EA FC 24 review: new game changes much more than recent FIFAs did, and it’s paid off
The franchise name change gave EA a chance to take risks, and the result is better football
Timothy Weah comes barrelling down the wing at a disorganised Lazio defence who’ve been pulled out of position by Federico Chiesa’s decoy run. Rather than crossing it, the Juve winger dribbles it right into the box, daring a centre-back to try and put a tackle in. He’s looking to square it over to Vlahovic and finish off what’s known as ‘the FIFA goal’, that squared ball across the box football fans have been scoring mirthlessly for the last two decades. Ugly, repetitive, and brutishly effective.
But this isn’t FIFA, it’s FC24. Not just a name change brought about by licensing issues, but a footy game that actually changes the formula. They say this every year, obviously, but this time you feel it on the pitch.
Where you feel it most is in defending. All the new animations and the tweaked controls mean that momentum is king this year, and putting in a standing tackle - committing to being stationary for a moment - is basically suicide. It’s much better to manually track the player you’re marking and try to block their shots and passes than it is to dispossess them though a tackle.
Which brings us back to a young Juventus winger trotting along the goal line, looking for that pass. He can’t score the FIFA goal because the online opponent in this match is a) wise to this move and b) too terrified to go out and tackle Weah. Because if tackles are suicide, tackles in the box are akin to that monk on the Rage Against the Machine album cover who set himself on fire in the street.
So Weah cuts outside, creates an angle on goal, and with his back to goal, backheels it past the keeper.
FC24 plays a better game of football than its forefather FIFA has for a long time. The two have a lot in common, not least the online multiplayer-meets-slot machine mode, Ultimate Team that pays for all the Christmas parties at EA. (Across all the company’s sports games, Ultimate Team microtransactions made £1.15bn in 2021, 29 per cent of the company’s total business.)
Visually, in both graphics and presentation, you can feel that it’s been built on FIFA 23’s foundations. But FIFA games took flak for changing the bare minimum between annualised releases, and this isn’t that.
Its ‘Hypermotion’ animation tech uses AI wizardry to turn floating point data from real players in real games into silky-smooth in-game animations. This is only the latest evolution of that technology, which debuted in 2021, but developer EA Vancouver’s really leaned into it now, and tweaked the way passing, crossing, and player stats work to bring out a new rhythm and feel to the football.
In its pre-release marketing, FC24 boasted that you could score ‘the Haaland goal’ in this game - that improvised aerial kick he scored against Dortmund in the Champions League, but that’s only the most high profile example. Moment to moment, you feel less like you’re cycling between canned animations but instead moving the ball about organically, expressively. It means the best FIFA players, who counted animation frames like Dustin Hoffman in a Vegas casino, are forced out of their comfort zone, and everyone has to play FC24 that bit more like a game of football.
There’s a great sense of momentum this year that starts with the fluidity of animations and the tweaked passing system. The game’s really generous about the amount of space you get for losing a marker, timing a run perfectly, spraying a ball past a static player or luring them into a tackle attempt. So you’re always thinking a couple of seconds into the future. You’re looking at where the pieces on the chessboard will be once you’ve sent this chipped through ball out, and planning accordingly.
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There are big changes in Ultimate Team too, and that must have made some EA execs sweaty. For the first time, players from the mens’ and the womens’ game take to the pitch together, completely changing the squad building meta. You’ve suddenly got a wealth of pacey, agile players who can run rings around lumbering centre backs, and having so much more variation heightens the excitement of opening a FUT pack. Twice the superstars. A good move.
You can upgrade FUT cards now too to raise a player’s OVR rating, which feels like performing some forbidden arcane ritual after ratings were set in stone for so long in the FIFA series. Coupled with a reworked ‘playstyles’ mechanic that replaces ‘traits’ from FIFA and exaggerates the special feats certain players can pull off, it’s another tactical wrinkle that changes how you build a team.
It’s more important to get a striker with the ‘power shot’ trait now than it is to have one with a higher OVR number. First because ‘power shot’ really helps with, you know, the scoring of the goals, and second because you can tick off a list of objectives using that player and increase their OVR anyway.
It certainly isn’t a perfect soccer sim. There’s a whiff of inevitability about the connectivity issues and the bugs present on the PC version at launch, this being a videogame release in the year 2023 after all, and there’s still plenty on the list of longstanding bugbears for EA to work through in the next few FCs.
But it’s encouraging to see a developer given the agency to take real risks with such a profitable franchise. EA must know some people will hate the new defending. Or that some cave trolls will resent women and men taking to the pitch in the same match. But FC24 does it anyway, and as a result it’s so much better than recent FIFAs. No pressure, then, FC25 - what can you achieve in the space of a year?