I have written at length—albeit a long time ago—on this website about how there is no such thing as the Madden curse. If you ever want to put together a counter-argument, though, today is your day to do it.
The NFL Network’s James Palmer reports that Mahomes suffered a “patella (kneecap) dislocation” (you can see doctors pop it back in in the video above), and will have an MRI tomorrow to determine if he has also suffered any ligament damage. Even if he hasn’t, Mahomes could still be out for up to six weeks just recovering from the dislocation.
This sucks, because despite the rest of the sport’s issues, Mahomes is an exhilarating talent, and the NFL is worse for having him on the sidelines for what could be an extended period of time.
\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.
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.
The physical copies of this year’s Football Manager game are made almost entirely from recyclable materials, from the case to the shrink-wrap to the ink that’s printed on it. You could even eat the cardboard, if that was something you ever felt the need to do.
As GI.biz reports, this year’s game—and every version going forward—“will come in a cardboard sleeve made from 100% recycled cardboard that will be shrink-wrapped in fully recyclable low-density polyethylene.”
The game’s box and paper manual are printed on water and vegetable-based ink, and the manual itself will be “made from 100% recycled paper.” Miles Jacobson, head of developers Sports Interactive, says this even qualifies the packaging as vegan, and that if you wanted to eat the packaging, you could. Aside from the disc, that is, which is the only thing inside the box that isn’t easy to dispose of correctly, though included in each copy will be instructions on how to mail the DVD into a specialized recycling facility.
You might be wondering why all the fuss over a physical copy of a PC game in 2019, but Football Manager is a series whose success lies in mainstream circles where disc drives are still very much present; last year’s game, for example, sold over 300,000 boxed retail copies.
Jacobson mentions in the video that Sega’s European staff helped out a lot on the project, meaning future games released by the publisher can take advantage of the same prices.
In terms of cost, these are more expensive to produce, at around 20c a copy more than standard packaging, but Jacobson estimates this “will be partly offset by cheaper distribution costs and partly offset by cheaper destruction costs.”
NBA 2K20 is one of the best sports games I’ve played in a long time. It’s also a giant scam that is perpetually gross, and sometimes even terrifying, to be around.
This might sound weird considering this is a sports game, but 2K’s basketball titles are some of the hardest things I ever have to review for this site. What I perceive to be the “good” and the “bad” of each entry in the series aren’t things that can be easily separated. In 2K20 they’re intertwined, everything good about it undermined by—and indivisible from—everything bad.
Wait, is this a review of NBA 2K20?
Nope. As we always do, this is only a review of 2K20’s MyCareer mode, not the entire game. I think its scope, coupled with the focus 2K places on it in terms of creating and selling their game, make it interesting enough to warrant this focus.
For years 2K’s MyCareer storylines have been a disaster, saddled with ludicrous paths to the NBA and downright embarrassing attempts at “hello fellow kids” humour. That’s all been replaced in 2K20 with the earnest tale of a college kid who takes a principled stand against organisational hijinx, only to see his draft stock plummet.
An unexpectedly topical jab at the NCAA, this year’s MyCareer story has you play a handful of college games before embarking on a journey towards the NBA that includes invitational tournaments, the Draft Combine (complete with mini-games for stuff like vertical leap) and Summer League.
It’s a lightning-fast introduction, which you’ll blow through in only a few hours, but it’s also by far and away the most authentic career path the series has ever managed. Like FIFA’s The Journey, while this certainly has its hokey moments, it’s sincere with most of what it’s attempting, and slots in nicely alongside your actual NBA play as a result. It’s wild remembering that only two years ago players were cast as a DJ getting invited to practice with an NBA team, only this year to live the more realistic life of a high profile college recruit, agent discussions and all.
MyCareer’s story—particularly during its cutscene-heavy prologue—is a fulfilment of almost everything the mode has been trying to do for years now. Celebrity cameos (particularly Idris Elba’s performance as your coach) are tasteful and very well-done, the story skips along without lingering too long in any one place (last year’s G-League focus went for waaaaaaay too long) and by the time you’re an established NBA player you really feel like you’ve earned your place.
It’s absolutely no surprise to find, then, that all this progress is then swiftly undone, not just by the series’ usual microtransaction nonsense, but by 2K’s slavish hunger for Brands™ as well.
This year’s story mode was handled by SpringHill, LeBron James’ own production company (James is credited as Executive Producer), and the setup for MyCareer’s attack on the NCAA feels more like an ad for SpringHill (especially when you consider the personal beef) than a genuine attempt to explore the issue, especially since the company’s co-founder Maverick Carter is one of the more prominent characters in the story prologue.
This is most evident, and depressing, in the way your player’s conflict with the college establishment is portrayed. After a teammate is injured and has his scholarship cut, you take a stand against your coach and school, and as a result find yourself benched ahead of the most important game of the season.
