FIFA 21 on PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series consoles is a big leap forward for the series, adding a handful of major enhancements that make the experience of playing the (digital) beautiful game the best it can possibly be. Not everything is dandy, of course, but the quicker load times, better graphical fidelity and focus on a snappy user experience is a welcome first step into the world of next-gen.
This year’s entry on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC brought a new-found focus on Career Mode. After many years of stagnant and non-essential updates, the mode finally became the subject of a revitalization. Simulating matches now gives you a Football Manager-esque overview of the game as it plays out, allowing you to follow the action and adjust where necessary. If your team isn’t playing well or you just want to have a crack at the action, you also have the option to ‘jump in’ to the match – an impressively seamless transition that throws you directly into the game.
As well as this, Career Mode has also scrapped the individual training options seen in previous entries, now focusing on a more dynamic, results-based training regime that enables you to focus on improving multiple players across the pitch. One of my favourite changes that also stems from this is the option to now change player positions to fit players into a specific formation or, in some cases, wind older players down into supporting roles. Being able to convert an older CAM (central attacking midfielder) into a CM (centre midfielder) gives more meaningful options while squad building, while being able to focus on specific position development keeps things interesting throughout the many seasons Career Mode offers.
VOLTA Football returns this year with a less meaningful story and a bigger focus on Groundbreakers – iconic players that you recruit as you play through the multitude of tournaments on offer. VOLTA Squads — similar to FUT Seasons — is also added this year, though I quickly found my interest with VOLTA drying up after finishing the 3-ish hour story and recruiting some of the higher profile players into my squad.
As always, the crux of FIFA sits with Ultimate Team. This year, EA Canada has focused on making player customisation a big part of the experience, allowing players to decorate their own stadium. This comes by way of unlockable tifos, banners, and a myriad of intricate decorative items. Of course, you will need to earn these as you go but if you enjoy Ultimate Team there’s no reason you won’t this year. It’s still as predatory as ever with the litany of micro-transactions on offer, however.
All of these modes and features are packed into FIFA 21 on the new consoles, as expected. Yet the gameplay on the new systems is noticeably different. Defensive A.I. has been improved dramatically compared to the last-gen version of FIFA 21, and I quickly found myself having to adjust strategies I’d grown used to relying on earlier this year. Defenders will snuff out passes with relative ease on higher difficulties – no matter if they’re cross-field switches of play or a little dink forward to open up a defence. As well as this, opposition players tend to swarm the box when defending, cutting off intricate passing lanes and moving to block shots often.
For the most part, this boost in intelligence works well to paint a much more immersive picture of the beautiful game. It doesn’t always work, though, and the A.I. can be susceptible to brain farts every now and again. Swarming the box, for instance, may open up passing lanes on the wing which I’d be able to exploit, or a defender will straight-up pass me the ball and I’ll be 1-on-1 with the keeper. Midfielders and attackers tend to have these moments, too, giving the ball away too easily even on the game’s higher difficulties. Evidently there’s still room for improvement, but we’re certainly starting to get to a point where everything is clicking and giving those that crave a similar experience to what they watch every weekend exactly what they’re after.
Unsurprisingly, FIFA 21 tends to favour and reward using skill moves and embarking on quick counter attacks more than anything else. Defenders can be easily duped with a few stepovers or a cut inside and combining that with a quick breakaway often leads to a good chance on goal. Crosses and well-placed through balls were reliable methods of unlocking defences, too, as happens to be the case with most of the recent FIFA entries.
Combined with near-instant load times and better graphical fidelity, playing FIFA 21 on PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series consoles is easily the best way to play the game. The addition of a few extra cutscenes before a big match, whether it’s highlighting the league’s top scorer entering the stadium or watching fans enter the turnstiles, adds to the atmosphere of big match days, and made my experience with the game all the more enjoyable.
DualSense integration is the biggest win here, though. The PlayStation 5’s new controller is absolutely brilliant, and the adaptive triggers and haptic feedback make the experience more immersive than ever. The triggers uniquely adapt to player fatigue and stamina, becoming harder to press down when a player is tired. Similarly, the haptic feedback in the controller itself simulates the feel of a player sprinting for the ball, or connecting expertly with a volley. It’s subtle, of course, but certainly adds an extra element of immersion to the game. And it’s hard to argue that PlayStation 5 is, right now, the best place to play and experience FIFA 21.
Keeping on the subject of PlayStation 5 integration, the system’s activity cards are another notable inclusion in FIFA 21. Whether you’re jumping into a kick off match with a mate, resuming a Career Mode save or diving into VOLTA Football, you can do it all from the PS5’s home screen – loading into any mode in about 15 seconds. It’s extremely snappy and shaves off some valuable seconds booting into the game and comes well appreciated as someone who doesn’t have a massive amount of time to sink into matches of late.
FIFA 21 on PS5 and Xbox Series consoles is by far the best way to play the game. Overall, this year’s entry is great, too, bringing a positive focus on Career Mode, more customizability to FUT and some extra things to do in VOLTA Football. The increased graphical fidelity, lightning-fast load times and enjoyable gameplay on the new consoles makes it the strongest entry in the series in some time, and I only can hope we continue to see more major improvements across all modes in future entries.
THE PS5 VERSION OF THIS GAME WAS PLAYED FOR THE PURPOSE OF THIS REVIEW. A DIGITAL REVIEW CODE WAS PROVIDED BY THE PUBLISHER.
Playing FIFA 21 on the next-gen consoles is an absolute dream. Quicker load times, an increase in visual fidelity and better A.I. make it the strongest FIFA entry in the series in some time.
Great increase in graphical fidelity and player animations