The high-profile split between EA Sports and football’s governing body FIFA has resulted in a dramatic rebrand of one of gaming’s biggest franchises – but not an enormous amount has changed on the pitch. That’s not to say nothing is different in this refined soccer sim, however, which is ostensibly FIFA 24 in all but name. So, what’s new, and why does it matter?
We’d argue PlayStyles make the biggest change to the renamed series’ tried-and-trusted gameplay loop. Effectively aping the Badges system in NBA 2K24 or the X-Factors feature in Madden NFL 24, these buff high-profile players with enviable perks, like explosive bursts of pace for Kylian Mbappe or devastating finishing for Erling Haaland.
The result, across a total of 32 different buffs, gives star players a bit more personality – a superhuman skill that elevates them above your average run-of-the-mill professional footballer. It all trickles down to returning modes like Ultimate Team and Player Career, too, with the former augmenting select cards with desirable abilities and the latter allowing you to further tailor your playing style to your tastes.
While there’s always a fear these PlayStyles could ultimately break the balance of EA Sports’ outrageously popular card collecting mode, we’ve found the opposite thus far. Indeed, sometimes they add value to lower rated players, as deploying a 78 OVR with a very specific buff can really complement your tactics when used in the right way. This is rewarding.
Ultimate Team is actually a lot more flexible overall this year, stripping away the irritating Position Change cards and introducing Evolutions, which allow you to still eke value out of a crappier player that’s already been power crept by the game’s meta. It means, for once, you can actually potentially use a player you like – rather than be forced to stick with the tried and trusted.
It should be noted that, while these under-the-hood tweaks are meaningful, the headline change here is the introduction of female footballers to the player pool. Now it’s possible to mix-and-match genders, pairing Alessia Russo with Cristiano Ronaldo if you like. Seeing as Ultimate Team has always been sold on its premise of building fantasy dream teams, it makes sense as an addition to us.
A similarly sensible addition comes courtesy of the steadily improving Manager Career, which is slowly beginning to implement off-the-field tactics, like playing styles. You can now pick a tactical approach and hire coaches to implement it, although the execution doesn’t always feel meaningful on the field, with real-life tactics like Sam Allardyce’s style of long ball football not really feeling impactful at all to us.
Nevertheless, with American sports franchises like MLB The Show 23 and NBA 2K24 delving deep into these more meaningful management aspects, it’s good to see FC 24 at least investing a little effort into this area. There’s even a side-line camera perspective you can adopt which gives you the unique perspective of a manager, which we personally appreciated.
All of this would be for nought, of course, if the soccer sim Stevie G slipped on the pitch – but the gameplay is generally good this year. There’s a more cerebral pace to play, which is complemented by the addition of the Precision Pass, allowing you to thread those through balls in a way you just couldn’t in previous releases. When it comes together, a defence splitting pass feels bliss.
Defensive play can feel a little sloppy this year, and of course the game still succumbs to those age-old, meme-inducing AI issues, where goalkeepers square up to the wrong striker or defenders simply flop over each other. But generally it feels slick and smooth, and is boosted by another unprecedented presentation pass, which better reflects different body types and muscle definition.
In fact, one area you simply can’t criticise this release is its graphics, which have taken an impressive leap forward here. Menu screens are backgrounded by cinematics which show commentators setting up, players lacing their boots, and sprinklers watering the grass. It all feels more premium than ever, which is impressive for an unprecedently high-budget franchise like this.
Our only major complaint in this department is that the commentary, now with the variety of a second announcement team, just isn’t any good at all. While the rapid nature of football means it’s maybe harder for EA Sports to implement the conversational style of NBA 2K24 and MLB The Show 23, it still feels a generation behind both games.
At least it’s caught up on the crossplay front, however, which is now available in Clubs – or Pro Clubs, as you may be more familiar with it. Many fans feel this mode has been neglected for years, and while it’s still a little too early to judge the new seasonal format, the crossplay will be key in keeping its servers well-populated all season long.
Of course, this all brings us back to where we started: EA Sports FC 24 takes some meaningful steps forward, but it isn’t ostensibly the reboot many may have been hoping for. If you’re already very familiar with FIFA, then the changes outlined above may or may not appeal to you – but there’s nothing here that’s going to win over series sceptics at all.
Perhaps the publisher will need another year to implement more seismic changes, as it looks to solidify its split from FIFA and establish its own direction. To its credit, this rebrand has been successful: the game’s swish new user interface, paired with its stylish icons for each mode, makes it feel more cohesive than it ever has done. But we’d like to see a bit more bravery from the next edition.
FIFA 24 in all but name, EA Sports FC 24 is not the bold reboot many may have hoped for when the publisher announced it was breaking away from football’s governing body. But beneath the air of familiarity is another slick soccer sim, with some smart new additions like PlayStyles and Precision Passing which help stamp a bit more personality on a previously robotic experience. Additions to Ultimate Team bring flexibility to the game’s flagship mode, while the developer has been listening to its fanbase, and is slowly iterating on oft neglected areas like Career Mode and Clubs.