The wait is finally over. After months of anticipation and relative silence on EA’s part about just what next-gen FIFA 21 would have to offer, EA threw us a bone and released FIFA 21 a day early for those us lucky enough to snag a next-gen system. With no delay, let’s take the pitch and see what all the fuss is about in our FIFA 21 next-gen review.
For the purpose of this review, we’re only going to hit areas that have seen changes when compared to last gen, meaning we won’t discuss game modes. If you want to hear more about them, head to our current-gen review.
What I Like – FIFA 21 Next-Gen Review
Simply put, this is the best looking footy game to date. Harnessing the power of next gen, we’re able to see the action in glorious 4K at 60 FPS (apart from cutscenes). Smooth animations, detailed face scans and textures, and stunning stadiums bring the action on the pitch to life-like levels. Taking advantage of the new EA GameCam camera, the authenticity has been ratcheted up a level, and for the first time since I’ve had the PS5, I’ve thought “now this is next gen!”
Face scans do become more infrequent as you go down to lesser known leagues, but playing a top-flight match looks like the real thing due to EA stepping up the presentation package with stadium intros available for select clubs. Even some of the new features like “off-ball humanization” that seemed like fluff come off well, making it hard to take my eyes of the action in fear of missing something. I’m not one to dig into your pockets, but if you’re able to splash a little cash this holiday season in upgrading your TV/gaming monitor, it’s totally worth it to enjoy this game on higher refresh rates.
Sure, it’s not specific to FIFA 21, but the days of loading a match and then looking at your phone will now leave you missing out on all the pre-match awesomeness. I’ll be the first to admit that “activity cards” did little to move the interest needle for me at first, but as someone who has grown fond of the new PS5 UI, I absolutely love being able to boot into my career mode save from the PS5 main menu. Anything that allows me bypass having to see a Liverpool player (TAA) on my FIFA menu is a good thing!
Sorry Xbox Series X owners, I’ve got to go a little PlayStation fan boy here. The DualSense controller adds a new dimension to sports gaming, and for the first go around it’s been implemented well in FIFA 21 next gen. The first thing you’ll notice is that the controller is more responsive when it comes to dribbling. We’ll get into this shortly, specifically how it changes gameplay, but the overall feeling is one of increased “tightness” in turning, dribbling and movement in general. Contact with the ball during passing and shooting is not only heard but felt. Tiny vibrations in the controller add to the experience when you make a pass or hit a shot.
Last but most certainly not least, the fatigue effect is a great initial effort by EA. As players tire, both through extended minutes and/or lengthy sprints, the turbo button will become increasingly more difficult to depress. As a champion of offline gaming, seeing and feeling the effects of fatigue brings us a step closer to simulation. If there’s one area I hope EA expands the haptics to it’s injuries. Playing the North London Derby as Spurs (there’s no escaping a bad choice there as a Chelsea fan) and having Harry Kane suffer from a knock is realistic as is seeing him try to run it off. What I want is for him to feel slightly more sluggish, especially if it’s a lower body injury. Perhaps we’ll see this in the near-future as EA gets a better grip on the new tech.
I don’t know if it’s a visual thing stemming from actually being able to see the ball spinning, but ball physics are more believable the second go around for FIFA 21. The ball feels heavier, and yeah, passing speed is still far too fast on default settings. But overall it’s a step up from last gen’s floaty mess.
Movement & Physicality
This wasn’t mentioned in any of the articles EA released prior to the next-gen release, but like Madden, the way the players move feels different on the PS5. One of my biggest complaints about FIFA over the past few years relates to movement, specifically EA’s sacrifice of foot planting in an aim at making the game ultra-responsive. FIFA 21 next gen feels more responsive yet takes us closer to realistic movement. Foot planting isn’t quite there yet, but with the added “responsive multi-touch animations” more respect has been given to the law of physics, especially when turning.
Dribbling feels better too as quick changes of momentum are just as effective as skill moves. Close control in tight spaces with players like Real Madrid’s Eden Hazard feels spot on.
Do you remember the days when physicality and collisions filled YouTube’s servers with hilarious fail videos? EA ironed out the kinks over the years but a few issues still existed. FIFA 21 next gen largely erases those memories and replaces them with realistic physical battles.
The opposite also holds true for FIFA 21 when it comes to avoiding those unnecessary collisions. Those times where your player(s) seemed to come together with magnetic-like suction are smoother now as players will use some cool new animations to avoid bumping into their own teammates.
I was fully expecting Modric to run into Asensio and give the ball in hilarious fashion. Instead, he contextually shimmied to the side before I attempted to square it. Pardon the excited vocals, I was all-in on El Clasico.
Finally, EA has captured the emotion of a football match. From the new stadium intros to the enhanced crowds, matches have that buzz. Intelligent crowds audibly get louder in anticipation of an attacking move and then go absolutely nuts, as do the players, when late goals are scored.
Even the subtleties of hearing players greet each other during handshakes is a nice little touch. The only thing that’s missing is the customary English “come on lads!” in the tunnel before kick-off.
What I Don’t Like – FIFA 21 Next-Gen Review
Occasional Frame Rate Dips
Thankfully it’s not very frequent but there are times, especially during replays where the frame rate drops from a buttery smooth 60 FPS to 30 FPS, and unfortunately those moments stick out like a sore thumb. As EA gets more time with the new systems, I expect these oddities to get ironed out.
No Significant Changes To The AI
With all of the shiny new upgrades afforded us by the new systems, unfortunately the AI remains largely the same. If you didn’t get a chance to read the FIFA 21 current-gen review, I’ll save you the time and reiterate the two biggest issues holding FIFA 21 back:
1. Lack of midfield awareness on the defensive side and…
2. Unwillingness of the AI to send in crosses.
The crossing issue can be attributed to some of the team tactics, but the midfielders lack of tracking runners is still evident and is one of the only reasons that’s preventing FIFA 21 next gen from being a great game.
More than likely a design choice that’s tied into ratings (some combination of awareness and work rate), the midfielders still ball watch as EA pushes both online and offline players towards making you do all of the work on the defensive side. I’m fairly pessimistic that this will directly get addressed via a patch, so hopefully a tweak of something else gameplay-related will have a trickle-down effect.
It’s always tough when game developers are asked to upgrade their games to new systems mid-cycle. When this occurred in the past, it wasn’t too uncommon for features or even modes to be left out. Fortunately for us soccer enthusiasts, FIFA 21 is better on the PS5 than it was on the PS4. Going back and forth between the versions, and you’ll see the visual upgrade is significant.
You’d expect that though. What you wouldn’t have expected is for the movement to feel more realistic when the controller is in your hands, while at the same time seeing the players animate much more fluidly yet with a better sense of weight and momentum. It’s evident in dribbling and the way you can wrong-foot defenders like the best dribblers in the world more frequently do in lieu of audacious tricks. Because it feels better while maintaining its stunning looks in motion, the ebbs and flows of a match can have you at its mercy.
You add to that some great audio that feels as if it’s in perfect sync following the player’s every step, and you have a game that’s good enough that I can overlook the fact that the AI at times can be as frustrating as watching VAR always award Man United the penalty.
It’s not a system seller, but if you’re lucky enough to snag some new hardware and you’re even just a casual soccer fan, it’s worth checking out (especially because you can find the current-gen version for a cheap price and then just get a “free” upgrade to next gen).