It was all quiet on the FIFA 20 demo announcement front, and then bam, it was in the PS/Xbox store ready for download. Ironically, the same day as eFootball PES 2020 dropped. Coincidence or the ultimate power move pulled off by the footy genre’s ultimate Galactico, EA Sports? FIFA 19 was pretty solid out of the gate but patches ultimately took the game in a less sim direction. As EA kept us updated throughout the summer with Pitch Notes, I was excited see what FIFA 20 had to offer this year. Was it going to be a game that improved on some of its weaker gameplay areas and stale career mode or was it going to be catchy marketing phrases and disappointing new features?
Let’s find out.
What Looks Good
In its second year with the UCL licensing, EA has done a really good job at capturing the atmosphere for a UCL group stage match. Branding, overlays and crowd immersion are nicely done as you can hear Liverpool and Spurs supporters belting out “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and “Spurs go marching in” respectively. Overlays are nice with statistics and the commentary has added a few lines here and there.
Along with presentation, EA has really gotten the most out their engine, Frostbite. Cutscenes, specifically when the players are in motion, look really good. Textures, faces and kits all look top class in motion and close-up. It helps that most of the teams in this demo feature well known players, but nonetheless their face scans and body models look spot on.
Pace Of Play
After kickoff, the most noticeable change is in the pace of play. FIFA has done a fairly decent job lately of creating a better tempo against the AI and FIFA 20 does it better than any previous iteration. Player movement, especially sprinting, has been tuned in a more realistic fashion on the default speed setting, which means quicker players stand out but not to the extent that pace is easily abused. Furthermore, build-up play by the AI on any difficulty setting lower than Legendary (as direct as can be) is fairly patient and varied with attacks coming from the wings and centrally. Whether or not the online crowd will scream bloody murder resulting in a faster game is TBD, but as of right now I’m extremely happy with a more methodical experience.
Ball physics were highlighted during Pitch Notes and they’re noticeably improved. From defected shots to just simple passes, ball physics have received the attention they so thoroughly needed. Ball physics might seem like a purely cosmetic feature but the impact they have on gameplay cannot be understated. Simple things like passes with a bit too much power on them will cause slight bobbles as the receiver attempts to control the pass (also be sure to check out the new setting “Early/Late Lock to Receiver”), which could help a longstanding pass recognition problem which affects shooting but not so much passing (more on this to come). Also, 50-50 balls are a little more thrilling with deflections being more realistic, and they can bring out some really good looking save animations.
The days of always making clean contact while shooting are thankfully long gone as body position, quality of the pass received and which foot you’re on will determine accuracy. Wayward shots, especially when being closed down, are far more common this year. Additionally, players do a great job of shooting with their dominant foot with the likes of Liverpool’s Mo Salah almost exclusively using his left foot when shooting.
Look, the marketing catchphrase didn’t move me once when it was announced. We all know that tight contests are often won or lost in these moments. Regardless, moments of individual brilliance, but not in a cheesy video game way, can make you appreciate the subtle AI improvements offered in the demo. Moments like this one below against Liverpool where Mane skins me with a ball drag. Nothing over the top like a rainbow flick, but a move we’ve all seen him do in real life.
Or moments that make you realize you have to be a little bit crazy to play keeper because not only do you have save initial shots, but you have to have the athleticism to get back and potentially make another reflex save to deny a great opportunity as exhibited by Real’s Thibaut Courtois here denying Chelsea twice and helping my 10-man Real squad leave Stamford Bridge with a valuable away point.
What Needs Some Work
Lack Of Physicality And Fouls
These two go hand-in-hand, and unfortunately FIFA 20 is really poor at both. Physicality is present, but primarily on the wings as FIFA 20’s Pitch Notes really emphasized those 1-on-1 decisive moments that normally start with the space afforded out wide. Regrettably, the middle of the pitch, where most of the action is, suffers from a lack of physicality as you can hardly get near attackers for a variety of reasons, namely passing animations that play out too quickly, unrealistic turning and accelerating, and human-controlled defenders hamstrung by an outdated tactical defending system. In about 20 matches versus the AI, the only foul I saw against the AI was when AI-controlled Olivier Giroud barreled into my keeper. For a game with seemingly limitless animations at its disposal, it’s a shame that there isn’t more physicality, especially in leagues like the Premier League where so much emphasis is placed on power and pace. The shielding animation is good, and it works, but being able to ride defenders, if only for a little bit, would be nice and possibly even lead to fouls. I wish for a strict referee every match.
I’ve about had it with the two traditional systems, legacy defending and tactical defending. When tactical defending was introduced in an effort to counter second-pressure abusers, the intentions were pure but the implementation left a lot to be desired, mainly that your AI teammates never even attempt a tackle. Containing is an important part of defending, especially out-wide, but in the middle of the park where the concentration of numbers is at its highest, it makes little sense in this day and age of pressing. Liverpool, Chelsea, Dortmund and even the Spurs at times utilize systems where they close down opponents very quickly to varying degrees of success. While legacy defending will allow you to press as a team, the angles at which your teammates press make it easy for them to be beaten, either by a dribble or pass. Not only that, but it’s hard at times to not press that button and ruin your own defensive shape. Tactical defending does a good job at keeping your lines (if you’re using a 4-3-3 formation your three in midfield will split the field horizontally with equal spacing between them) the passiveness allows your opponents time on the ball to pick the best option.
In my opinion, defensive systems and styles should be team- and tactics-specific, meaning that a combination of on-the-fly instructions + team tactics + player instructions should equal or define your defensive style. And, given FIFA’s expansive tactical systems with multiple formation options, you would have the ability to defend as you please in this system. If I want to set it up like a lot of teams by playing a high-press style (legacy defending) for the opening 30 minutes before dropping back into a solid defensive shape (tactical defending) to preserve energy, I should be able to do that.
One of the adverse side effects of slowing the pace down is that the animations don’t seem to be properly tuned. Certain animations, such as passing, play out too quickly and lead to the issues mentioned above in the “Defensive Systems” section. These issues include being able to pass around midfielders as opposed to having to take time to control the pass, pick out your option, get your body position correct, power up your pass and actually watch your player pull his/her leg back before making contact with the ball. While this scenario plays out, the speed at which does not only can appear ugly but also unrealistic. Proper foot planting has long been overdue and occasionally you’ll see a player warp/slide into place to either control a pass or get on the end of a 50-50 ball. Other times, it’s just a plain old weird animation that plays out.
Over my many matches with the demo, I can say that heading on goal has improved. It’s not as random, meaning that battles you think you should win 9 times out of 10 (Giroud back post versus an isolated smaller wingback) you do win more than you lose, but headed clearances still have an absurd amount of power on them.
Here’s a situation where the defender is running towards his own goal and he jumps, flicks his neck and the ball goes 35 or so yards. It’s a relatively minor issue in the grand scheme of things, but it would be nice to see a scuffed header every once in a while.
Penalty Saving System – Full disclosure here, I’ve barely even had the opportunity to try it because the penalty taker shoots immediately after the cutscene plays out This should be an easy fix, but I least want a few seconds to flail around in goal before the kick is taken.
Overall, the FIFA 20 demo isn’t the series overhaul that many hoped it would be, but it includes many subtle changes that should lead to bigger things down the road, and it left a good impression on this footy enthusiast. With the demo only being four-minute halves and a limited number of teams (would have liked to see some lesser-rated clubs to see the difference in ratings/style), it’s hard to recommend FIFA 20 as a day one purchase on this demo alone. Instead, those who have EA Access should take advantage of the 10-hour trial to get a better feel for the game as things might change between now and then based on community feedback.