FIFA 20 is the most different-feeling title from the game's franchise available on the current console generation: the core game mechanics have undergone some noticeable adjustments, with EA Sports also introducing a brand new FIFA Street-inspired mode called VOLTA, new career mode and kick-off changes, and drastically enhancing the studio's lucrative Ultimate Team mode. The end result is a FIFA title that certainly feels different, though many of the moves feel unilateral rather than representing a large step forward. This isn't to say that FIFA 20 isn't good: it's just not what many will be expecting.
FIFA 20 creative director Matt Prior has always striven to offer fans an authentic experience, and this year's iteration of the franchise has that in spades: the game introduces a brand new league (though the studio lost the rights to Juventus), with the updated physics engine leaving FIFA 20 feeling the more 'different' than any other FIFA title on the current console generation. Ball physics are better impacted by the pitch, taking on natural bobbles and slowing down in a realistic manner. When one watches a match of FIFA 20 being played it feels as though it really represents what fans might see on the pitch in real life.
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The end result of the physics changes is something that certainly feels authentic, though the gameplay feels like it goes at a slower pace than FIFA veterans will have been expecting. One of the most noticeable changes to the formula comes in the form of set pieces, with freekicks and penalties now boasting a much-improved system over the franchise's predecessors. It also involves FIFA 19's timed finishing mode, which is a nice evolution to the traditional FIFA gameplay formula that adds an extra layer of depth to the core game itself. On the other end of the pitch, controlled tackles allow for a better defensive experience for players.
FIFA 20's biggest breath of fresh air comes in the form of VOLTA, the FIFA Street-inspired game mode where players test their flair in street-rules action. VOLTA lets players progress through an offline story mode (though disconnects from the EA server will still boot players mid-game, which happened frequently during this review), a versus-AI tour mode, and online League matches. The story mode offers a rags to riches storyline that pulls no surprises, though its cast of characters is surprisingly entertaining. Unlike The Journey, this one should only take gamers five or six hours to finish.
The caveat with VOLTA is that it's still fairly grounded to FIFA mechanics, and in 3 vs 3 or 4 vs 4 rush games players will rely on blocks made by outfield players, so get used to cumbersome block animations that rarely actually work. EA Sports will also be curating an ongoing catalog of custom sportswear for players of both genders, with the developers promising that there will be no microtransactions at launch. All-told, VOLTA lays down a solid foundation for what could be an all-time great game mode for the franchise, though in FIFA 20 it's a mixed bag. The non-stop flair-filled action is great but the flaws make the experience quite cumbersome. Should the game mode return next year, it'll likely be a more polished product.
Jumping over to the game's most popular mode, Ultimate Team, reveals an intuitive new seasonal system that will function akin to a battle pass from Fornite (but at no additional cost): players gain XP by completing specific objectives, allowing them to unlock cosmetics, card packs, and unique items throughout each season. The core of Ultimate Team is still based around grinding results on a regular basis to keep players coming back and spending money on low-chance card packs, though EA Sports did put in a welcome break from the usual grind in the form of its new Friendlies system: playing matches in this mode no longer use up contracts, and injuries accrued in Friendlies no longer carrying forward after the match. This allows friends to play worry-free against one another while accumulating coins, with the added bonus that they can even implement some of Kick Off mode's new modifiers like Mystery Ball, Max Chemistry, and King of the Hill.
Career Mode gets an all-new conversation system that allows one to interact with players, along with some The Journey-style managerial interviews. While they add a few extra non-voiced lines to the game, the FIFA 20 managerial experience was left largely untouched outside of the additional conversations. With FUT, VOLTA, and the Kick Off mode getting so much development time, Career Mode is still miles behind the rest in terms of fresh developments - especially since the new conversation mechanic is pretty shallow: after two or three interviews, players will know how to answer questions in order to maximize morale boosts for players and keep their board happy.
As players spend time on the pitch in any game mode, one issue which has long-plagued the series will rear its ugly head in semi-regular occurrence: The goalkeeping AI. FIFA 20 seems to have given keepers the propensity to punch the ball into dangerous areas in situations where catching was a logical option. This occurs with both world-class keepers down to lower league prospects, and while one hopes a patch will help adjust the keeper AI, it's an issue that has regularly appeared for several years in a row now. In FIFA 20, it's more apparent than ever.
In an annualized title that sees as much use as the FIFA franchise, it's tough to consistently add enough polish, bells, and whistles to make each year a 'must-have'. FIFA 19 introduced enough of a significant jump over its predecessor to become one of those titles, and while FIFA 20's new set piece mechanics and its VOLTA game mode are a pleasant surprise, the game as a whole doesn't feel like it has drastically moved forward enough to count as an absolute necessity. Ultimate Team diehards will enjoy the tweaks to the studio's most-lucrative game mode, while Career Mode loyalists will be in for another year of a familiar product.
FIFA 20 certainly has a wide variety of changes to it, but much like MLS expansion team FC Cincinnati, these changes are in need of some more development time and polish - though the product on the pitch is still a real joy to watch.
FIFA 20 will launch on September 27 for Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. Game Rant was provided with an Xbox One code for this review.