\When players—including many of the world’s best—went to sign up for the FIFA 20 Global Series earlier today and started entering their personal information, they noticed something weird. There was already information on the screen. Someone else’s information.
At the point where players registering were asked to confirm their details, they were shown a screen displaying the personal details, including email address and date of birth, of a different player.
EA were quickly informed of the error, and took down the registration page while they fixed things.
I can’t remember the last time both of these games so underwhelmed.
In recent years both have had their individual highs and lows. FIFA’s last pre-Frostbite seasons were rough, and PES has long been walking a knife’s edge between eccentric brilliance and outright embarrassment.
This is not a normal Kotaku review
Sports game reviews are usually pretty boring, so for a few years now I’ve decided against giving each of these titles a spotlight of their own, instead pitting them in a caged fight to the death. Only insane people are going to get both of these games, so most football fans probably just want to know which of the two is the one to pick up. Most years it’s FIFA. Some years it’s not.
Every time one stumbled, though, the other was there to carry the day, whether it was PES’ Fox Engine revolution or FIFA’s surprisingly excellent single-player story mode, “the Journey.” I’d always be able to point to one of these two games, combatants in the last genuine competition in the sports game market, and say this one is definitely the one to get.
This year, instead of a confident thrusting of my finger, I can only half-heartedly wave my hand. PES is stuck in the same rut it’s been in for years now, capable on the pitch but increasingly a shambles off of it, while FIFA has somehow, in a genre defined by its obsession with incremental upgrades, managed to go backwards.
Here’s how this year’s head-to-head review is going to work. I’m going to give you what I like most about both games and what I don’t like. I’ll give a reluctant endorsement to one of them, and then we’re going to go our separate ways and reconvene same time next year to see what’s up.
THE GOOD STUFF
CAREER MODE – This is less of a big 2019 update and more of just the slow accumulation of features over the last few seasons, but FIFA’s career mode—especially as a manager—is now so fully featured that it’s like a Football Manager Lite, down to keeping players happy and getting into the nitty gritty of international scouting. The new contract negotiation system, which plays out with agents in a tense cinematic office/restaurant environment, is fantastic.
MISKICKS – While for the most part FIFA has tried to get more realistic over the past decade (it was originally a decidedly arcade experience), one area where it always lagged behind PES was the way you could string together pinpoint passes regardless of the direction the person receiving the ball was facing in relation to where he was kicking it.
In FIFA 20 there are now very strict rules regarding this, so if you try and just spam quick throughballs into the centre of midfield with your back to the opposition’s half, your players won’t perform leg-snapping miracles, they’ll just completely miskick it. Combined with the physicality and 1v1 “strafing” of the setup touch, it really helps to slow down FIFA’s pace, and really helps with allowing for calculated build-up play in an opponent’s final third, a ploy previous FIFA games just weren’t interested in accommodating.
ULTIMATE TEAM – Every year Ultimate Team inches closer, NBA 2K-style, to becoming the central focus of the FIFA experience, and every year that bums me out a little more. This mode is essentially gambling, it’s bad news for kids, and it has no place in a retail video game that’s already asking for you a big up-front investment.
THE GOOD STUFF
“THE PITCH IS OURS” – Every year PES’ gameplay, with its methodical player animation and 1:1 ball physics, gets a little closer to playing like the real thing. This year it got a little closer still. I never, ever score the same goal twice in PES, and its midfield battles are far more tactical than FIFA’s breakneck race to the penalty box.
MENUS – This seems like a minor thing to heap praise on, but for the longest time PES’ front end has been a nightmare to plod through. This year it’s much nicer, which for a game you might be spending hundreds of hours with, makes a big difference!
THE BAD STUFF
SLOPPY – PES 2020 is just so rough around the edges. It launched without correct team rosters, data updates take forever, in-game replays are doubled in length due to constant splashing of the game’s logo…everywhere you look, there’s just stuff there (or not there) that feels unfinished.
COMMENTARY – I think Peter Drury is the worst commentator working in football today, so his mere presence in the game isn’t helping here, but even were I a fan I’d still be criticizing PES for this. Its commentary is repetitive, slow and bizarrely unspecific, and after a few games got so tiring I just played games without it.
AI – Here’s the real deal-breaker with PES though: Throughout my review, the AI would continually just break down, especially when it came to player movement off the ball. Sometimes my striker would start to make a run behind the defense then just stop and wander off, while my defenders would see an opposition striker heading at them and turn their backs. It didn’t happen all the time, but it happened more than enough for it to make a difference on the scoresheet in several key games, which was absolutely unforgivable.
