There are quite a lot of things we never could have predicted might happen in the near future back in 2019. Between covid, the crypto booms and busts, and the quiet ChatGPT revolution, FIFA and PES both abruptly changing their names seemed like only one more odd left turn for reality. But while eFootball seems doggedly determined to trash PES' legacy, FC 24 handles the transition expertly. It's not the revolution we dreamed about in our wildest fantasies, but neither is it just another season update. There's forward momentum here.
I've been thinking about forward momentum a lot because that's where I really notice the change in feel. There's about a bazillion new animations in this game, says EA, powered by Hypermotion technology which uses AI to turn real floating point player data into sick in-game tekkers. They say that every year, obviously, but I can actually feel the difference this time.
What is it? Née FIFA, the football sim/slot machine hybrid that keeps the electricity on at EA.
Release date September 28
Expect to pay £60/$70
Developer EA Vancouver
Publisher EA Sports
Reviewed on i7 9700K, RTX 2080 TI, 16GB RAM
Steam Deck Unsupported
Link Official site
Try to dribble round in a tight circle with lithe Spanish wonderkid Gavi, then do the same thing with Erling Haaland. There's always been a difference, in this series, in how monstrous giants turn versus shorter, more agile players. It just feels more natural now, like the bits between the animations have been smoothed out. Like an animation version of DLSS is filling in the extra frames.
That means you can dribble on instinct that bit more, moving into gaps just as they're developing. And when you time a through ball just right with the player's run, FC 24's really generous with the amount of space that gives you. More than ever, you see the pitch not as it appears in the present moment, but as it will appear in one second's time. Where will the gaps be? Spray the ball there.
You can still feel a lot of FIFA 23 in here, mind you. But while some elements like headers feel relatively untouched, bolstered only by a few more improvised jumps, finishing with your feet and dribbling feel much more tinkered with than you'd previously find from one FIFA to the next.
Playstyles bring out the difference in feel that the new animations create. These are basically FIFA's traits turned up a few notches, so you actually notice when a player has Pinged Pass or Power Shot because it fundamentally feels better to perform those actions. You do them, and you watch better results happen than if you'd attempted the same move with Dan James.
Passing's had a scalpel taken to it too, most notably with driven lofted through balls being cut and crosses taking on a totally different feel and weighting. But above all: the defending. Holy Franco Baresi, the defending this year is difficult. It's about the momentum again—you can't just stick in standing tackles and hope for the best, because you're punished harder than ever for losing your momentum and committing. Instead, you're best off manually tracking players and using L2 to jockey, trying to block shots and passes rather than looking to dispossess through tackles. It's a lot.
That has a knock-on effect on tactics and team-building. 4-2-2-2s are everywhere online, because the extra two CDMs give you a safety net when your centre backs end up going walkabout. But there's more to consider when you're building a formation and tactic. Playstyles are so important this year that in some cases it's worth overlooking a player with a higher OVR in order to get someone with power headers up front receiving crosses, or someone with Rapid and Whipped Pass feeding them. And there's a further knock-on to this, because for the first time, Ultimate Team cards can be upgraded now via the new Evolutions mechanic. Tick off a bunch of objectives with a certain player (and then inevitably drop some coins) and you can raise their stats and unlock new rarity tiers. You're not lumped with the OVR that you find a player with, then. Another reason to prioritise getting players with the right playstyles in the right positions, above and beyond maxing out the ratings all over the pitch.
Hopefully you're getting the sense that EA Vancouver's changed some things this year. It's really heartening to see that, and to see what appears to be visual and feature parity with console versions. Compare that to where we were in the FIFA series on PC only a couple of years ago—being slapped in the face and laughed at by EA execs as they chucked another last-gen season update at us, and you'll see a definite change in mindset towards our fair, maligned platform.
A change in mindset, yes. But a change in execution? Unfortunately it's still a rough ride on PC. At launch, matches are frustratingly choppy for no good reason at random moments, a longstanding problem that makes its return into this new era. Luckily these moments have cropped up infrequently for me—once every match or two for a couple of seconds—but I've had tech dramas elsewhere. I haven't been able to get a Clubs game during the early access phase, and while I haven't experienced any significant animation or texture bugs, I've had some weird audio mix issues. Elsewhere PC players have been experiencing everything from a bug that mutes all commentary to controller dropout issues. I've experienced this at times too—just like I did in FIFA 23—and the game periodically seems overwhelmed by both a mouse and a controller input and appears to freeze until you wiggle the mouse and realise it's just ignoring your pad in favour of it.
That's disappointing. But there's a distinction to make here: it's not for a lack of trying on EA's part. At least we've got all the current-gen console features now. And above all, we've got a game that's trying new things on and off the pitch.
Over in manager mode there's a real focus on pre-match preparation that sees you juggling player form and sharpness: two elusive meters that can each be increased with the right training type. A layer deeper, the coaches you hire to run these training sessions all have a preferred approach and give you buffs for stacking high quality coaches who share your philosophy. So if you play Tiki-taka like my Juventus side, you want a lot of five-star coaches who specialise in Tiki-taka in order to boost everyone's on pitch performance.
The latter's an enjoyable little footballing side quest, hoovering up all of Europe's coaching talent in order to hit certain star numbers in attack, midfield and defence, but truth be told I didn't notice it making a tremendous impact on how my players felt to control. The same goes for form and sharpness—I only noticed these mechanics at play when my starters had lower stamina than I expected. But after several FIFA career mode iterations that felt basically untouched, I'm just happy to have some new menus and stats to play around with.
Over in player career mode, the big addition is Playstyles and the Path of Exile-like upgrade tree they're unlocked on. This makes it feel like you're more deliberately sculpting a specialist, someone with a specific role on a team. And if I could get into a match of Clubs, I expect I'd find it really rewarding to play in that laser-focused way, tending to my own garden instead of trying to be Ronaldo and Van Dijk all at once. But, like I said, I can't.
Volta's had some love too, with a focus on freewheeling, nonsensical fun. It's basically Fall Guys in a pair of Mercurial Vapors, a set of skill-focused minigames intended to break up the endless FUT grind. Except, to my considerable surprise, I'm not actually finding FUT mode much of a grind. Not yet.
FC 24's been extremely generous about the packs it bestows on 'founders', anyone who plays before November 2nd, and as a result you can build up a team of respectable gold players within a couple of days. And you can drill through the offline Squad Battles against computer opponents to figure out your formations before you get rinsed by some Prime-chugging edgelord who wants to show you every single skill move on their way to your goal.
Alongside Evolutions, though, the biggest improvement to FUT this year is that players from the women's and men's game play together. This isn't a half-arsed bit of political box-ticking, it really changes how you think about building teams. If you thought Gavi had close control, take the ball for a test drive with Marta—the best women are so tough to effectively mark, it's like an earthquake to the previous FUT meta.
Maybe it's the recent run of disappointing PC FIFAs talking, but despite the inevitable tech issues, FC 24 feels like progress. It feels like a developer who's willing to take a few risks again—it's shaken up the defending, knowing it'd furrow the community's collective brow. It Unites the men's and women's games in FUT, knowing that'd ruffle feathers too. Best of all it tinkers with the animations and controls so much that we actually notice them—so much that the football genuinely feels better.