First Impressions - FIFA 21 Next Gen (PS5)

December 27, 2020

An incredibly solid, if a little unremarkable, addition to EA Sports’ juggernaut football franchise, FIFA 21 focused on incremental upgrades and small quality of life improvements over anything huge. The gameplay was good, updates to Career Mode and Ultimate Team — however minor — were welcome and overall it felt like a competent final bow for the series on the last generation of consoles. The next-generation update is more of the same, but that’s no bad thing. 

That’s not to say there isn’t a difference between both versions. It’s immediately clear that this is a step up visually. Player models are more varied, close ups reveal updated, higher fidelity likenesses, the lighting (especially during night games) makes everything look fantastic, and little things like grass and material textures can be seen too. The on-pitch activity has seen a small upgrade too, flowing a little more smoothly with the pace of the game turned down a touch to add to the overall realism. 

The game’s new default camera setting helps too, with a larger field of view allowing the game to show off more of what it has to offer, both on the pitch and off it. Unlike in real life — thanks, ongoing global bastard! — the crowds are packed into their seats and their presence can be felt, especially in big games. This is something I touched on in my initial review, but the focus for this was clearly on the next-gen versions of the game. Increased animation and variation in the crowd is coupled with a booming atmosphere in big games, particularly for teams like Liverpool and PSG who are heavily associated with this year’s game. There’s also an increase in TV-style cutscenes to help round out the experience and add to that ‘broadcast’ look and feel EA Sports is constantly striving for. 

This is football.

The increased focus on the stadium experience is far from integral to the game, but there is a joy to scoring a 90th-minute winner and seeing your goalscorer wheel away towards a raucous crowd in a new celebration cutscene, exclusive to this version of the game. It’s just another small, immersive, touch that doesn’t affect the moment-to-moment gameplay, but it makes big wins feel even bigger.

On PlayStation 5 in particular, another minor addition also helps with immersion — the adaptive triggers of the DualSense controller. As a game progresses and players become tired, the triggers on the new PS5 controller will require a little more force to get players moving at top speed or slow down at the right moment. It’s so slight a feature, but it’s definitely noticeable when trying to push your team towards an aforementioned last-gasp goal. Of course, this feature can be turned off in the options if it’s not your thing. However, I really like it and after a few games it just felt natural. Similarly, FIFA 21 also utilises the haptics in the controller to a much lesser degree. It would have been nice to see more use here but, much like a lot of the things mentioned, I expect we’ll see them more fleshed out in a ‘proper’ next-gen release.

The release of this upgrade was most definitely worthwhile and the changes implemented are worthwhile. However, none of them compare to the optimisation in menus and load times. As someone who primarily plays FIFA single-player, navigating the menus is now super smooth. I still maintain that there are far too many of them and a lot of things require too many button presses, but the fact that it now takes seconds to get into an actual game is a dream. It may seem insignificant but, trust me, not having the time to check my phone between menus is a dream.

Overall, FIFA 21’s upgrade is more of a Scott McTominay workmanlike effort with a touch of Kylian Mbappé flair than a brand new signing. Anyone expecting a full-blown brand new game will be disappointed but, for me, the progress is clear: although small and simple, the improvements make a huge difference to the experience of this game and bring FIFA 21 up to the next-generation standard.

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Ant Barlow

Started with the PlayStation, now I'm here... with a PlayStation. Once skipped school to play the Metal Gear Solid demo repeatedly. I love stories big and small. Trophy hunter. Recent VR convert. Probably a hipster.