Photo Credit: EA
Football is real-time strategy, à la Age of Empires. Hear us out. You pass the ball around to look for space and open up the defence. That creates room for your teammates to make runs, who might then be free to receive the ball themselves or may act as a diversion for others in a better position. If it all goes according to plan, you might take a shot and score. For those wearing the opposite colours, the reverse applies. They are constantly looking to plug gaps in defence and tracking various targets. And if it all goes according to plan for them, they win back possession. Then, it starts all over again. This is the simple yet beautiful system that has made football such a popular sport globally. With 20 outfield players, the variations are endless. But if you shrink it down, it's a lot less complex — and far less strategic.
Therein lies the inherent problem with Volta, the new street football and futsal game mode in FIFA 20. In contrast to the 11v11 matches that have been part of EA Sports' iterative annual football sim since the beginning, Volta in FIFA 20 is restricted to either 3v3, 4v4, or 5v5. At its maximum, it features less than half the players jostling it out on a pitch that's much smaller than half a regular-sized football ground. And at its minimum, you're essentially one good pass away from scoring a goal. Where's the strategy in that? Owing to that, Volta in FIFA 20 requires much less skill than its 11v11 counterpart, though that does mean it might be more suited for pick-up-and-play and help bring in more newcomers to FIFA. If only it didn't have manual shooting. And even then, that will likely apply to multiplayer games only, thanks to the AI.
For one, that's because the Volta AI is more reliant on brute force than the use of skill and flair — things you would usually associate with street football — just as we had observed after playing the FIFA 20 demo. Though we didn't keep a count, nearly half the goals it scored (in matches without keepers) came by way of rebounds off the final defender. The Volta AI also has the added benefit of being an AI. For a computer, every command is the same, be it a button-flick pass or a combo that involves holding multiple trigger buttons, and then long-pressing another button or moving the right-stick in a pattern. That's not the case for us human players. The Volta AI can hence play better than you since it can react at the speed of light. Time is always of the essence in football, but more so here.
You can use that to your advantage in two Volta game modes — Volta Story and Volta Tour, which kind of overlap, as we'll explain in a bit — by opting to lock yourself to one player. If you're willing to eschew that level of control, you might benefit from the AI's impossibly quick reactions and combo hits. It also doesn't need to relearn controls unlike humans, what with shooting now at various levels of manual in Volta. Of course, there are some caveats. For one, the FIFA AI still doesn't know how to identify the right moment to pass the ball to you — as has been the problem in player career mode and was in all three seasons of The Journey — and will hand it over at the most inopportune moments. And at times, it does concede stupid goals even at “World Class” difficulty.
Volta is also annoying off the pitch. Having successfully made one money-hungry, time-consuming, and always-online mode in Ultimate Team, EA Sports seems to have identified a new pathway in FIFA 20. Yes, Volta is also an always-online mode, so it kicks you out even mid-game if your Internet connection drops. This is the last thing any FIFA fan would have asked for, especially in countries such as India. Volta also brings another in-game currency — the third in FIFA in total — called Volta Coins, which are earned by playing and can be used to unlock new cosmetic upgrades. FIFA Points — purchasable from Rs. 70 to Rs. 7,000 in Ultimate Team — can't be used to buy cosmetics in Volta, at least not yet, so it's not as predatory as Ultimate Team. But it is called Volta “Coins”, and it's hard to trust EA that it wouldn't change in the future. Volta also makes use of Ultimate Team mechanics such as chemistry, which is dependent on the player's formation, position, and home court preferences.
Wondering what the last of those is? Volta in FIFA 20 is also a spiritual successor to The Journey thanks to Volta Story. But while Journey limited your physical appearance to Alex Hunter and his friends, Volta lets you define your character's look from scratch, including their height, weight, outfits, tattoos, favoured position and foot, and even gender. (FIFA 20 is the first entry in EA Sports' long-running football series to now feature mixed-gender games.) In Volta Story, you then link up with street football crew J10, led by real-life street soccer star Jayzinho, which takes you around the world from Tokyo to Buenos Aires. That's where a player's home court comes in. Every time you beat a team, you can recruit one of their players. Volta is less restrictive than Ultimate Team though and you can still hit a good chemistry value with players from different home courts.
If you, like us, were hoping for a Volta Story crossover with The Journey, well it's there but it's not great. Hunter makes a single non-verbal appearance late in FIFA 20 alongside his agent Beatriz Villanova — remember her from The Journey: Champions in FIFA 19? — who is interested in representing your player avatar. Volta is a breath of fresh air with its visuals and commentary but the story is quite minimal and ends at the world street football championships in a few hours. That also means you and your team will likely not be ready to face the all-star squads that show up at the championships. Thankfully, there's a bunch of other places — from London to Miami — for you to visit to not just level up your player, but also recruit others to boost your team's rating. This is the aforementioned Volta Tour.
