With 'eFootball PES 2020' (ridiculous name - quality football game) released last week, you have to wonder about the developments EA have made to their annual footballing behemoth.
Short answer? It's... fine.
The stick that 'FIFA' fans have always beaten 'Pro Evo' with is licensing and it would seem the developers are also quite proud of that fact - although Konami have dealt them a black eye with their exclusive Juventus deal. The second shot of the opening sequence focuses on a fully branded football and pair of boots in a dramatic slow-mo, making it easy to see where EA wants your attention.
Whatever about the branding, let’s talk about the gameplay. Like its competitor, 'FIFA 20' has addressed the issues from previous games whereby ageing defenders were routinely able to gain ground on speedy attackers. With this year's update, once the likes of Kylian Mbappe get a yard away from the last man, it’s going to be a difficult time reeling them in.
Given that the attackers now have more opportunity for separation puts the defending in the spotlight, this is something that's been improved upon. There are certainly some moments where you might find yourself raging at your defenders as they allow a ball to inexplicably trickle into an attackers path - or even the goal - but they are few and far between.
Playing as a defender is no longer a case of just running at an attacker and automatically nicking possession. Timing your tackles - or rather, not timing your tackles, can make a massive difference to the outcome of an opposition attack. You can easily give away quite a few dangerous free kicks and a handful of penalties on your learning curve. However, once those initial frustrations subsided, defending proved to be much more tactical and rewarding than 'FIFA 19'.
Pinpoint laser-like passing in the middle of the park is much more difficult to pull off this year. No longer will you be able to ping a one-touch 18-yard pass in a direction your player isn’t facing. Now, just like most people in real life, the ball will simply be mis-kicked and roll straight to an opposing pair of nicely branded boots.
The free kick system has seen a change which feels like a positive and calls to mind the likes of Tiger Woods/Rory McIlroy PGA games. Attacking has also seen some additions like strafe dribbling and the set-up touch. When executed properly, both are immensely satisfying but the set-up touch is incredibly well-telegraphed to any nearby defenders and seems to take an age to pull off. More often than not, any set-up will be swallowed up by the defence before you pull the trigger on any shot. Your striker will also have grown a beard. That’s how long the animation lasts.
Speaking of animations, let’s talk Volta. Cult classic 'FIFA - Road To World Cup ‘98' had indoor football, that’s exactly why it’s a cult classic. 'FIFA 2002' allowed you to unlock a five-a-side training pitch. 'FIFA Street'… you already know. It’s about time that EA gave fans more of what they clearly want - so how did they do?
They did… fine.
A lot of the frustrations with Volta lay with the unskippable cutscenes (if there’s a way of skipping these PLEASE go a week into the past and let me know). They were unbearably cringe. At one point, you are ‘playing’ and in the middle of a cutscene that seemed like an extended edition of 'The Hobbit'. Yes, really. Between YouTube channels, shoe designs and plot twists (groan) it plays out like a footballing version of 'Step Up 2: The Streets' except somehow more predictable. The football is decent, you’ll score a lot of very similar-looking goals. The locales like Rio De Janeiro, Amsterdam, and Tokyo are the real stars. There’s no great advantage to doing tricks and flicks. Once you play it through once, that'll probably be the last time you're playing it.
The career mode is pretty good, and fans of a single player experience will inevitably gravitate towards what is a fun and rewarding experience and Ultimate Team is always there for those looking for an online playing field. Micro-transactions are obviously still to the fore, they won’t be going anywhere as long as fans throw money at them.
Many footballing fans will buy 'FIFA 20' out of habit. It’s nothing ground-breaking, it’s just fine. It’s still a fantastic entertainment product in the grand scheme of things, you certainly won’t regret adding it to your library, but it needs more than a new coat of paint and a ‘fellow kids’ street football to be truly great.
If you don’t own 'FIFA 19' already, you'll enjoy this, but it’s too similar to last year’s outing to warrant much more.