After Konami’s disastrous PES relaunch turned eFootball into the biggest meme in soccer gaming, the pressure was always going to be on EA Sports to avoid the same pitfalls when FIFA would finally give way for EA Sports FC. And in our FC 24 review it’s clear that the developer of the longest-running series in the genre has not only successfully navigated its split with FIFA without much fanfare, but it’s managed to kick off the EA FC era with some marked improvements from previous games that fans will certainly be delighted by.
I think we all remember the first time we saw the iconic EA Sports logo flash across the screen. For me, it was while I sat in my childhood home, watching my dad skinning defenders as Dennis Bergkamp in FIFA 98. Little did my old man know, the PlayStation 1 he’d just picked up wouldn’t be his for long, and Blur’s ‘Song 2’ would become the soundtrack of my early youth – it’s one of the greatest songs of all time, don’t you know?
Now, 25 years later, FIFA is dead… sort of. Last year, the unprecedented divorce between developer EA Sports and soccer’s largest governing body was announced, following the failure to agree on new licensing terms. Judging from FIFA president Gianni Infantino’s statement at the time that “the only authentic, real game that has the FIFA name will be the best one available for gamers and football fans”, the two bodies enjoyed a working relationship that seemingly operated with all the synergy of Diet Coke and Mentos.
Now that the explosive stream of branding froth has been cleared away, ‘EA Sports FC’ remains – a syrupy sweet succor that exists to bring comfort to long-time fans, as well as a reminder that, despite the change of name, the spirit of FIFA is still very much in the game. But has EA Sports switched up the recipe enough to add its own twist? Or has it simply slapped its own-brand label on a product series that has shipped over 350 million copies since its 1993 Sega Mega Drive launch and called it a day?
Loading into FC 24 for the first time, I was greeted by a much-needed UI/UX overhaul. FIFA 23 had enough tiles to roof a house, whereas FC 24 has opted for a far more sensible list-based layout that ensures I don’t have a panic attack every time I try to navigate the menus. Eager to immediately get onto the pitch and into the soccer game’s core gameplay loop, I kicked off in, well, Kick Off mode.
Though I had given up on FIFA 23 a short time after its own launch, there’s plenty of familiarity with regards to the general feel of FC 24. FC, FIFA, to-may-to, to-mah-to. I’m immediately impressed by how good everything looks, and take the time to admire just how lifelike the latest iteration of the Frostbite engine powering the game has allowed players to become – at least visually.
Someone at EA was probably standing staring at soccer cleats when they coined ‘HyperMotion’ – FC’s headline AI-based tech that dictates in-game player behavior. After all, the name isn’t far removed from some of the old Nike boots I donned in my Sunday League prime. But, unlike my labored attempts to get around the pitch, FC 24’s in-game animations are smoother than ever thanks to the sheer amount of volumetric (that’s what the ‘V’ stands for, by the way) data available this time around. According to the studio, “more than 180 top-tier matches” from both the men and women’s sides of the game were incorporated into the latest version, which is a huge upgrade from the two 11-a-side games utilized for FIFA 23’s HyperMotion 2.
EA hasn’t just used this data for generic animations, either. Over 1,200 stars with their own athletic idiosyncrasies have had them faithfully recreated in-game through something called ‘AI Mimic’. For example, Erling Haaland sprints like he’s down to his last dime, swinging his gangly Norwegian arms as if to clatter everyone out of the way of the reduced section in his local supermarket. Raheem Sterling’s T-Rex cosplay has also made the cut, while getting to watch Gabriel Martinelli gallop down the line with his head tucked down like a horse in a feedbag brings me unbridled joy.
With that said, EA hasn’t quite made every jump on its own jaunt down the final furlong of development. Though there are significant improvements to animation fluidity, physics foibles still persist from FIFA 23. It’s not uncommon for keepers to get a ‘case of the Kepas’ and miss the ball completely, while dog piles of players tumbling over each other offer moments of humor as I’m once again getting battered in Division Rivals by a zoomer whose trick stick APM would give me an RSI.