Speaking of levelling up your player, Volta in FIFA 20 comes with its own skill tree, just like The Journey. It has three primary branches — attack, midfield, and defence — that allow you to either complement your player's position or mould them into an overall street footballer. Depending on the traits you pick from the skill tree, Volta assigns you corresponding player styles such as poacher or passer. You can change your avatar's position and redistribute all the skill points you earn in-game at any moment, which is great if your team is missing a certain kind of player that you haven't been able to recruit. As you progress through Volta Story, it will also offer training through “Volta Skillers”, which are practice routines, exclusive to Volta, centred around dribbling, passing, and the like.
In addition to the problems we had with the Volta AI, we also had an issue with the difficulty curve early on. The team we were given at the start wasn't strong enough to win the first invitational knock-out tournament in Tokyo, where you must win four matches in a row to lift the trophy. A single loss forces you to start over, since it's knock-out. We ended up doing four run-throughs before securing the final win. The other problem is with the customisation of recruited players, who drop all their clothing items when they join your team. EA is likely doing this since Volta pits you against squads made by other players, so it doesn't want you to get their items for free, but depriving characters with voice roles in Volta of their clothing also robs them of their personality. It just feels odd.
Outside of Volta, there are some big changes to gameplay in FIFA 20. EA has clearly tried to curtail the pace of the game, a constant complaint from many in years past. FIFA 17 players will feel it's coming home, while those switching over from Konami's frenetic Pro Evolution Soccer will naturally feel the difference a lot more. The ball in FIFA 20 now travels slower on the ground and in the air, more so with the latter, and the inaccuracies are higher for lob passes and through balls especially if players with a lower “Vision” rating are delivering them. The range of pace has also been rectified, allowing you to feel the accentuated difference between slow defenders and really slow ones who can't easily catch up with fast attackers, though that depends on whether they are running with the ball or knocking it in front.
FIFA 20's improved realism can also be felt in the weight and bounce of the ball, and how players interact with the ball with other parts of their bodies except their legs. This allows for new player animations that include outside-of-the-foot ball flicks with the ball at mid-player height; trapping, passing, and assisting goals with their chest; and using different parts of the forehead for headers. (FIFA 20 also has some tiny new realistic touches, such as water vapour breath clouds if you're playing in the winter.) The AI also feels better equipped in FIFA 20 — at least on “World Class” difficulty — as it performs more skill moves, identifies and capitalises on player mistakes, and eventually scores more often that it did against us in FIFA 19. (It's still early days for us, so the last of that could change.)
Pace isn't the only thing that's been curtailed in FIFA 20. The defensive cover provided by the jockey mechanic — LT on Xbox One, and L2 on the PS4 — has been brought down several notches on FIFA 20. Those who felt it was overpowered can finally sit back in peace. Defenders now stay much further from attackers than they used to, essentially nullifying the cover it provided in years past. As a result, you're more on your own. That means a lot more manual defending, which involves getting to grips with the left stick and more frequent use of the tackle buttons. If you were used to depending on the second-player cover mechanic — RB on Xbox One, and R1 on the PS4 — to smother the opposition and ultimately win possession, prepare to have attackers walk all over you.
Of course, newcomers can still rely on “Legacy Defending” — wherein defenders target attackers like homing missiles, as is still the case in PES — by switching to it from the controls section in FIFA 20. You can switch to a simplified two-button scheme as well, but don't expect to pull off any advanced moves or combos. FIFA's range of controls are so dense and varied at this stage that newcomers will likely need a lot of time on their own against “Amateur” or “Semi Pro” difficultly AI, before they can even begin to think of playing against friends or online players.
The other big gameplay change in FIFA 20 is to set-pieces: free-kicks and penalties. A fully-revised setup changes how you aim and add spin to the ball. The target circle is back for the first time in 15 years, though it's not as easy as it used to be. First, you have to hold the left-stick at a certain position where you'd like the ball to go. Except spin, available in four different types — top spin, side spin, mixed, or knuckle ball — and applied using the right-stick, affects that. Whether the ball will actually end up inside — or outside — the target circle also depends on whether you make use of “Timed Finishing”, the mechanic introduced in FIFA 19. Ultimately, though it's much easier to get free-kicks on target in FIFA 20, that doesn't mean it's easier to score. Which is how it ought to be.
