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EA Sports FC 24 Review: FIFA’s Promised Rebirth Remains a Rehash

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At this point, FIFA, EA’s long-running and ridiculously successful sports video game franchise, is perhaps just as big as football itself. In fact, FIFA games are inseparable from the sport; spoken of together, complementing each other, and influencing and informing each other as both the video game and the sport continue to change and churn. EA Sports FIFA is also deeply tied with football culture. People who watch football, play FIFA. Heck, professional footballers play FIFA. Elite players who make it to the cover of a FIFA game consider it as a career achievement. Football entities are invested in the franchise, which wields the irreplicable marketing strength to bring footballers, leagues, football clubs and competitions to a truly global audience. It is a mutual, symbiotic relationship between the biggest sport in the world and the biggest sports video game franchise in the world, where the balance of power and exchange of identity continuously shift. One thing is clear, that both have been incredibly and immeasurably instrumental in each other’s successes, keeping each other fed and fat.

This highly lucrative and profitable 30-year partnership, that began with FIFA International Soccer in 1993, changed last year when EA and Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), the global soccer administrative body that governs the beautiful game and lends its name to the video game franchise, terminated their licensing agreement. This meant that EA Sports’ football video games could no longer be called FIFA, a globally recognised brand name that the series had practically become synonymous with. Imagine, if McDonald’s could no longer call their restaurants McDonald’s, or if Coca Cola started botting their beverage under a new moniker. To call it just a change would be an understatement; it is a rebirth. After selling over 325 million copies, the FIFA series ended last year with FIFA 23, but it did not go away. Birthed in the mandate of EA Sports’ annual release cycle and promising a new beginning, EA Sports FC 24 has arrived in place of what would have been FIFA 24.

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Over the years, the FIFA series has faced scattered criticism over its iterative releases, with every new title featuring minor upgrades and just enough new stuff that would lure dedicated players into buying their new game. In fact, EA actively coerces players to shell out for a new FIFA release every year by halting updates on the previous title and erasing all user progress on its wildly popular and ethically gray Ultimate Team (FUT) game mode, where players are encouraged to spend real-life money to buy expensive player packs and bundles that would otherwise take endless hours of grind to obtain through normal gameplay.

No matter how much you spent on assembling your FUT club in the last game, every new FIFA title hits the reset button, making you start from the scratch and spend more. If you were worried (or hoping) that the series would attempt to chart a new course or rewrite its playbook with EA Sports FC 24, you’d be pleased (or disappointed) to know that EA’s newest football fantasia very much maintains the status quo. FC 24 is more interested in rehashing than rewriting, making sure that its legion of players, who’ve come to expect the FIFA experience they get each year, do not find themselves in unfamiliar ground with an upended approach.

Despite, the series’ reluctance to reinvent itself, it would be a tad unfair to say that FC 24 is different only in name. There are changes here, some of them representing an improvement over FIFA 23, but none of them substantial enough to underscore a fresh experience. The first, and perhaps the simplest of them, is in the game’s main menu itself. Gone is that cumbersome (and frankly aesthetically ugly and mechanically psychopathic) horizontally-aligned menu that had been overstaying its welcome for the past few editions. Instead, we get a cleaner, sharper and a normal horizontal menu that lists all of FC 24’s modes on offer, with the most recently played mode dynamically climbing up top.

The vertical menu is appreciated
Photo Credit: Screenshot/ Manas Mitul

An overall cleaner, newer presentation pervades EA Sports’ new football game, too. This applies to in-game cutscene packages at the beginning and end of a match and at half-time, all of which try to be a closer representation of real-life broadcasts. You see grounds men tending to the pitch before kick-off, muddied players assembling in the dressing room for the half-time talk from the manager, and pitch side TV presenters and pundits gesticulating animatedly at full-time. There are fancy new in-game stat overlays that give visual representations of shot attempts, show expected goals, and win probabilities. You obviously get nerd-level statistics at the middle and end of the game that detail player performances, heat maps, and passing metrics, but these have existed in previous editions, too.

