And so another football season starts and another installment of the ridiculously successful FIFA franchise hits the shelves.
In what has been a turbulent, unpredictable and worrying year for the world as a whole and the football landscape, the return of a shiny new FIFA is just that little bit more welcoming. That bit more comforting.
First up, is this the sort of game you can pick up and not realise the hours are sailing by? Absolutely.
A new football season and a new FIFA as the hugely popular franchise makes its annual return
Kylian Mbappe is the poster boy of FIFA 21 and is one of the best rated players on the game
But haven’t most FIFA football games been like that?
Dedicated fans of will remain glued to the latest offering equally as much as its predecessors, but it is the beauty which lies in the detail that we really care about.
So, is FIFA 21 different? And how much?
To put it out there early on, players who are expecting glaring changes to the gameplay system and manner in which FIFA flows will be left disappointed.
Instead, nuanced tweaks can be seen stitched within the existing skeleton of the footballing machine. Passing is slicker, players are more responsive and generally speaking it feels as though the transitions of play fold much more kindly into one another.
Subtle details are seen within the gameplay, while stadiums are recreated in stunning fashion
FIFA have mapped out realism across the board, with the exterior of Anfield seen here
But these are the little things one senses after playing their way into the new product. In terms of immediate first impressions, everything feels rather similar to 12 months ago.
There is indeed a lot to like. Well crafted build up will be rewarded with sublime goals which feel as though they’re being broadcast straight from live action. Realism comes into its own in FIFA 21, but jarring elements still persist.
Perhaps, unlike myself, your FIFA skill level will quickly iron out any teething issues, though it feels as though the rigid defending system in the game feels much more testing than it has done in previous years. Clunky, almost.
Saintly patience must be retained when the game’s poster boy Kylian Mbappe – now rated 90 overall – blitzes towards your defensive line with dazzling feet. It is certainly a baptism of fire, dive in and you’re done for.
Yet the game feels very much like a learning process. Getting humiliated once allows for the user to quickly realise a need to set back players off the ball, while bringing support into play. Fans will be happy to know that pace attributes are back with a bang this time around, placing speed demons truly in a league of their own.
FIFA tried so hard to level the playing field with regards to pace in previous years, almost to the point where it became redundant. Now, happily, it is fine-tuned and right on song. A new ‘Agile Dribbling’ feature will also delight the masses, with the trigger buttons on the respective console becoming your new best friend causing body rolls and fake turns galore.
Passing on the game is slicker, while dribbling has been remastered and pace is vital again
Liverpool’s title-winning season sees them as one of the best-rated sides on the game
Player selection is now key, and those who do not pay dues to the strikers they are coming up against may find themselves on the sore end of a humiliation.
Passing repertoire remains high throughout, with the pleasing continuation of reactive surfaces and weather conditions impacting the ball. Head into a blustery autumn fixture in the Premier League and you’ll soon know all about it.
One feature which stands out is the Career Mode. Some people love it, some people hate it. Either way, the excessive criticism which came FIFA’s way last year regarding this medium has certainly been taken on board.
This time around we find a much more fleshed out offering, containing a Football Manager-style interactive match sim, which lets you switch between the standard FIFA match view and the new sim view when you so choose.
It’s perhaps long overdue, but it was definitely needed. Everyone’s favorite rough and tumble of the transfer window has also been sharpened, with negotiations for players feeling much less robotic and in line with the club’s financial and competitive status.
FIFA have responded to criticism of career mode and have added Football Manager features
When not getting lost in the career mode, ‘Volta’ street football offers a complete palate cleanser. After it’s introduction in FIFA 20, Volta has been chiseled and the good things have been made better while the bad things have… well, gone.
The mode offers a nostalgia-tinged throwback to the days of FIFA street, offering a variety of options in which to play out the small-sided matches using the world’s biggest names.
Beefed-up changes to the system include VOLTA Squads, Featured Battles, new Match Types, The Debut and VOLTA Kick-Off.
Yet for those masters of the online discipline, who head straight to Pro Clubs and FUT, the key theme is steady continuation. New features include FUT Events, Live FUT Friendlies, FUT Stadium and One FUT Club which offer refreshed options.
‘Volta’ street football provides an injection of nostalgia from the days of FIFA Street
Users can select locations around the world to play short-sided games with the superstars
The same thrills and spills continue, and the ongoing treasure hunt to pack a Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo or Mbappe remain as rare as ever, though the excitement of course is always in the search.
Though it won’t go without criticism, all in all FIFA delivers and promises a fresh array of excitement for avid fans to take into the next year and beyond. With additional subtle details seeing out offering at random intervals, there is little risk of the new feeling stale anytime soon.
And, if nothing else, the sight of stadiums packed with fervent supporters fills up the heart and leaves us yearning for a return to normality once again.