Unfortunately, new bugs seem to have crept in with the new gameplay changes in FIFA 20. The biggest of the lot is off-the-ball fouls, which seem to go unrecognised for the most part. In both pro- and street football, we found our players knocked down to the ground by an opponent, only for the AI referee to fail to pick up on said fouls. In one such case in Volta, it became the perfect gateway for the AI to score. This will naturally be a lot more frustrating online. Speaking of bugs in FIFA 20, there are some minor ones in other places, including a gold-level training drill whose points scoring is off and easily grants you an “A” grade, and a player model stuck between two menu screens that then turned up as a 12th player glued to one spot on the pitch. We couldn't interact with it, but it did confuse us a lot. We expect EA to fix the latter two, but it remains to be seen what happens with the first.
We encountered the last of those new FIFA 20 bugs while playing the Career mode — which includes Manager Career and Player Career — wherein the lone error specific to it was when our assistant manager told us to negotiate for less than what the club had offered for a player, while calling it “a better deal”. Thank you for your inputs, you've been fired.
EA has improved the neglected Manager Career by replacing accumulated form — those up or down arrows — with smileys. These depict morale, which depends on whether a player is getting games, performing well in them, and has been transfer listed. Morale directly affects a player's attributes, ranging from very unhappy (–8), unhappy (–5), content (0), happy (+5), and very happy (+8) for the core stats, and a little variance for other stats.
Morale can also be influenced by the help of the biggest change to Manager Career in FIFA 20: press conferences. While post-match interviews, building on what EA built for The Journey, will take place after most competitive games, pre-match conferences only take place before big games. You can use both pre- and post-interviews to boost team morale but you've to be careful of the responses you pick as each player has a different personality. Some post-match interviews will include follow-up questions to your answers in pre-match interview, requiring you to adapt if you couldn't deliver on your promises. The introduction of press conferences has taken over the shortcut that was reserved for jump to messages earlier; we missed its presence, but your mileage may vary.
Apart from that, Career mode in FIFA 20 has been given a facelift of sorts. This is the first Manager Career in FIFA to have female managers. (You can also import the faces of female players you create in Volta.) Dynamic menus now take after your manager or player's outfit and the tournament you're playing in. There are two new meeting environments — a night-time restaurant, and a late afternoon bistro — for transfers negotiated in-person. (FIFA 20 now writes “X's rep”, where X is the name of the club, to get away with showing generic manager faces for clubs EA hasn't designed managers. Agents have always been generic.) Additionally, Career mode will now make use of in-game screenshots to use for the highlights section in the main menu.
Changes are in order for the other neglected game mode as well: Pro Clubs. It benefits from the new avatar creator that's been built for Volta, and it's also gotten visual upgrades on the pitch to bring it on par with the rest of FIFA 20. Speaking of bringing it on par, EA has also added new match types to Pro Clubs that are moulded on “House Rules”, introduced in FIFA 19's Kick-off, and a “Practice Match” option that allows online player clubs to practice against an adaptive AI. In terms of individual progression, your Pro Clubs avatar will now start from an upgraded 80, and you can then level them up using seven skill trees — physical, defending, dribbling, passing, shooting, pace, and goalkeeping — as you play matches and earn skill points.
That leaves Ultimate Team, the most-played and the highest-earning game mode for EA in FIFA. Learning from other games, Ultimate Team in FIFA 20 now offers “seasonal” objectives that will help you with loan players, packs, coin boosts, stadiums themes, badges, and balls the more you play. Each season will last a-month-and-a half or so before the items on offer are refreshed and you start over. Of course, that's assuming you get time to look outside of the menus that take away most of the time in Ultimate Team. This is the issue with the mode in general. To get better squads without forking over real money, you need to essentially be addicted to it. Get the mobile app for transfers, go back to squad battles twice a day, and put in hours in Squad Building Challenges for more rewards. At one point then, FIFA doesn't revolve around your life, but your life revolves around FIFA. And that's just not the way it should be.
It's worked well for EA financially, so don't expect it to tweak the pay-to-win aspects unless a lot more countries were to follow Belgium in banning FIFA Points, which can be used to unlock Ultimate Team packs. Thankfully, there's always been enough for FIFA players to do elsewhere in the likes of Career, Pro Clubs, Seasons — and now Volta. With improvements to the modes themselves and gameplay — slower gameplay, tougher defending, revised free-kicks, and more-equipped AI — 11v11 is where it's at, we think. Volta would have certainly kept the FIFA 20 team busy what with the new assets and all that, but since the game doesn't need the same thought and strategy like its big brother, it's in service of a product that's ultimately less than the sum of its parts.
Rating (out of 10): 8
Gadgets 360 played a review copy of FIFA 20 on Xbox One X. The game is available at Rs. 3,990 on Xbox One, Rs. 3,999 on PC via Origin and PS4, and $50 (about Rs. 3,550) on Nintendo Switch. FIFA 20 doesn't have any new features on the Switch, except new kits and squads.