More perceptible and important changes come to in-game player animations. EA’s cameras record real-life match footage in stadiums and each FIFA game takes on extensive motion capture to translate actual player movements into virtual player actions. These have gotten better over time, and in FC24 player animations are further refined to reflect athletic performance. They way the body of player twists while playing a narrow angle pass, the way they pirouette while receiving a ball and changing directions, and the way their foot wraps around the ball to add curl to a cross — all of it looks realistic and believable, immersing you that much more into the game. The gameplay itself feels a little slower, more deliberate than previous games, with a little more focus on building play, as has been the trend in recent editions. Goals can come in all sorts of ways, but you must find the right way to score for your team. Setting a clear tactic, and bringing in the right players to execute it feels important, even if it might not be that big a factor behind the scenes.

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Improved player animations shine while taking shots or playing passes
Photo Credit: Screenshot/ Manas Mitul

While attacking more or less feels similar to FIFA 23, defending seems to have seen a few changes, mostly for the worse. The defensive side of the game just feels different in almost inexplicable ways. It is harder, but not in manners that feel fair or realistic. It’s much more difficult to track back or recover after you make a defensive error. In fact, you don’t need to make an error to concede a goal. The opposing attacker might quickly step in a different direction, to leave you flat footed, and once you’ve been bluffed, you’re taken out of the sequence of events. Here, AI-controlled defenders do not help at all. AI players do not close in the open space, or are almost always way off their designated position, thus breaking your defensive line and structure. So, if you lose an attacker, they inevitably go on to score.

Defensive AI issues have lingered on in the series for ages, and it’s disappointing to see that they exist and, in fact, thrive in FC 24. Getting punished for a single error, and not being able to make recoveries feels annoying every time it happens. It’s also much more difficult to defend on crosses and you’re very likely going to lose an aerial battle, unless you have a towering centre back on your team. You defender’s terrible positioning when a cross comes into your box puts you at a massive disadvantage, too. And it doesn’t help that AI headed goals are almost too perfect, precise and powerful that beat your keeper more often than not.

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Defending crosses in FC 24 is much more difficult
Photo Credit: Screenshot/ Manas Mitul

And even if you do make the right tackle and dispossess your opponent, there’s a high chance that the ball somehow falls at another player’s feet in the opposing team. This has been happening for several editions now, and it’s no different in FC 24. You could make the perfect tackle and win the ball, only to not win it at all. Often, players will just refuse to behave the way you want them to. This happens across the three areas of the pitch, but is more apparent in the attacking third. You’d want your forward to take the shot first time, and you’ll press the shooting input just before they’re about the receive the ball to trigger the shot. But, somehow, your striker will end up taking an extra touch to control the ball and then take a shot at goal. In tight situations, you’ve already lost the window to score because your forward decided to have a mind of their own.

FC 24 also brings a PlayStyles feature that adds real-life data from professional footballers to their digital counterparts. These data points manifest themselves as signature abilities in players — a towering centre back could posses the power header ability, while a foxy striker could be a clinical finisher. These abilities are passively activated in-game in appropriate situations, handing you an advantage on the pitch. It goes a bit further with PlayStyles+, which adds spectacular, elite abilities to world class players. Think of Son Heung-min finding the top corner of the net with worldie from outside the box, or Erling Haaland pulling off circus acrobatics to reach a high-hanging ball in the air. The thing is, PlayStyles — at its core — is a rehash of player traits, that have existed in FIFA games for a long time. Sure, EA Sports has refined the mechanic and perhaps added many more data sets to its total 34 PlayStyles, it is not exactly as new a feature as EA’s marketing team would have you believe.

There are some inconsistencies in the control scheme too, which did not exist in previous FIFA games. Holding down the right bumper on the controller while hitting the button for grounded and lobbed passes used to execute a more powerful, driven pass in previous editions. Now, those controls only work for grounded driven passes, and doing the same for a lobbed pass triggers a precision pass mechanic. For driven lobbed pass, you now have to press down both the right and the left bumper together before hitting the square button on a PlayStation controller. These are small gripes, but when grains of rice accumulate to fill a gunny sack, you start feeling the weight.

