Fifa 20 review: Pacy players like Mohamed Salah and Jadon Sancho set to thrill but Volta lacks originality
We share its first impressions ahead of EA Sports' big release this week
For many football fans this week is the second most exciting in the football calendar.
The first is of course the start of the real football season in August. And that is closely followed by the annual release of EA Sports's huge Fifa series update, with Fifa 20 arriving on consoles this week.
The National was granted full access to the new game ahead of launch, so here are our first impressions after hours of penalty misses, red cards, running down the wing with a turbo-charged Mohamed Salah, putting on the colours of the UAE's Al Ain and entering the cage for some Volta action.
The biggest question for regular Fifa players leading up to the release was whether EA was going to rip up its tried and tested on-pitch formula or just tinker and update the gameplay of Fifa 19.
The answer lies somewhere in between.
Straight away there's a different feel to the way the players move and how they are positioned.
The most obvious change is pace - where before defenders would catch up with attackers running in front of them irrespective of their statistics, this is no longer the case. Instead, Paris Saint Germain's Kylian Mbappe strides clear once he's set free, Salah is uncatchable out wide and Jadon Sancho just needs half a yard of space to pull away from his marker.
However, will the game stay like this? We're not sure given EA's propensity to release frequent patches which nerf certain overpowered aspects of gameplay.
And it also raises the question of how pace will impact the Ultimate Team mode where players build a squad by opening virtual packs (and buying them with real money if that's your thing). The value of the players with high pace ratings is surely going to go through the roof.
Aside from the sprint speed, the game actually feels a little slower. Pinballing passes up the pitch will result in a loss of possession so a more measured approach is required. To aid your creativity, a new passing technique allows for slightly lofted short passes which travel at around knee height - both to feet and in front of teammates. This creates opportunities for devastating half-volley shots on goal.
In terms of positioning, it feels as though your team is less fixed to a magnetic on-field grid adding to fluency, although player animations feel a little slower.
Defending now requires more skill and patience – those who constantly dive in with slide tackles will be punished by a new dribbling technique (strafe dribbling) that allows you to side-step incoming tackles.
Finally, for now, set-pieces have been given an overhaul whereby you aim a target on the goal for where you want to place the ball. It's trickier than it sounds and will take some getting used to, as we found out with penalties ending up in row z.
Overall there's enough of a difference to make it feel as though you're playing a new game. Hardened Fifa players will like that the best players such as Mbappe resemble super-powered individuals rather than clones while those new to the game should find a realistic experience.
A new, or rather throwback, feature in Fifa 20 is Volta, which is more or less a renewed and updated version of the Fifa Street games which were last seen in 2012.
Volta offers players the chance to show off their tekkers (skills) in cage courts from cities like Rome and Buenos Aires.
The addition of a feature like Volta was very much needed in the Fifa game series, mostly because of how stale the game gets around six months after its release.
Players who do not partake in online gameplay tend to get switched off after playing career mode for the sixth time - you could only take Nottingham Forest to the Champions League final so many times before it becomes dull.
The positives of the new feature are that it offers different environments to apply your trade in, and the more dynamic story mode will surely excite offline players.
The negatives are perhaps subjective, but we felt there could have been more emphasis put on skills that we’ve come to know from the Fifa Street games.
It feels like a new feature sometimes, and more like taking your usual set of players and placing them in a smaller playing space.
There will be a lot more said about Volta in the complete review of the game, but for now, we're glad they’ve added it.
The Fifa 20 Standard Edition is released on September 27, while the Champions Edition and Ultimate Edition come out on September 24. It's available on PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows.
Updated: September 22, 2019 11:06 AM