The AI also struggles to position itself properly on the pitch at times. I’ve seen even the best defenders commit the criminal offense of not tracking their runners more often than I – and I’m sure many others – would like. This is compounded by controlled sprinting being ridiculously potent when it comes to running rings around defenses. Married with the fact that FC’s gameplay feels slower than FIFA 23’s – something I’m actually very happy about as the continual reliance on pace has kept the meta stale for some time – and you’ll find yourself having to opt for one of the best FC 24 formations – be it something like 4-2-2-2 or 4-2-3-1 – in order to ensure you have enough defensive backup should your back line go walkabout. I’m confident that there’ll be balance patches for this, seeing as there always are at the beginning of the soccer game’s life cycle. But for now, sitting with a low block and counter-attacking is still, unfortunately, on the menu.
Perhaps the most important change coming into this year’s game when it comes to shaking up gameplay is the introduction of FC 24 PlayStyles. This year, EA has done away with the trait system of yore, instead granting players bonus abilities based on real-world data. Haaland’s overhead kick against Dortmund has earned him the ‘Acrobatic’ PlayStyle+ – a supercharged version of the base PlayStyle – while Barcelona Femení star Alexia Putellas can effortlessly trap the ball and transition into a dribble thanks to her own PlayStyle+, First Touch.
The implementation of this new system is top drawer stuff, and makes a noticeable difference whether I’m fizzing a ball along the ground with Martin Ødegaard (Incisive Pass), bullying out attackers with Lena Oberdorf (Bruiser), or shielding off defenders with Jack Grealish (Press Proven). There’s even a handy little icon that pops up when a PlayStyle+ becomes active, just in case you needed that extra reminder that you’re blitzing through defenders with Bernardo Silva because he has the ‘Technical’ ability to run circles around pretty much anyone and everyone.
Even the base PlayStyles are observable in-game. The AI for the aforementioned mssrs Martinelli and Ødegaard often attempts intricate pieces of trickery to link up their play like they do in the Premier League, as the ‘Flair’ PlayStyle imbues a penchant for audacity. Indeed, this extra tactical layer makes team building all the more engaging, and simply picking a team of 90+ rated megastars can quickly backfire if you don’t have the right stylistic balance to play the system you want – be it in FC 24 Career Mode or FC 24 Ultimate Team.
Speaking of modes, this year there have been some notable changes to both Manager Career and Player Career – for better or worse. At this point, Manager Career’s superfluous bloat bulges from the seams like the core of an old ball that’s seen a few too many trips down the park. New features like Tactical Visions – playstyle presets that let you quickly set your team up based on footballing philosophies like Gegenpress and Tiki-Taka – are a great concept, but ultimately make very little difference to how the players behave on pitch as those AI struggles resurface. The coaching staff you can now hire to help implement your vision probably haven’t even gotten their badges, judging by how little they seemingly affect things, either.
In fact, the only time I’ve really noticed my coaching staff at work is when they were emailing me repeatedly to lambast me for frequency with which I’m changing my Training Plan – a new system that lets you manage the intensity of your team’s practice to keep players in top condition ahead of matchday. The kicker? They were the ones who advised me to change it in the first place. Hopefully, a big update or two will come along and quell my qualms, but for now it all just feels unnecessary.
Even where there are actual improvements to the experience, there are drawbacks. New cutscenes have been added, which certainly do well to reflect key pre and post-game rituals, but the removal of pre-match walkouts and team sheets have left a sour note. For every step EA takes forward in the mode, it pulls itself back one.
Conversely, I’m enjoying the big tweaks Player Career has received this year. Progress in any aspect of life is made through measurable and achievable goals, and the agent system encapsulates this perfectly. Starting out in lower league soccer and gradually working towards that big Emirates debut has been a real treat, and picking up PlayStyles that really allow me to play the beautiful game as I envisioned myself doing so on a real pitch in my youth – emphasis on envisioned – once again adds that extra layer of depth to the mode’s gameplay.
