Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 30 November 2020

'Fifa 21' game review: expect goals galore from Salah, Messi and co

EA Sports' latest football release is fast, fun and full of action, although not entirely different from last year

Fifa 21 is the game franchise's last significant showing on the current generation of consoles, and an opportunity to put right the wrongs of its predecessor, the below-par Fifa 20.

But does it hit the back of the net this time around? Well, actually yes: and maybe all too frequently if you're controlling megastars such as Lionel Messi and Mohamed Salah.

While this year's offering doesn't represent a major overhaul from developer EA Sports, it provides a few new tricks and flicks that move it in the right direction.

Regular players of last year's version pointed to rather stale, predictable gameplay, with each match feeling like the one before.

This time around, the on-pitch game experience has been juiced: that is until EA release any update patches, which have been known to shift the game play in different directions after the initial release.

Mohamed Salah pictured on Liverpool's Anfield stadium. Courtesy EA Sports
Mohamed Salah pictured on Liverpool's Anfield stadium. Courtesy EA Sports

The good

The in-match experience has been made much more exciting. This is, in part, down to the speed of the action which certainly feels faster than the beta version we tested back in July.

When playing online, matches swing from end to end, tackles fly in and the ball is pinged around the pitch with greater urgency.

Fifa is known as a simulation, but it feels more arcade-like this year, and the result is extra fun. High-scoring games are frequent with less AI-assisted defending making it more of a challenge to keep a clean sheet. My last two matches played online finished 5-3 and 7-2. This will please some, but infuriate others.

Passing is more fluid and players make more intelligent runs thanks to the new Positioning Personality feature, while dribbling has been made more responsive.

Then there's the new creative runs option, whereby you control the player after he makes a pass, allowing for greater variety in the attacking third.

All in all, you come away from matches – more so when playing online – needing a moment to take in the 15 minutes or so of carnage that has just taken place. Mind you, that's what it's like watching Liverpool play these days.

Beginners will be beaming as they rocket another shot in the top corner, and hopefully the serious players will find the defensive difficulties a test of skill.

Dortmund's Erling Haaland in action in Fifa 21. Courtesy EA Sports
Dortmund's Erling Haaland in action in 'Fifa 21'. Courtesy EA Sports

The bad

It's a widely held view that Fifa needs a reboot with its on-pitch action. The changes between now and, say, three years ago are minimal, both in how it looks and plays.

The ball physics need an overhaul. Not every shot should be on the rise as it hits the net, and EA need to find a way to get the ball to curve and spin as it does in real life.

Goalkeepers this year – so far – are horrendous. Their save percentage from shots taken inside the box must be well below 50 per cent. Think Chelsea's Kepa Arrizabalaga, but worse.

Through-balls are overpowered and another reason for so many goals, although these could also be partially down to the Positioning Personality feature, which is providing strikers with more dynamic movement off the ball.

Tacking still seems a little random: you win some, you lose some whether you time it perfectly or not, but that is football, you may argue.

Volta includes a stadium set in Dubai this year. Courtesy EA Sports
Volta includes a stadium set in Dubai this year. Courtesy EA Sports

Ultimate Team and other game modes

The most popular game mode is Ultimate Team, where players build a squad by earning coins and opening packs, just like football-man kids did with stickers in the 1990s, and still do these days.

This year's offering is much the same as in Fifa 20, again with a few updates. Players can build their own stadium, which is a nice touch as the more you play the more options are given for kitting it out.

Co-op play is an excellent addition given the social restrictions in place from the pandemic. It allows two players on two different accounts to play on the same team online, with both receiving the rewards from the match for their own account.

Another nice, albeit small, touch is in Division Rivals, where it shows the skill rating of your opponent after a match is completed. So, if you've just been beaten 6-0, you can rightly blame EA's matchmaking system when it's confirmed your opponent is three divisions higher than you.

The controversial pay-to-win element is still prevalent, with players able to purchase loot boxes with real money. Just be watchful with the kids on this one.

Elsewhere, the Volta street football now has co-operative play and a new narrative-based mode called The Debut. It's a pleasant enough sideshow from the main action in Ultimate Team.

Career Mode has been given added depth with a revamped player growth system and an active training system, while players can jump in and out of matches with the new interactive match simulation.

It's an attempt at moving more towards Football Manager, but don't expect anywhere near the same level of detail.

The final score

In some respects, it may have moved away from being the closest to real football you can get on a console (PES being the alternative), yet it will provide hours and hours of fun.

Hopefully, once the PS5 settles in, and Fifa 22 comes around, EA will have the perfect football game, while for now they have a decent one that should keep gamers of most skill levels happy.

Just make sure you practise defending.

This review is based on the PS4 edition. The game is due for general release on Friday, October 9.

Updated: October 8, 2020 01:42 PM

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