In case you somehow missed the big news, there is no FIFA 24. In its place, accompanied by some WWE-inspired fanfare – and a somewhat curious cover concept – the behemoth of sports publishing has unleashed EA Sports FC 24. Those intravenously wired to social media are going to read plenty in the coming days about it being the old series in a freshly packaged replica kit. Curiously, anyone who comes to that conclusion is simultaneously right and wrong.
Release date: September 29, 2023
Platform(s): PC, PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X, Xbox One
Developer: EA Vancouver
Publisher: EA Sports
The opening hours with EA Sports FC 24 do hum with familiarity. You've seen 'shot animation A', heard 'commentary line B', and exhaled over 'goal celebration C' countless times before. Matches feel significantly slower, but you won't quite decide whether it's because the game was designed to be more pedestrian, or power creep in FIFA 23 turned every special card into Usain Bolt by May. (The correct answer is both.) Then, as you settle in, and soak up FC 24's nuances, you grasp that there is far more subtlety and intricacy here than we're used to seeing year-on-year.
What does that mean out on the turf, where it matters? A lot, actually. A new, longer-distance broadcast view enables much shrewder tactical thought. Well-timed crosses arrive with proper whip and zip. The reduction in game speed invites cerebral build-up play, particularly when coupled with the new Precision Pass, in which an onscreen arrow denotes the path of the ball. You can score lovely goals by recycling possession while monitoring your striker's run, then releasing a through ball with surgical accuracy. Whether the community embraces that, rather than countering down the wings and cutting the ball back after a five-star skill move, remains to be seen. For the purist, it's a huge breakthrough.
Style it out
PlayStyles are the on-pitch addition that players of all abilities should love. In a similar vein to Madden 24 X-Factors, they provide specific abilities that function as a complement to a player's stats. There are 32 in total, split across six categories: Shooting, Passing, Defending, Ball Control, Physical, and Goalkeeping. And they really are transformative. First Touch awards players like Pedri and Jack Grealish even more glue-like control. Jockey, Block, and/or Intercept improve your defenders' success rates against tricky attackers, which is vital online. Power Header dramatically changes the likely outcome of a pinpoint cross aimed at Olivier Giroud or Erling Haaland.
While PlayStyles make the best of the best soar, their brilliance is actually more salient when applied to those one step down from the elite. Take James Ward-Prowse. West Ham's new playmaker was the first card I packed in this year's FUT. With an overall rating of 78, he'd have been quickly disposable in previous years. Instead, the scrappy Englishman is revelatory; Ward-Prowse's Incisive Pass and Pinged Pass PlayStyles deliver inch-perfect balls to my forwards almost every time. The Whipped Pass badge, meanwhile, sees fast, arced crosses sent in from out wide. I love having him in my team. When, ever, has that been the case for a player with 57 Pace and 74 Dribbling? Such is the power of PlayStyles.
Those subtleties mentioned earlier can be found throughout Ultimate Team. It's so refreshing not to have to faff around with Position Change cards when, say, relocating Marcus Rashford from LM to ST, or vice versa. Players automatically switch to their secondary positions, with full chemistry, when moved there. Even better, the new Evolutions mechanic enables you level-up players of your choice by competing in-game objectives. As a Palace fan, I'm steering Jordan Ayew towards a stats boost that he'll likely never be awarded by EA's rating gurus. Select your favorite, then work on upgrading him. Or her. Nice touch.
And yes, I wrote 'her'. Female players are now mixed in with male ones in FUT. There are going to be some who take issue with this, so here's the thing: if you only want to use dynamic dudes, go for it. That's the joy of choice. Reckon Sam Kerr being rated the same as Lionel Messi is unrealistic? I bet you didn't complain when FIFA 23 Futties saw Rafael Leao made even better than Pele. From its inception, where you built a dream squad of which you were captain, Ultimate Team has been a fictional fantasy realm. Now it has a far wider card database, serving up a stack of fun players you've never used before. The team I've built with Ward-Prowse in the middle has a forward line made up of Jessica Naz and Toni Duggan, and it won't be changing anytime soon.
Vision of glove
Career mode was hugely underrated in FIFA 23, so I was hoping the fresh features in EA Sports FC 24 would match the welcomed iterations found throughout FUT – especially with it being split into two options (Manager and Player). Alas, no. Setting a tactical vision, such as genenpressing or kick-and-rush, is a nice idea in principle. As is appointing coaches who boost your players' stats to match that strategy – such as strength and heading power, for kick-and-rush. That's the approach I've adopted in control of Wrexham in League Two. Yet the theory doesn't carry over to the on-field action. A true long ball tactic should see one fast striker peeling away from the last defender as a taller, stronger partner flicks the ball on with his head – and it just doesn't happen. Genenpressing with Liverpool is sure to work better, but a feature like this has to function at all levels. A shame, because otherwise Manager career is again solid.
Every year there's a clamor from the community to overhaul social mode Pro Clubs. For FC 24, EA has finally done exactly that. It's now called Clubs, and reformatted so the next 12 months are broken up into seasons. These are split into a League phase, a Promotion phase, and Play-offs phase, with rewards in terms of both XP and vanity items. This all sounds encouraging – although it'll take a month or two to judge whether this new system delivers as outlined. More immediate fun is Volta, the street-based mode that invaded FIFA 20 only to be forgotten about completely. I'm really enjoying scoring OTT goals with my guy, B-Dub, and kitting him out with ridiculous masks and headbands along the way.
One aspect where EA Sports FC 24 really sings is in its presentation. The gulf between this newcomer and FIFA 23 is vast. Menus are speedy and slick. Panels are gone, replaced by an intuitive pull-down system using a nav bar at the top of the screen. Cut-scenes during pause and post-game screens, such as Alex Scott interviewing the player of the match, bring depth. Guy Mowbray and Sue Smith freshen up the comms booth. Stats screens surpass levels of detail we see on Match Of The Day or Super Sunday – check out the one above, with 3D overlays of my last five shots at goal. Ref cam, in which you view bookings and red cards from the official's perspective, is exceptional. This is strong, class-leading stuff.
Which brings us to the score. It's a biggie, and there will be those who respond with cynicism upon their first few plays. Like I said at the outset, some familiarity does seep in early on, but you soon realize that there are myriad new shot animations, and commentary lines, and goal celebrations, after all – and plenty else to enjoy. Female players and Evolutions bolster Ultimate Team, while PlayStyles and presentation upgrade the on-pitch feel. There's room for improvement, which is why that extra half-star remains elusive. But EA Sports FC 24 goes down as a highly accomplished reboot, kicking off the post-FIFA era with precision, power, and no little panache.
EA Sports FC 24 was reviewed on PS5, with a code provided by the publisher.