Both games underwhelmed this year because neither failed to progress significantly from where they were in 2018. FIFA 20 in particular feels like a lesser offering than FIFA 19, because“the Journey”was such an accomplished and enjoyable addition to the game; its absence this year is sorely felt, especially when Volta’s own story is so poor by comparison.
We’re here for a recommendation, though, not commiseration, and so despite its shortcomings I think FIFA is once again the better overall offering. Volta might be a misfire, but the way I can try and take defenders on 1v1 is now more fun than it’s basically ever been in a football game, regardless of the publisher, and the state career mode is in threatens to pull me away from Football Manager (of which I’m admittedly a pretty casual player) entirely.
PES, meanwhile, tried a little harder than usual this year, spending more on licenses (not having Juventus in FIFA is weird) and changing the name of the series itself. As befitting a game mired in quicksand, though, the more it struggled, the more it found itself stuck.
The overwhelming impression I got playing both games this year is that they’re just tired. Both series are in need of a fresh shot of adrenaline (and a fresh coat of paint), and they were never going to get it in 2019, in the twilight of the sixth console generation. We can only hope that this year’s stagnation is just a result of something bigger and better coming along next year.
Note 1: I played a retail copy of PES on PC, and had a prerelease copy of FIFA on PS4.
My favorite thing about the FIFA games is how they keep releasing on old consoles, even years after the console has stopped getting official support or other new games. Last year, FIFA 19 was released on Xbox 360 and PS3. Even more impressive is that FIFA 14 was released on the PS2 in 2013, though that was the last year FIFA appeared on the console. How long will FIFA keep releasing on PS4 and Xbox One after the new consoles? Take your bets now!
Beyond a big new soccer game, there is a bunch of ports. A huge list of RPGs are hitting Switch, including multiple ports of old and new Dragon Quest games. For fans of Star Wars, Jedi Knight II, one of the best Star Wars games ever made, releases for Switch and PS4 this week. And The Surge 2 hits Xbox One, PS4, and PC for fans of Dark Souls and robots.
Other stuff is coming out this week! Check out the list below:
Monday, September 23
Oliver’s Adventures in The Fairyland | Switch
Skyrift | PC
Mystery Solitaire: Grimm’s Tales 2 | PC, Mac
Chronac | PC
Applewood | PC
Starazius | PC, Mac
Tuesday, September 24
The Surge 2 | PS4, Xbox One, PC
Contra: Rogue Corps | PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC
The Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition Pack | PS4, Xbox One Switch
Star Wars: Jedi Knight II – Jedi Outcast | PS4, Switch
I got to choose a lot of things in my life. My job, my wife, my friends, my dog—all have been good and wonderful. Some things, though, I have been born into, and supporting Aston Villa Football Club is sadly one of them.
My grandmother was born and grew up a block away from Villa Park, and my great grandfather even played a few games for them between the wars, so when I was little and showed an interest in football, it wasn’t long before I’d been outfitted in claret and blue and informed, at great and repeated detail, about how we (it was “we” already) were one of the proudest old clubs in England, how we’d won so many leagues, cups, had even been champions of Europe on one glorious night in May 1982.
My experience of Villa hasn’t been quite as exciting. After winning a couple of League Cups in the mid-’90s, we haven’t done much since, the highs coming in the late-’00s as we pushed hard (but unsuccessfully) for a Champion’s League place under Martin O’Neill, the lows coming very recently as we spent three seasons in the Championship, England’s second tier, after being relegated with one of the worst Premier League sides of all time back in 2016.
Even through those darkest of times, though, and despite the lure of playing as a genuinely competent and successful side, every time I got my hands on a new FIFA or PES I could never bring myself to play as any other team. I’d dig into the menus, find Villa (or West Midlands Village, as the unlicensed PES would call us), and convince myself that my self-imposed narrative for this upcoming manager mode/master league would be to restore Villa to our rightful place at (or at least somewhere within sight of) English football’s upper echelons.
That was the idea, at least. And yet I can rarely see it through, because playing as Villa—even as our newly promoted, not entirely terrible 2019/20 squad—is torture.
Sports video games are obsessed with realism, and a big part of portraying sports accurately is making sure that some players (Lionel Messi) are better than others (Alan Hutton). For most of sports gaming’s recent history, that’s been accomplished by simply borrowing the idea of numbered statistics from role-playing, and assigning every player a number of skills and attributes (speed, strength, accuracy, etc). The world’s best players will get skill rankings in the 90s, while journeymen battling away on a relegation-threatened team might be in the 60s-70s.
