FIFA 21 Review: Great Pitch Action That Stumbles in the Final Third

On the pitch, FIFA 21 remains the best it's ever been, but it's arguably not changed enough for longtime fans in almost any other way.

Another year brings us another FIFA, with this year’s version bridging the gap between current-gen and next-gen consoles. While FIFA 21's on-pitch action has improved over previous years with small, meaningful additions, much of the game feels like a re-skin marred by some bizarre defensive changes.

Much like Madden 21 and NBA 2K21, it feels like FIFA 21 is just waiting for its next-gen counterpart to arrive.

FIFA 21 Review: Great Pitch Action That Stumbles in the Final Third

We’re back to the kind of kamikaze keepers that EA tends to fix within the first few weeks of a new FIFA launching, and they’re crazier than ever.

FIFA 21 offers the best football gameplay the series has ever seen, thanks to a surprising new focus on less predictability on the pitch.

It’s no longer a given that your player will trap the ball and turn on a dime, and new player collisions breathe life into tried and true blocking and marking gameplay. It helps that they create new tackling opportunities, too. 

Everything feels a little looser in this year's version, with gameplay rewarding players for trying to find the open man in space rather than constantly looking for the center forward. It’s a smart change that makes build-up play more important than it has been in years, and brings FIFA slightly closer to the likes of Pro Evolution Soccer.

Crosses also feel more deliberate, as well. Each ball into the box feels distinct and useful, making it much more important to stop supply by closing down wide-players.

Still, that’s not to say it’s harder to score wonder goals, thankfully. Expect to see the net bulge more often than not with responsibility for your 30-yard screamer shared between an excellent shot and sub-par goalkeeping.

Yes, we’re back to the kind of kamikaze keepers that EA tends to fix within the first few weeks of a new FIFA launching, and they’re crazier than ever. While the aforementioned air of unpredictability undoubtedly causes goalies to punch the ball more often or spill the occasional shot (all kinds of things you could feasibly expect on match days), they’ll now run to the other end of the pitch to attack a corner when losing 4-0 and approaching half-time.

While we expect to see this ironed out in the coming weeks, for now, it’s somewhat alarming to see the likes of Alisson surge forward, miss the ball, and then concede a shot from around the halfway line.

There are also more than a few instances of center-halves refusing to cover their teammates, getting caught in two minds about what they want for their post-match meal. More often than not, though, defenders are well organized.

FIFA 21 also sees the ousting of longtime commentary duo Martin Tyler and Alan Smith, and while Derek Rae and Lee Dixon may not be to everyone’s tastes, they do at least have some new dialogue this time around, much of it focused on Ultimate Team. 

Win, Buy, Sell, Repeat

If Ultimate Team is your mode of choice, then you’ll find that it remains as compulsive as ever. Win matches to earn coins, spend those coins on players via auction or through packs, and wheel and deal until you have the squad of your dreams.

New this year is couch co-op play, letting your friends jump in with you. There's also a new focus on stadium customization, including crowd chants, a team’s nickname (it never fails to raise a smile hearing the commentators discuss “The Kittens’” chances of winning), and pitchside trophies.

The metagame still revolves around pace, so faster players are at a premium, but defenders no longer match a player’s speed, so explosive players come into their own. 

Still, if the mode hasn’t grabbed you in the past, or you don’t trust yourself not to invest in the allure of card packs with incredibly low chances of decent players, there’s little else that’s truly new in FIFA 21.

Career Mode still training with the reserves

With [Player Career Mode] having barely changed outside of its menu aesthetic and a handful of new training drills since FIFA 16, it’s getting harder and harder to excuse.

Last year’s street-set Volta mode returns with a new two- to three-hour campaign (and online co-op), but Career Mode continues to be a footnote in EA’s mind.

The “Manager” side of career mode adds the likes of a 2D match simulation feature that feels ripped straight from Football Manager, only with the ability to jump in and play out key moments (or the whole game) yourself, and it works remarkably well.

There are new training routines to implement, and finally, loan-to-buy deals to consider when investing in new additions to your squad.

“Player” mode, however, fares much less favorably. With the mode having barely changed outside of its menu aesthetic and a handful of new training drills since FIFA 16, it’s getting harder and harder to excuse.

Despite the focus on Ultimate Team (perhaps understandably, given the revenue it generates), Career still lacks a huge amount of features. Players can’t step off of the bench, for example, meaning you’re either in the match-day squad or you’re not, and there’s still no real way to earn a move to your dream club other than requesting a transfer and hoping for the best.

FIFA 21 Review —The Bottom Line

Pros

  • Each match feels less predictable than FIFA 20
  • Manager Mode offers fun new ways to influence games by jumping in
  • Fee upgrades to the next-gen versions

Cons

  • Player career is the same as it has been for four years
  • Goalkeepers are prone to rushes of blood to the head

Just as with Mesut Ozil, FIFA 21 shows plenty of talent in areas where it applies itself. However, just as with Ozil, it neglects some of the fundamentals it needs to succeed, freezing out Player Career Mode entirely and offering very little off the pitch that we haven’t seen before.

Still, on the pitch, FIFA 21 offers great tactical gameplay despite some wobbles, and it seems primed to continue that into next-gen.

Our Rating
7
On the pitch, FIFA 21 remains the best it's ever been, but it's arguably not changed enough for longtime fans in almost any other way.
Reviewed On: Playstation 4

Contributor

Published Oct. 12th 2020

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