That’s not to say that playing a game of football on FC 24 isn’t fun. It absolutely is. It always has been. It is familiar, it is comforting, and it can be exhilarating when you pull off neat tika-taka passes, beat the opposition defenders, and slot the ball into the net. It’s also just as satisfying when you’re able to thwart the other teams attack through clever defensive play, win the ball, and quickly execute transition play to mount a threat of your own. And there’s always different ways to play. If you have a big guy up front, like FC 24’s cover star Haaland, you could always kick it up to your forward and take the quick route to goal. Or you could meticulously and patiently build up play, execute the right passes, and find the right moment and space to pull the trigger.

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FC 24 cover star Erling Haaland’s abilities have been faithfully recreated in the game
Photo Credit: Electronic Arts

The FIFA experience changes person to person from the outside, too. I know friends who only play the Ultimate Team mode, sinking in hundreds of hours to deck out their club with big name stars. Then, there are many who just stick to online Seasons, picking real-life clubs and taking on other players online with escalating levels of skill as they progress through divisions. But I’ve always found the online experience on football games exasperating. You’re hit with a bunch of loading screens before you’re actually on the pitch, and you often encounter idiots online, who keep pausing the game to your annoyance.

While I dabble in Seasons and FUT, my feet are firmly planted in the Career mode. I’ve been a Career mode connoisseur for almost two decades now, and as someone who prefers the long-haul intricacies of embarking on full-blown season with a club as a manager, I’ve been left disappointed by EA sports’ approach to the mode in recent years. Career mode has been left to rot in neglect, barely featuring any new ideas in years. To its credit, FC 24 attempts to bring a few changes, but largely sticks to the tried and tested formula.

When you start a manager career, you can now set an overarching philosophy for your team. You could play high-risk, high-reward Gegenpressing, or park the bus; you could mould your team into a counter-attacking side, or have them hold on the ball and tiki taka their way to glory. You can even hire coaches in line with your tactical vision to help you execute you plan on the pitch. Scouting system adapts to these changes, too. Your scouts can find young players who’d be the perfect fit for the style of football you play. Similarly, you’d benefit from transferring in players who’d fit your philosophy. While these changes are a nice touch and bring something new to the table, the rest of career mode remains largely the same. Honestly, there’s not much wrong with it, so one could argue why fix it if it’s not broken.

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You can now set an overarching tactical vision for your club in Career mode
Photo Credit: Screenshot/ Manas Mitul

But that cannot become an excuse to not experiment at all. All good formulas eventually get stale, and FIFA’s career mode hasn’t felt fresh in about three years. Football as a sport has changed so much in that time, and it feels ridiculous that EA Sports’ football games refuse to do the same. Why has the transfer market experience remained exactly the same in the past few years? Why do we still have voiceless and clunky cutscenes for negotiations and press conferences? Why hasn’t EA Sports implemented a Video Assistant Referee (VAR) system in the game, which has now become an inextricable part of the sport? These questions have been ignored in previous editions, and remain unanswered in FC 24.

If Career mode feels like the not-so-distant cousin of its older iterations, FC 24’s online modes feel like the twins of their versions from older games. Ultimate Team brings little that’s new to the table, sticking to the formula that rakes in the money for EA, with the mode shoving microtransaction-based bundles and player packs in your face at every given moment. It’s fun at first to assemble a decent team and take on online players, but it wears off quick when you realise that your opponents are lining up with some of the best players in the world. If you don’t spend your money (or grind endlessly) and get the same players, you’re at a considerable disadvantage, even if the people controlling those super teams are terrible at FIFA.

