These past few days have seen the floodgates open as it relates to news on FIFA 20. What started with a late May release of “Pitch Notes” as we got closer to EA Play, ended with news of a new mode, release date information and gameplay improvements. If you missed any of the info, don’t worry as I’m here to bail you out like Liverpool and favorable referee decisions.
Releasing September 27 on most major platforms (Xbox One, PS4, and PC), FIFA 20 once again throws a bone to those who splurge on the Champions Edition ($79.99) or Ultimate Edition ($99.99), allowing them access to the game three days early and offering them various FUT (FIFA Ultimate Team) incentives such as Gold Packs, Special Edition FUT kits and a few other FUT-related gifts. Through EA Access/Origin the game will available on September 19, but gamers will be limited to 10 hours of gaming. Also worth noting is EA Access, once an Xbox exclusive, will be coming to the PS4 this year.
While the release date has been steady over the years, one can’t help but wonder why FIFA doesn’t release annually before the season (European) kicks off like most major North American sports. Not that it needs any additional hype, but the later release does allow Konami’s PES to perhaps poach a few buyers who are desperate to satisfy their footy itch.
The big reveal for FIFA was the introduction of Volta, a FIFA Street-type game mode that takes footy back to the streets with “authentic culture, creativity and the style of the small-sided game.” Also incorporated into FUT, VOLTA allows you to express your own style through customization options similar to Pro Clubs (hairstyle, shoes) while offering a few new options (tattoos, clothes, and so on), Boasting a custom-built exclusive gameplay system, Volta allows you to interact with your environment (walls, cages, etc.) through new flicks, skills and animations that help take your style to new heights.
Set in various locations throughout the globe such as Tokyo, London and Amsterdam, Volta allows gamers to play 3 vs. 3, 4 vs. 4, or 5 vs. 5 as well as professional futsal.
Once you’ve created your player, there are four different modes you can play. Kick-off mode allows you to play as your favorite professionals (think Manchester City or Real Madrid). Volta World allows you to take your team online and compete in a variety of formats. Story mode seems to take a page from The Journey, placing your character in an RPG-driven narrative ultimately culminating in a final in Buenos Aires. Lastly, Volta League takes a page from Pro Clubs as you compete in a divisional structure boasting promotion and relegation.
As a kid who grew up dumping quarters into NBA Jam this is going to sound like blasphemy, but I was never a fan of the FIFA Street series. I always felt like too many FIFA Street moments trickled into the regular FIFA game, and anyone who has seen a YouTube mashup knows FIFA is still prone to moments of insane and unbelievable individual brilliance. Despite this, I’m still happy that it made its way back into the game (and not a standalone game), and I will mot likely spend more time with this mode than I have with The Journey. Now, if Career Mode and Pro Clubs are neglected again in favor of Volta, I will be incredibly disappointed. However, with news releasing in July, I’ll table my expectations until such time.
Last but definitely not least, the FIFA 20 livestream featuring producer Sam Rivera detailed a few gameplay-related tidbits that caught my attention. Piggybacking off the Pitch Notes series, Rivera detailed a few juicy new buzzwords:
Authentic Gameflow – This new feature adds more intelligence to AI-controlled players with an increased understanding of time, space and position on the pitch through new Dynamic One-on-Ones, enhanced AI Defending and Natural Player Motion. Holy buzzwords Batman!
Dynamic One-on-Ones – This new feature is supposed to replicate the one-on-one battles that take place so often over the course of 90-plus minutes that often decide the outcome of the match. One of the biggest omissions from the FIFA series over the years has been how rarely these take place. Just think of how many times during the course of a match you see a dangerous wide man (Raheem Sterling, Eden Hazard, etc.) get the ball out wide and immediately be one on one with a fullback, squaring him up and using his skills to beat the defender. Very rarely does this happen as most attacks in FIFA are either generated through the middle or come via a cross from out wide. This will hopefully be balanced as defending these moments is equally as important.
AI Defending – Piggybacking off defending one on ones, FIFA 20 will feature an all-new defending system. Positioning is said to be fixed, a welcome sight to those of us who are annoyed when we see our fullbacks tucked in tight, or our center backs marking space instead of stepping up and marking an attacker. FIFA has always been about controlling all 10 outfield players on defense so hopefully this new defending system can alleviate some of the work we’re forced to do to compensate for dumb defenders.
Natural Player Motion – Out of all of the new features that dropped this weekend, this one caught my eye more than any other. FIFA and its attempt at super-responsive controls have forsaken all things inertia and momentum-related when it comes to player movement. The amount of unnatural animations that occur during the course of 90 visual minutes can’t be counted on 10 hands. Simply put, the controls and players feel like soccer players running around on ice skates. Player weight and momentum seem to matter little at times, especially when two players collide or physical tussles play out. Furthermore, with FIFA it often seems as if the wrong animation will play out yet the actual outcome will not be altered. Case in point, shooting when a defender is draped on you.
Four new features help to define a match, often by these so called “decisive moments”:
Strafe Dribbling – On the surface, strafe dribbling doesn’t sound too appetizing, yet when you break it down and read the description about how it will allow you to “lure the defender in before beating them with skill or speed,” you realize that this feature could actually be game-changing, especially when combined with Natural Player Motion. Too often in FIFA 19, players lunge in attempting challenges on the likes of Neymar or Messi, players you would only put in a rash challenge on if you’re beat or desperate. Being able to use your opponent’s aggression against them sounds like a welcome change.
Controlled Tackling – The counterbalance to Strafe Dribbling, Controlled Tackling looks to be boosted by the addition of new tackling animations through a new Active Touch System. Details on this new system are forthcoming, but tackling right now is a mess in FIFA. Slide tackles are almost worthless, and with fouls all but missing in FIFA 19, this new system needs a proper balance of risk (being beaten/yellow or red card) versus reward (dispossessing the attacker).
Set Piece Refresh – For some reason, the folks over at EA Canada like to constantly tweak free kicks/penalties, and in FIFA 19 they implemented the worst system to date. Penalties are weak and hard to place into the corners. Free kicks, when you actually get one, are hard to get up and over the wall when you’re in a dangerous position. Placing spin (top or side) is not currently possible, and apart from a knuckler, there is little variety in free kicks. Adding signature free-kick animations would go a long way towards adding realism here.
Composed Finishing – From Timed Finishing in FIFA 19 to Composed Finishing in FIFA 20, the risk-reward system that is shooting could certainly use some work. I mentioned earlier the uncertainty when it comes to what animation would play out. However, with assisted settings everything seems pre-determined, and can result in some missed sitters and ugly animation sequences. Added control is certainly a welcome addition, but I would actually prefer separate input buttons for headers and regular shots taken by your foot.
Ball physics are downright atrocious in FIFA 19. This is partly due to player motion and the inability for the developers to properly reflect the impact the foot has on the ball when making contact. What results is often floaty, unpredictable and downright ugly ball physics. Deflections are near impossible to read, bounces (both from deflections and passes) are very random, and the ball rotation on ground passes actually comes to a stop when viewed in replay. When it comes to shooting, the FIFA series has always loved the posts, but in FIFA 19 it seems as if there are two or three shots per match that ricochet off the posts. With a new ball physics system that touts Football Informed Motion and New Shot Trajectories, we’ll hopefully see more random and believable ball physics in FIFA 20.
Whew! There was a lot of FIFA 20 news to digest this weekend. With the absence of any leaked gameplay videos, we’re left with reading (perhaps too much) into the press releases, hoping for any insight into what’s to come for FIFA 20.
Which of these new features has you most excited for FIFA 20?