EA Sports FC 24 (PS5) review

2023-09-25  Gaming

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.

One year and one title change later, and we have the clumsily named EA Sports FC 24. With my own club, Chelsea, having been through something of a transformation over the summer, the prospect of a recovery Career Mode save tempted me more than usual to buy a copy at launch, with all of my fingers and toes crossed in the hope that the developers retained its predecessor’s more thoughtful football.

A solid performance

The good news is that EA Sports FC 24 takes last year’s match engine and builds on it, and if anything the on-pitch action is slower and more physical than it was last year. You really do need to consider the momentum of both player and ball, planning your touches ahead of time just as you would in real life. Anything less will lead to frustration as you bundle into opposition defenders and lose the ball.

That isn’t to say that there’s no pace to be found. If you can find the space and carve out the perfect pass to your forwards, you can set them off on sprints towards the goal line. If you have rapid players in your front line then it seems easier now to stay ahead of defenders once you beat them - it’s the difficulty in getting to that point that prevents this from becoming an overpowered way to score certain goals.

It’s an enjoyable game of football, but development always creates new frustrations. EA Sports FC 24’s goalkeepers are more frustrating than ever, and sometimes it feels like the AI is capable of pulling off superhuman saves while your own keeper flaps at just about everything. The same holds true of interceptions and tackles - any even slightly predictable pass you try to play will be cut out on higher difficulties, while most of your time off the ball is spent fighting the AI positioning to get into place for a block or challenge that would be impossible without manual movement.

Much of this is probably due to an underlying momentum or balancing feature, aimed at keeping matches balanced and interesting by aiding the weaker team. The byproduct of this is that it frequently feels like it’s as easy to beat Manchester City or Tottenham 4-0 as it is to lose by a similar margin to Brentford or Fulham. Like every year, some tinkering with the difficulty sliders is required to prevent fringe players at Premier League minnows from hitting the top corner from 35 yards every game.

Another small criticism, albeit one that breaks immersion, is that AI players seem very prone to knocking the ball metres ahead of themselves to run on to. This can work to great effect if said player is Mohammed Salah, but looks ridiculous when it’s a lower league cup opponent and it’s been happening all match.

Football 2.0

EA Sports FC 24 is a game of two halves, and its real problems become apparent when you pay attention to what happens off the pitch, away from the main action. With the departure of the FIFA licence, it feels as though EA decided that football was no longer enough and they needed to create a whole new Rocket League-style sport to keep the social media generation on board post-rebranding.

The grass and studs and mud are still there, but while FIFA used to attempt a faithful recreation of a real matchday broadcast, the authenticity is now hidden under more overlays and pop-ups than a Formula 1 sprint race. This is all in the name of an ever-expanding feature called HyperMotion - or at least EA’s desire to show it off.

While FIFA 23 featured HyperMotion goal replays (slow-motion replays with dramatically overlaid statistics showing the distance to goal or xG for a shot, for example), EA Sports FC 24 takes it to a whole new level, and any set piece now appears to be fair game for any number of messy overlays, from attempts on goal to possession, result odds, and even player fatigue expressed as a percentage.

Other changes also sully EA’s once-pristine presentation and pull you out of the illusion. Match intros and lineups - once great for building the pre-game atmosphere - have been cut in favour of sweeping shots of the stadium and the players in the changing rooms. Bookings are sometimes delivered via a first-person ref cam where some of the player models look terrifying. And offside decisions are confirmed via a camera which I can only imagine is a recreation of what VAR will look like in 2050.

All the quirky stuff - the weird kits, coloured lines, and so on - used to be confined to Ultimate Team, but now it feels like the entire game has been adjusted to target those with short attention spans. The impossible camera angles and “augmented reality” graphics are everywhere, and all together they only serve to make EA Sports FC 24 feel less like authentic football and more like… well, a video game.

Problems off the pitch

The wholesale TikTok-ification of FIFA’s presentation would have been easier to stomach if EA had delivered significant upgrades elsewhere - specifically in Career Mode, where I spend most of my time. Unfortunately there’s little to report on here, as besides a new feature that requires to you sign coaches for your club to influence your team’s development, very little has changed for a number of years.

EA Sports FC 24’s case also isn’t helped by the fact that it generally feels much buggier than previous iterations in the series. Apparently swapping out all those FIFA logos for EA Sports FC ones took a lot of development time, because a lot seems to have slipped through the net. Even in just my first ten hours, I encountered:

•   An in-match graphical glitch that made me thankful I don’t suffer from epilepsy
•   One of my defenders becoming invisible (and playing everyone onside)
•   Away team players on the pre-match screen dying their hair white
•   My team’s fans leaving the stadium early even when I’m winning 4-0
•   A substitute who was warming up teleporting across the touchline at half-time
•   Numbers being shown the wrong way round on the substitution board (still)

All things considered, EA Sports FC 24 is a hard game to sum up. Typically, I might score a FIFA game four out of five if it was strong on the pitch but failed to bring anything new to Career Mode, but the bugs and the overbearing cyber-football elements detract further from this year’s game in my eyes.

Hopefully the bugs will be fixed in updates, and there is an option to turn off many of the HyperMotion overlays, but EA Sports FC 24 has taken a discouraging direction and it seems faithfully recreating real-life football has tumbled down EA’s list of priorities faster than Sheffield United back to the Championship.

There is a fantastic game of football here if you focus on what EA Sports FC 24 delivers on the pitch and disregard the fluff around it, but it’s getting harder to find. It’ll be interesting to see where EA goes next, but the key to surviving the 2023/24 season will be turning HyperMotion graphics off and sticking to the gameplay.


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