Moving on, street soccer mode Volta Football is back once again. While solid stadium variety helps shake things up from match to match, and Volta Arcade minigames are jolly good fun, the spiritual successor to FIFA Street is still sorely lacking the healthy dose of combo-breaking surrealism that would really help it establish itself as a standalone experience. Until I can dab on someone mid-rainbow flick before sending a rabona top bins, no amount of garish unlockable cosmetic flair will compensate for its fundamental lack of substance. It’s no wonder EA has kept its progression tied to Clubs once again this year, though in defense of the decision it does shake up progression for your personalized player, ensuring you don’t succumb to the ennui of grinding.
As for Clubs itself, it’s great to see that EA has finally brought crossplay to the game’s most-sociable mode. The switch to a league-based system akin to FUT’s Division Rivals has been a breath of fresh air, as an off session will no longer lead to your relegation – much to the dismay of your friends. Once again, the PlayStyles slots that you should now be used to from Player Career come in clutch, and the soccer philosophy of your Club will ultimately decide whether you seek to become a Tiki-Taka master, or an absolute demon at pinging route one balls over the top à la Stoke City.
Finally, it’s time to talk about the soccer equivalent of Magic, the Gathering – FC Ultimate Team. EA’s multi-million-dollar money-maker has continually faced criticism over the years due to the loot box monetization system’s proximity to gambling. In Europe, Belgium has already banned it, Austria has quite literally ruled it as a form of gambling, and the UK narrowly avoided banning it after a long consultation linked the two. Despite this, the mode remains the main pull to FC for many players – after all, where else can you gather the magic of Bergkamp, Putellas, and Silva in one place?
FUT is where I’ve naturally spent most of my time in-game, like a gacha-enjoying magpie drawn to the shiny, foil-wrapped promise of FC 24 ratings-topping stars. But it’s not only the instant gratification of cracking open free Ultimate Team packs that has kept me coming back for more. With multiple game types, a plethora of objectives – including tutorial milestones that actively reward you with pack progress – and plenty of SBCs to solve, FUT feels like a honeytrap of content ready to ensnare unwitting tourists that pass through its gates, ensuring you’ll wake up in a ditch, penniless, and without a kidney. At least you’ll have a somewhat-competitive team to show for it, I guess.
Fortunately, your other major organs have been somewhat spared by the introduction of FC 24 Evolutions – a brand new upgrade system that allows you to turn even common fodder into a gleaming emerald beacon of dopamine that can help you hold your own against the whales that have already sent their kids down the coal mines in return for pack money. No, they won’t spare you the wrath of a meta Haaland team, but they will at least contribute to the scoreline being kept modest – you might even score a goal or two.
The most divisive addition to this year’s game has undoubtedly been the inclusion of women pros in Ultimate Team. As the likes of Putellas, Fridolina Rolfö, and Alex Morgan have arrived to shake the FUT meta to its core, the response online has been as mixed as expected, though a pleasant portion of it has been positive.
There’s certainly an extra layer of satisfaction to be had from rolling a team over with Ada Hegerberg, knowing I’ll probably receive a DM from ‘BigDave72’ telling me to keep myself safe shortly after, but petty joy won’t solve the prevailing attitudes towards women’s soccer. With that being said, this is a brilliant step in the right direction, and increasing salience that the girls can be just as cracked as the guys will hopefully bring further attention to the side of the game that is finally beginning to get its flowers.
FC 24 is the best not-FIFA ever, but this adage is about as prestigious as Tim Cook’s self-congratulatory descriptor about the year’s new iPhone. Yearly iteration often leaves less space for innovation, and is typically more reactive to consumer feedback to ensure the product is actually improving with each new version. However, with Evolutions and PlayStyles, EA has managed to crowbar some in without compromising quality.
For the most part, EA has delivered a confident first solo experience in response to where FIFA 23 could’ve done better, though I’m sure some of its newest features will be taken back to the tactics board for FC 25 and beyond. It’s a fine maiden voyage for the EA FC era, but many will be hoping next year’s game will be even better – the Sisyphean cycle begins anew.
EA Sports FC 24 retains everything that’s kept people coming back to EA’s soccer series for the past 30 years, from its slick arcade gameplay to the popular wallet-wrecking Ultimate Team mode – both made better this time around by PlayStyles and Evolutions respectively. While EA doesn’t hit the back of the net with every tweak and introduction, it’s clear the studio is trying to make good on its new-found freedom.