In about 2011, when I was a religious FIFA player and could beat just about anyone who challenged me, I played against a flatmate who decimated me. It was like a whole different game - instead of the passing game most teams played, he’d go on long runs and spam the right stick, performing unpredictable tricks and skill moves to breeze past defenders before setting up a tap-in on the edge of the six-yard box.
For the next decade, that seemed to be the play style EA Sports was catering to with its incremental annual releases. In an era when football took off on social media, and a 15-second clip of Ronaldo or Messi (later Mbappe) pulling off an audacious flick was far more likely to go viral than any in-depth tactical analysis, football gaming followed suit, and it felt like the pace of the game would only ever increase.
But when I picked up a copy of last year’s FIFA 23 in a mid-season sale, I found they’d had a change of heart. Here was one of the weightiest, slowest football titles I’d ever played. Sure, you could still set a pacey player like Mykhailo Mudryk off on a storming run down the wing, but first you’d have to pick your way intricately through the midfield before perfectly timing and angling your pass to him. Hitting X (or A) and hoping was no longer enough, because interceptions were far more common.