You can see, at least in principle, how that works. But as someone who plays regularly as a team with shit statistics, I think that system is busted! It creates an environment in which good teams—Barcelona, Juventus, Liverpool—are granted superhuman powers, while less successful sides—Newcastle, Cagliari, Real Betis—look like a bunch of over-45s lumbering around a park on a Sunday morning.
Villa are definitely in the latter category. To play as a “bad” team like Villa is agony, because your touches are terrible, your players slow, your passes even slower and your shots wildly inaccurate. As a reflection of sports gaming’s numerical scale, it’s working as intended. But as a reflection of how the sport is actually played and shown, it’s rubbish (OK, maybe except for the shots part; Villa have been dreadful in front of goal this season).
If you watch a side like Villa, or Brighton, or Southampton, you’re watching a team made up of Premier League footballers. International players, fit as hell, capable of doing all kinds of wild and cool stuff. Sure, they’re not as good as the very best, but these are still really good footballers! Definitely better than they’re portrayed individually in sports games.
John McGinn’s volley rating in FIFA 19 was 71, and yet:
The differences between very good and great players at the professional level are a lot slimmer—absolute freak outliers like Messi and Ronaldo excepted—than FIFA’s gulf in statistical values would have you believe. We’re talking groups of footballers who are all in the 99th percentile among humanity for their skills at the game, where the best and the merely excellent are separated only at the margins (a clinical finish here, a defter touch there), but sports games are putting 10 and even 20 percentage points between them, and the results just don’t reflect the game.
What I’m basically saying is, can sports games—and I’ve only used football as an example here; I’m sure Knicks and Jets fans can also sympathize—settle games at the same margins? Because slogging around a field like an out-of-breath pensioner isn’t an accurate representation of an elite professional athlete, no matter how close to the bottom of the league they are.
Especially considering one of the other things that separates great teams from merely good ones—the tactical ability of a manager or coach—is up to the player, and should be left in the player’s hands, instead of being approximated solely on the pitch by simply making worse teams terrible.
The problem isn’t even the use of stats to grade players, it’s how that scale is broken. Bringing players closer together except for a few key areas would make team selection a lot more interesting! And, at the bare minimum, would be a small blessing for those of us who follow bad teams, because we suffer enough in the real world, we don’t need to cop it in the virtual one as well.
EA has announced it will stop selling FIFA Points on January 31 in Belgium after previously saying it would fight claims by the country’s regulators that FIFA’s loot boxes constituted gambling. The company apologized to players in the country “for any inconvenience caused by this change.”
Four months after launch, EA has released an update to make some of FIFA 19’s intriguing new shot-taking abilities more realistic and less broken.
FIFA comes out every year, and every year the team at EA Vancouver tries to make it worth buying again. For FIFA 19, a feature was added to entice fans called Timed Finishing, a risk/reward mechanic aimed at giving players more control over how they try to score goals. It was a cool idea that ended up feeling broken to some players, offering lots of reward with little downside. In the game’s Title Update 7, out today, EA has made timed shots less forgiving and thus less likely to shower whoever deploys them with easy goals.
Timed Finishing lets you click the shoot button a second time right before you hit the ball to increase the chances of it going into the back of the net. Press too early or too late and your shot will be off target. Or at least that’s how it was supposed to work. In practice, players seemed to be nailing the target no matter what. It was even worse when coupled with another long-standing mechanic, finesse shots, leading to an especially overpowered combo allowing players to bend it like Beckham no matter how uncoordinated they were.
The problem was confirmed in today’s patch notes and described by EA as “an issue where a timed finesse shot would always have less error than a non-timed finesse shot, even in situations where the timed finesse shot was red or yellow,” meaning that even timed shots hit super early were going on target. To demonstrate the flaw and the fix, EA put together a side-by-side comparison of 100 balls kicked prior to the patch and 100 kicked after.
Previously, well-timed shots from the top of the box would find the far side of the net almost every time. Now, there’s much more even distribution, with some headed to the corner but others still tracking towards places easier for the goalie to intercept.
On poorly-timed shots the changes are more noticeable. Before today, players could double-tap late and still have a good chance of getting an excellent on-target shot. Now, being late results in the player on the field completely slicing the ball.
In addition to dialing back the accuracy of finesse shots and making the window for a well=timed shot smaller and less forgiving, there are some other welcome changes, like a reduction to how fast goalies can move when being controlled manually. It might not sound like a big deal, but before and after videos of goalie changes show how unrealistically they were darting around before and easily able to close down angles on incoming attackers. Hopefully these balance changes stick around for FIFA 20 as well.