribbling is another step towards less realism of FIFA;
- not much changed in that respect – it's still more like pong than soccer;
- nothing new in Volta mode;
- a slew of superfluous cosmetic items in FIFA Ultimate Team.
There's one thing we need to get out of the way. The gameplay in FIFA never goes below a certain standard, and developers at Electronic Arts can deliver a game that suffices for hundreds, sometimes thousands of hours. However, the previous installment isn't remembered dearly by players, as it was ridden by problems in multiple departments. The collisions system was broken resulting numerous glitches in their behavior; ranged shots were almost completely neglected, forcing players to focus on pushing attacks deep into the opponents' penalty area.
EA didn't redesign the gameplay system from scratch, and it wasn't arguably mandatory, although would have certainly been welcome. They made a rather rational decision to eliminate the most troublesome mistakes and throw in a few new things. One welcome result of that is that players are no longer flimsy like it was Goat Simulator; they're able to enter physical collisions with a clearer, firmer feel. That doesn't mean player collisions aren't sketchy anymore: I learned this the hard way when a bulky defender from my own team rammed my keeper with the force of an angry rhino. The keeper fell into the goal, firmly clasping the ball, which cost me three points.
On the other hand, we can now take our chances every now and then and fire away from 25+ yards with reasonable hopes of scoring a spectacular goal, and headers make sense again. That's because they're fully manual now, so even the tiny tilt of the analog knob has an effect on the direction the ball.
FACES MISSING AGAIN
EA generally does a great job of portraying the biggest stars in the world of soccer, but there's always a handful of unfortunate players, whom you wouldn't be able to recognize. This time around, there were at least two unpleasant surprises in my favorite team, Chelsea FC, namely Fikayo Tomori and Reece James, who look quite amusing – as if designed by a kid in The Sims editor. Is it surprising? Of course not.
Fast and furious
There's some changes in dribbling, too, but here, I wasn't entirely satisfied. I'm among the people, who frown upon FIFA's continuous attempts at making the game faster; it sometimes feels like basketball, or, worse still, like tennis. EA of course came up with a nice label for it, and "Agile Dribbling" indeed offers some new opportunities in getting an edge in one-on-one situations, but it overall seems another step towards a more arcade gameplay.
The answer, I'm sure, is that it's not really meant to be a simulator. Why, then, does EA always claim that the changes are meant to increase realism? There's a contradiction here. Besides, I have to add that this ball control system is hilarious, especially for the most technically gifted players – they move the ball from leg to leg at the speed of light. Defenders won't have it easy.
There's another new feature (in fact more than one, they're of the same kind), which in my opinion presents the most interesting of all the fresh things prepared by American developers. From this year onwards, we can build positional attacks in a much more unpredictable way. That's because a few complicated key configurations make it possible to control players off the ball.
This can have a particularly significant effect on online games, though I mostly used these moves to embarrass myself in front of the opponents and pose a serious threat only to my own defensive block. But I'm me. The usefulness of this solution will soon be verified by the pros around the world. You will find similar "innovations" on EA's official website – I decided to let you know only about the ones that are actually noticeable. It's far from evolution, though they certainly change a few things.
Fortunately, minor improvements were also introduced. And let's just say it's not the norm in this series. The ball still behaves the same way, and the instincts I developed over the years, such as quickly exchanging the ball in midfield, are still valid. But you can never know if the feel of the game won't change with a random patch in two or three months – it has happened before.
After a slightly longer adventure with FIFA 21, however, there are some other conclusions that were not so obvious after the intense but relatively short initial sessions. First of all, at the start I thought I was losing so many goals because of my poor skills and lack of patience in controlling the defensive formation. This seems quite natural, by the hour I was getting the hang of taking the ball away from my opponents, and I was also better at positioning my players inside and outside the penalty box. And while I felt an improvement in my game, the tally of goals lost spoke volumes. Scores like 5:5, 6:3, and even my favourite, which is 7:5 (I won, all goals scored in second leg), are not uncommon, which resembles futsal or hockey more than soccer. Admittedly, it's easy to get used to such a frenzied run of meetings, but the connection between FIFA 21 and reality is still very remote.