Even if you're pissed off at this year's instalment, there's no denying that FIFA 2021 is an exciting game to play - provided you're the one hammering the ball past the goalie and not the hapless sod controlling said goalie.
You know that it’s okay to skip an instalment of FIFA, right? EA’s FIFA 2021 caught it in the neck at launch — specifically its Nintendo Switch version — because of how few changes had actually been made to the game in the course of a year. And being upset about that is fine. But FIFA is all about football and the game has been around since the second or third century BC — or around the 12th century if you’re an England supporter.
And in video game form, the sport has been digitally represented since the 1970s. The FIFA series has been around since 1993, which is… twenty-seven years. That’s a long time to be making the same game and there’s a limit to what can be done once gaming hardware has gotten to the point we have. That’s no excuse for sloppy development, but it also means… maaaybee you don’t have to play FIFA every year.
Going on strike
We’re obviously building up to a point and that point is: we don’t play FIFA every year so FIFA 2021… that’s actually been quite an entertaining experience. The latest in Electronic Arts’ lucrative football games isn’t without its faults but, if you’re not taking it too seriously, it’s got one thing going for it. The only thing you need from a game, really. It’s fun to play.
Of course, that’s only true if your idea of fun is action. If getting into the box in front of the keeper, nailing the ball in with authority and then celebrating your goal — whether it’s on your own or gloating over voice chat — does it for you then FIFA 2021 is absolutely the game for you. Unless you’re the goalie, which will probably be the case if you’re playing online. Being the goalie sucks in this edition of FIFA because the defenders are still underemphasised (some things don’t change, even if you skip a year). As ever, it’s about the strikers.
Not just about the balls
But it’s not only about the strikers — EA’s made the game about more than just kicking a ball around. Players can opt for quick matches, on- or off-line, can play the Career mode as either a Pro or a manager (or play like a Pro, retire at the end and then become a manager), partake in some FIFA Ultimate Teams (FUT) or Volta football action or just dive into the training options and improve their ball skills. There’s… really a whole lot to do, some of which looks suspiciously like working with spreadsheets.
Basically, whatever your interest in football, you’ll find something entertaining for you here. Whether it’s five-a-side or traditional play, whether you’re fond of a particular league or championship (you won’t find the PSL, sadly, we checked), if you’re more into team management or would rather just collect items from totally-not-loot-boxes, FIFA 2021 has what you want. Or need. Maybe you’ve got a football problem, we don’t know.
Ain’t that a kick in the head?
And it’s, largely, all attractive. Slick menus, some of which are arcane-looking and probably for the accountant-types who like the manager aspects, some great animations and celebrations, and really decent ball physics — particularly when you’re switching from several fixtures in good weather to one that’s a little damper. Hotter days also have a different feel to them, there’s a little more bounce to the ball then. They’re neat little touches but also, aren’t really new for the series.
Commentary, always a weak point with the FIFA games, has been well done. You’re definitely going to get a spot of repetition, particularly if your matches tend to run the same way (don’t do that to your little brother, it’s not nice). But it’s got some genuinely natural-feeling moments, that crop up as pace or the direction of play changes.
Less desirable is the tendency of player-controlled characters to follow all of your inputs religiously. Which makes sense if you launch a tackle near a ball-less opponent (since you’re about to foul the poor defender), but it’s a little weird to watch someone vault a sliding opponent and use their descending foot to launch a ball into the back of the net. Bodies just don’t work that way. But that’s not what EA’s football game is all about. It’s all about feeling like a football superstar.
FIFA 2021 Verdict
Unless you’re a rabid fan, obsessively comparing each annual release of FIFA with the previous one, odds are you’re going to be pleased with what EA’s done here. It has its wonky moments, where players will defy physics and biology in order to obey a button input, but there’s still a great deal of satisfaction to be had from slamming a ball into the back of the net. The game certainly rewards attacking play over just about any other tactic and that’s perfectly fine, from an entertainment point of view. If you’re looking for a more nuanced take on the beautiful game, you probably shouldn’t be looking at FIFA. But then, that’s been the case for at least a decade. You should be skipping every second release, not ten at a time.