A lot has changed in world football since May 2022. Cristiano Ronaldo now plays in Saudi Arabia, Lionel Messi finally won a World Cup and then shipped himself off to David Beckham’s ambitious US club Inter Miami, and Manchester United… well, they have stayed the same. Quite in tune with all these seismic changes, EA Sports and Fifa ended their three-decade partnership when they announced a split on 10 May 2022. So what we have today, in place of the expected rehash of our favourite FIFA video game franchise every year, is the rather awkwardly named EA Sports FC 24.
Straight off the bat, you can’t help but wonder if the world’s most famous football video game—in fact, one of the most popular and longest-running video game series of all time—couldn’t have found a better name. Can you really imagine yourself saying, “Let’s catch up for EA Sports FC this weekend?”
Nevertheless, we have EA Sports FC 24—and it isn’t just a titular overhaul. It is, in fact, an encouraging indication of where EA Sports can potentially take this title.
Fortunately, despite the split with Fifa, EA Sports has the rights to use the original names of most football clubs and players. So you don’t have to play London B versus Man Red on a rainy Friday evening. There are, of course, some changes to get used to. After years of the boxy, simplistic horizontally scrolling main menu that at times looked like it came from the era of Windows XP, EA Sports has given FC 24’s menus a swanky-ish makeover.
The main menu is now aligned vertically and each field somehow feels neater, cleaner and definitely more modern. You also have more to do in every sub-menu within the various game modes, which revolve around more intricacies. Not every menu has been drastically redesigned—thankfully, things like mapping controls and adjusting cameras for matches remain the same. This is smart thinking on the part of EA.
For players, it seems to have gotten better, thanks to “Play Styles” and better AI. There is a discernible difference in the way some of the world’s top players react to scenarios—if you play with Erling Haaland, you are more likely to be able to power through for an instinctive striker’s finish. Similarly, having Casemiro at the heart of your opponent’s defence, more often than not, will hurt you, with more difficult counter-attacks to handle.
It is this that has made the updated teams of Brighton & Hove Albion and Newcastle United feel more real. EA has stepped up to offer a more realistic sense of difficulty; this means that you can no longer stick to a template team against pacy teams and still come away with a big victory. Now, you are more susceptible to being struck by lightning-fast counter-attacks, while playing against teams such as Bayern Munich and Real Madrid means that you might just concede two quick goals towards the end, even if you were leading 3-0—setting up a nervous and thoroughly enjoyable finish.
Play Styles for the top players makes a big difference—you can dribble much better with an on-form Marcus Rashford than you could before. Similarly, having Messi in your team means that you will almost always find him at the right spot to take an unnervingly accurate shot just when you need it—or make a sudden run that will hoodwink Joško Gvardiol and Virgil van Dijk, like the eight-time Ballon d’Or winner has in reality.
All this makes a big difference to the overall gameplay. So do the fine adjustments—it is now more difficult and important to hit your tackles at just the right time, or you risk giving away too many free kicks and penalties. Defending is tactically more difficult but also beckons you to put more effort and thought into it. In turn, this also forces you to plan your teams better and prepare multiple formations to play in—especially in the Manager Mode.
As a result, substitutions are more relevant too. Get in Ansu Fati at the very end and you are likely to find a happy end to a nervy stalemate. EA has also finally managed to infuse some new life into Manager Mode, by making you recruit the right coaches to build your team and planning player training better in order to balance their overall sharpness and development. Older players, for instance, will tire out if you over-train them—train them too little, though, and they risk losing their attributes faster.
More thought has clearly gone into the game itself, though it feels much the same at first glance. At every step of the game, you feel like you have more to do and think about, and that’s exactly the fresh breath of life this game needed.
To be honest, it probably could. EA’s developers, after all, did have more than a year of public knowledge about the split from Fifa. The one thing that EA Sports FC 24 sorely misses is the Alex Hunter storyline that the erstwhile FIFA had come up with in an involving and engaging gameplay to keep players hooked.
For some reason, Hunter disappeared after FIFA 19 and it has been five years since we have seen any trace of a solid story mode. Rudimentary Manager Mode cut-scenes of players conducting medicals do feel slightly fun at first glance but soon begin to feel silly and un-engaging. Next year, perhaps?
To sum up, EA Sports FC 24, the bellwether for the beautiful game’s virtual rendition, offers signs of encouragement for the future. It can definitely do more but EA’s definitely in the game and on the right track.