FIFA 20 has three core modes of play: Ultimate Team, Career Mode, and the all-new Volta. However, only one of these modes stands strong as a rock solid time sink -- care to guess which one? If you said anything but Ultimate Team, then you haven't been paying attention. Once again, EA Sports bolsters the mode that makes FIFA one of the most profitable franchises in gaming at the cost of leaving poor old Career Mode in a worrying state. As for Volta, well, let's just say it fails to leave a lasting impression.
Ultimate Team remains a controversial topic because of its microtransactions. As successful as they clearly are for the publisher, there's no getting away from the fact that the conversation surrounding in-game purchases in full price retail titles has changed a lot over the past few years. Here in 2019, Ultimate Team almost feels archaic in its blatant approach, tempting users with the ever-effective sticker pack. The bottom line is that FIFA 20 lets you pay to win, and there's absolutely no excuse for it.
That said, do you need to spend money to enjoy Ultimate Team? Not at all. Is it bad that FIFA encourages people of all ages to splash additional cash? Of course it is. With this stance in mind, it's difficult to deny that Ultimate Team is very good this year, minus all the bullsh*t. At this point it's easily FIFA's most robust and refined component. The user interface is slicker and more efficient than ever, and building your team remains a joy, for the most part. It's honestly a massive shame that Ultimate Team is buried beneath so much (warranted) controversy, because it really is brilliantly crafted.
Ultimate Team gets the most attention because it makes EA a ridiculous amount of dosh, and in business terms, that makes total sense. Sadly, we're not businessmen, and so the sheer shoddiness of Career Mode really has us down in the dumps.
This year, Career Mode is in desperate need of a patch or two. Or three. It's functional, but it's shockingly buggy -- the kind of bugs that take you right out of the game just when you're trying to immerse yourself in the search for glory with your favourite club.
It's weird, because prior to release, EA made a big deal out of how improved the Career Mode in FIFA 20 was supposed to be. Don't get us wrong, there are some welcome additions here. The ability to create your own custom manager is a big plus, and even though the newly implemented pre-match and post-match interviews do become repetitive, they help sell Career Mode as a role-playing experience. Team morale is a welcome concept, too, and even being able to have one-on-one conversations with your players is a nice little step forward when it's not bugging out.
But this is the thing: bugging out is what Career Mode does, on a near constant basis. Career Mode is complex -- it always has been -- so you can forgive a few fumbles here and there. But in FIFA 20, it's easily the buggiest that it's ever been. From utterly broken commentary and busted match reports to post-game interview questions that aren't even remotely relevant, your immersion's being shattered all the bloody time.
This is just the minor stuff, too. Career Mode's unacceptable wonkiness becomes hilariously apparent when seasons start falling apart just a few matches in. You see, the game has a terrible habit of fielding weakened teams. This appears to be an issue that comes and goes depending on the strength of your own team, but it has the potential to completely ruin a Career Mode run. You can have Manchester City fighting a relegation battle just halfway through a Premier League season. Why? One look at the club's in-depth stats page reveals that Pep's been keeping all of his best players on the bench, match after match. Against "weaker" clubs, top teams like City, Liverpool, and Spurs will consistently field youngsters and reserves. It's a disaster.
The hope is that issues like this are fixed sooner rather than later, but as of right now, we can't recommend FIFA 20 to those who primarily play for Career Mode. We're not entirely sure how EA's managed to bugger it up so badly, but it's simply not good enough.
Right then, onto Volta. This smaller-scale mode has a lot in common with FIFA Street, for those of you who remember it. Pitches are replaced with five-a-side arenas, which are varied and pretty to look at. With fewer players, Volta places a heavy emphasis on skill moves and quick thinking. Slapping the ball off the nearest wall and running onto your own pass always feels good, and because everything's downsized, there's a rapid pace to Volta games that can make them enjoyably intense.
Volta's problem, though, is that it's just not as dynamic as a proper game of footie. FIFA's been building on, honing, and overhauling its regular 11 versus 11 gameplay for decades, and by comparison, Volta feels stunted and overly simplistic. It is fun and it is well made, but it's unlikely to hold the attention of those who crave proper football.
In some ways, Volta replaces The Journey -- FIFA's dedicated story mode. You make your own character and you round up other characters for your team so that you can take the world of street football by storm. It's... Well, it's actually quite interesting and there's a degree of role-playing and freedom that The Journey never had, but it's hamstrung by some awful cutscenes, dialogue, and characters. At times it feels horribly out of touch, or rather, desperate to be in touch with all the 14-year-olds playing FIFA 20. It can be embarrassing, but Volta's story isn't unplayable. Partially embrace how cheesy it is and there's fun to be had -- just don't expect it to be the headline act that EA wants it to be.
At this point you might think that we don't like FIFA 20, but that's not quite the case. On the pitch, where it really matters, FIFA remains an accessible, exciting, and satisfying soccer sim. There's still room for improvement -- the AI is still hit with sudden bouts of immense stupidity -- but a number of positive gameplay tweaks ensure that FIFA 20's largely a blast.
Well-timed tackles are finally as effective as they should be, and you'll need to make good use of them since pacey players are once again at the top of the food chain. Lightning fast forwards certainly aren't as broken as they were back in the day -- partly thanks to defenders being much better at intercepting through balls and long passes -- but rapid counter-attacks and deft one-two passing moves are the name of the game. It's an agreeable balance because this is how the world's best teams play in reality. Capitalising on your opponent's mistakes and exploiting space is the foundation of modern, attacking football -- and it's replicated especially well in FIFA 20.
Scoring goals is all about the build up, fluidity, and timing, then, and that's a good thing. Longer range, pinpoint screamers are nowhere near as common as they were in previous games, largely because you're better off finding an alternate angle through decisive passing -- again, much like professional football in real life.
All of this results in gameplay that's immediately satisfying. Carving a team open with perfectly timed runs and cheeky dinks never gets old, and the same is true of stopping a dangerous dribbler with a crunching tackle, or breaking up promising play with an especially clever block.
When you've just taken an entire team apart with a perfectly paced counter-attack, FIFA 20 feels as satisfying as ever. But for everything that it gets right on the pitch, this year's instalment seriously struggles to make a case for itself at launch. Ultimate Team hits new heights but it is, as always, undermined by pay to win microtransactions, and Volta is fun but it's definitely not the headline act that EA wants it to be. Meanwhile, Career Mode has seen a bunch of improvements, but a shocking number of bugs currently cripple the experience. It's a good job FIFA still plays well, because as a package, it's robust but frustratingly shoddy. Our advice? Wait for FIFA 20 to be patched before tying your laces.