Volta, the street football mode introduced in FIFA 20, returns with the familiar arcade 3v3, 4v4 or 5v5 experience, trying hard to be the hip version of Futsal to appeal to a Gen Z audience. Online Friendlies lets you take on your friends in a league-style format, whereas Seasons and Co-op Seasons match you and your friends up with other online players. The PlayStation version of the game (which I played for the review) also includes PlayStation Tournaments, allowing you to take part in platform-specific competitions against other players in E-sports-style tourneys, with prizes and pride at stake.

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Ultimate Team returns with an aggressive microtransactions push
Photo Credit: Screenshot/ Manas Mitul

On the visual front, you’ll find it very difficult to distinguish between FC 24 and FIFA 23 once you’re on the pitch. Everything looks a lot like it looked last year. Player likenesses improve each year incrementally, but that always happens at an imperceptible rate, never taking a big jump in fidelity. While most major players have their likenesses in the game, large part of the roster, even in major teams, is made up of generic faces customised to be as close to real as they can be. In my career mode with Premier League side Brighton & Hove Albion, one of my star players, Kaoru Mitoma, who was one of the best forwards in the league last year, did not have his likeness reproduced in the game. And my manager, Roberto De Zerbi resembled a middle-aged rockstar on the decline, with the generic face sporting a faux hawk.

What’s worse is that pitches look worse than before. I don’t know if it’s the colour calibration on my TV, but the grass in FC 24 stadiums always look oversaturated, never quite nailing the natural look of a football ground. Stadium and crowd detail, however, has improved, but when you’re playing a football game, you’re looking at grass most of the time. FC 24 also retains the series’ trademark janky player animations and gestures while celebrating goals. There is definite improvement here, but you’ll often find them veering into uncanny valley.

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Player likenesses see a jump in detail in FC 24
Photo Credit: Screenshot/ Manas Mitul

I’ve been playing FIFA games since the FIFA 1998 edition, so I consider myself a bit of a veteran of the series. I’ve seen it change over time, reach some exhalating highs, and hit some disappointing lows. But EA Sports’ football series has endured, largely because of clever marketing decisions and a sore lack of competition. That’s not to say FIFA was never good, but fans of the franchise will be the first to agree that its past few editions have set innovation aside and instead banked on its popular and familiar offerings to just do enough for its returning players. The Pro Evolution Soccer series scored an own goal and fizzled out of relevance, but the series’ authentic on-pitch gameplay used to keep EA on its toes. Now, with the market all gobbled up, EA Sports can afford to roll out practically the same game every year, slap a new name on the box, and call it new.

FC 24 is new, but only skin deep. It brings cosmetic updates to the same old formula, while ignoring more important issues on the pitch. Sure, the gameplay gets refined every year, but much remains missing in the core experience. EA prioritises its money-spinning Ultimate Team mode, but stubbornly refuses to bring new ideas to the Career mode. FC 24 even recycles the same cutscenes for transfer negotiations in the Career mode we’ve seen for past three to four years. When the franchise had to move away from its FIFA branding, it presented EA a rare opportunity to bring a new identity to the series that’s fast getting frustratingly familiar. EA Sports FC 24 could have been so much more than what it is — the same dish with new dressing. It does not come as a surprise, though. In a rapidly changing football landscape, the EA sports series has found success in consistency. And in its familiar, consistent approach, FC 24 remains  preoccupied with dribbling the ball along the same lines, too scared to take a shot at goal and glory.

Pros

  • Familiar, responsive gameplay
  • Welcome change to menu design
  • Improved player animations
  • Different ways to play

Cons

  • Very few changes to Career mode
  • Inconsistent defending
  • Rehashed PlayStyles
  • Lacks visual upgrades
  • Same old FIFA experience

Rating (out of 10): 6

EA Sports FC 24 released September 29 on PC, PS5, PS4, Xbox Series S/X, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch.

Pricing starts at Rs. 3,499 for the Standard Edition on Steam and Epic Games Store for PC, and Rs. 4,499 on PlayStation Store for PS5 and PS4, and Xbox Store for Xbox Series S/X and Xbox One.

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