Sports gaming reveals at E3 tend to be high on the hype (and ear-splitting bass) and low on details, so here's a biggie where FIFA 20 is concerned: Indoor football is back. Hell, to an extent, FIFA Street is back. Many EA decisions split its fanbase, so for now let's all agree to celebrate an E3 2019 (opens in new tab) announcement that sounds wholly positive: Volta mode.
Yes, Volta. It's the Portuguese word for 'return'. The mode sees a classic element of old-school FIFA finally make a comeback, just as GR lobbied for in its 2018 look at 13 long-lost sports game features we wanted to see restored. Except with its E3 2019 reveal, EA Canada insists, it's grander, better, faster, stronger, and, perhaps most importantly, realer.
"Some of the impetus behind creating the world of Volta came from fans' love of FIFA 98's indoor mode, and FIFA Street," executive producer Aaron McHardy tells GR. "But this is more than that. In FIFA Street the gameplay was fantastical and not that realistic. Volta is authentic. We started out with our 11-vs-11 gameplay engine, then built in features specific to the small-sided football experience, in a way that gives the mode soul."
That means you're not limited to playing in the wooden-floored gyms that we loved so much 21 years ago. "We have different sized environments – small, medium and large," reveals McHardy. "Some with walls, some without." He lists a Tokyo rooftop and Amsterdam underpass as among the pitch types on offer, and given the popularity of their inclusion in Alex Hunter's The Journey trilogy, expect to see a Brazilian favela and LA beachfront in there too.
Real-life pro teams are selectable for 3-a-side, 4-a-side or 5-a-side play, but it's the bespoke Volta mode – which will let you create your own footballing hopeful – that EA really hopes will catch on. "This is a whole new world of football in addition to all our usual modes," says creative director Matt Prior. "You can create any custom character, male or female – we'll have both sexes on the same pitch at the same time. We're including the most accessible and customisable mode we've ever put into FIFA. Shirts, tattoos, socks, shoes, all sorts of other stuff. And you can grow your player however you want via your in-game performance, similar to The Journey. We're taking football back to its roots."
Flair it out
Those roots include different kinds of ball – futsal and regular, each requiring their own unique physics – and a ton of opportunities to demonstrate flair while still playing believable, non-arcade football. "We've added simplified flicks, so you can get the ball up in the air in fanciful ways," McHardy tells me. "New skill moves, and the ability to trigger those skill moves much more simply than in 11-vs-11. New flair animations for controlling and passing. When you put that together you get a really different, unique feel [compared to previous games]."
Exciting as this all sounds, there's an elephant in the room we need to address. A Twitter-ranting, Reddit-venting elephant bellowing that it will never buy FIFA again if long-standing and – it must be said – justified grievances with Pro Clubs and career mode aren't addressed. Both Prior and McHardy say they aren't at liberty to discuss those modes today – before you start thinking nasty thoughts, note that this is standard for FIFA's marketing cycle at this stage – but I do nudge them about the need to acknowledge, and placate, that elephant. McHardy counters that it's long been a priority, insisting his team welcomes both the rough and the smooth.
"We don't filter out any fan feedback," he says. "We invite it in. There's a lot of good feedback you can glean directly from our fans, even those who are upset and want something changed. It's all constructive. We take it all in. When you have a game as big as FIFA, with 20-odd million people playing it, you'll get [both positive and negative] feedback. One size never fits all. We do our best to listen to our casual players, esports pros, and our core community, and understand what everybody is wanting from the game."
To that end, the studio has already committed to another overhaul of timed finishing – last year's most controversial on-pitch addition, which has already been patched and tweaked repeatedly – and defending, such as a new jockeying system. "The green timing window for timed shots will be reduced from 2-4 frames to two frames for all shots, which will make it harder and require more skill to perform," EA announced in an official pre-E3 blog post. "Timed shot accuracy will be tuned to result in slightly less precise shots, although green timed shots will still be more accurate than 'non-timed shots'."
Those specifics extend to FIFA 20's new defensive capabilities too. "Planned tackling is a new system that favours manual tackling, by making sure that the defender that tries the tackle does so in a favourable context to your team," developers Gabriel Zaro and Corey Andress explain. "An improved jockey system will be implemented with more agility and precision, rewarding players that decide to take control of their defenders."
Spot of bother
All welcome tweaks, which should improve the game on paper – so long as stress testing is able to spot and removes any potential exploits ahead of launch. Even so, I have my own elephant to unleash. Specifically: Goals scored direct from the kick-off. This was high on GamesRadar's list of the 11 most-wanted FIFA 20 features, and quite right too: No flaw in FIFA 19 frustrates me more. McHardy says wider fan feedback on the issue isn't as strongly worded as mine, but it's one of many areas which EA Canada aims to monitor on an ongoing basis.
"It's a topic that's been around for the last two or three years," explains McHardy. "We've done a lot of things within each of those games to help people [defensively] after the kick-off. Each year the problems that could arise in that scenario were different, and in FIFA 18 we did patch the game after release to address some of the positioning at kick-off."
"A portion of our quality assurance team is dedicated to testing this issue. It's part of their job to check that all scenarios are defensible. I think some of the sentiment is residual from previous years, because there were some problems there, but that's not to say we don't still look at it. Right up until FIFA 20 gets put in a box we'll continue to [look at it], and then there'll be further monitoring once the game is live. Also, the new jockeying system should really help players who come up against opponents who just try to dribble through them."
Questions answered for today, then, with many still to be tackled – if previous years are to go by Ultimate Team details should drop around Gamescom in August, and those persistent clouds loitering over career mode and Pro Clubs will grow darker with every announcement that doesn't mention either of them. For now, though, Volta offers some promise, and proof that EA Canada is paying attention to its acerbic fanbase. It's a start, an early thunderbolt after five minutes of an important cup tie. The final score could still go any which way, but let's enjoy that tantalising early salvo for the time being.
FIFA 20 is released in September. For further reading, take a peek at our piece on FIFA 20 player faces – charting 20 Ultimate Team favourites who really need new scans.