It’s a brave thing to do, but the way the game handles it after the fact is typical of where the series finds itself in 2019. After meeting an agent, you’re quickly introduced to Carter, who views your actions through the lens of what kind of sponsorship deals you can attract, and which Brands™ want to share your story (including his own).
That’s it. That’s the extent of how NBA 2K20 views an act of personal sacrifice, one that barely scratches the surface of some of the more pressing issues affecting college sports and how it compensates the athletes that drive its profits.. As a marketing stunt. An opportunity to sign some contracts. Like they looked at Colin Kaepernick’s struggles with the NFL and all they got out of it was his Nike deal.
The series, which has long been pioneering ways for Brands™ to infiltrate every corner of your experience on the court, from Gatorade-infused timeouts to Nike and Adidas apparel contracts, has finally found a way to weave them into the story itself.
Every season I complain that 2K’s desire for microtransaction spending and advertiser encroachment has got worse, every year I hope the next edition of the game addresses at least some of that, and every year I’m left increasingly disappointed.
It doesn’t have to be like this! No other major sports game tries to pull this kind of shit. Even EA, the supposed wORsT coMpaNY iN VidEO gAmES, has the sense to keep its brand partnerships limited to realistic broadcast expectations, and to not charge players for singleplayer game mode content.
And yet year after year 2K, despite intense fan protest online, turn the dial up and try to squeeze everyone just a little bit more. Clearly there are millions of fans who either don’t care, or are at least willing to suffer through it all, and it’s for these players that 2K is happy to continue building their entire game around the central conceits of microtransactions and advertising.
But for me, someone who just wants to have a little story alongside a singleplayer sports experience—which I really enjoy when I’m on the court!— NBA 2K20 is a new low.
Spain’s AuronPlay is one of the biggest video game YouTubers out there, with almost 20 million subscribers. He’s revealed this week that in 2018 he became the subject of a hilarious police complaint by Josep Bartomeu, the president of Barcelona FC, arguably the biggest football club on the planet.
That…is pretty good. And on an internet where some of the worst excesses of human nature are encouraged and amplified, it ranks as a completely harmless observation.
But don’t tell Bartomeu that. As Marca report, in October 2018 AuronPlay received notice of a complaint the Barcelona president had made to police, “for uttering comments against Barcelona, the player (Neymar) and the president.”
It’s wild that Bartomeu was even aware of the comments, let alone upset enough to file a police report, not to mention working under the assumption that getting called Nobita is grounds for legal recourse. You’d think that he’d have more important things to worry about in his official capacity than some shit a video game YouTuber was talking, like the club’s almost €900 million (USD$1 billion) debt.
The complaint meant AuronPlay had to appear in court, where the judge immediately tossed the case out.
NBA 2K20 is supposed to be a game primarily about playing basketball, but you wouldn’t know that from the game’s latest trailer, which makes the game look like something you might see in a casino.
Released on Monday, the “MyTeam” trailer for NBA 2K20 shows off all the ways you can recruit better players and win prizes through randomized games. As in games prior, the whole system revolves around card packs. Open more packs, get (hopefully) more rare and more powerful players. Players can even evolve now, sort of like Pokémon. Doesn’t that sound fun?
Then there’s the “reimagined Triple Threat” mode with “tons more prizes!” At this point, only 30 seconds in, the trailer shows what players can get for racking up wins, including in-game currency, more card packs, and even a chance to “spin to win!” further jackpot prizes.
There are also ball drops—you know, those minigames like on The Price Is Right where you watch a ball randomly fall through a series of pegs hoping it hits one of the color-coded platforms on the way down. The trailer even shows NBA 2K streamer CashNastyGaming bobbing back and forth between anguish and excitement while watching it unfold. And, of course, there’s a literal slot machine you can pull to match three gems and potentially win back your self-respect.
Of course, whether or not mini-games involving wheel spins, ball drops, and slot machines qualify as actual gambling if they don’t involve actual cash, it’s still a grim way to pitch the biggest basketball game around.
It’s easy to forget that there are two AAA basketball games on the market, so complete is 2K’s dominance of the scene, but EA Sports just keep plugging away with their NBA games. Some get released to little fanfare, others get cancelled at the last minute and some, like this year’s game, get delayed before they’re even announced.
While NBA 2K already has trailers, cover stars and a firm release date, we actually haven’t seen or heard a thing from NBA Live 20. Until today, when in their earnings call EA announced that the game would be pushed out of its usual pre-season release window (last year’s game was out in September) all the way into the quarter that runs from October 1 to December 31.
Whether you’re playing a sport, preparing a speech, or getting ready to sing in front of an audience, it’s nearly impossible to control the pre-game jitters.
That’s fine. In fact, it’s expected.
At roller derby site The Apex, skater and psychiatrist Veloskitty explains that pre-game anxiety is both normal and natural. Higher stakes prompt higher emotions, after all, and there’s no good way of eliminating game day anxiety entirely.
You can do this in different ways — this might be through what you eat and how far before practice, or it might be through something like music. I have a couple of game-day playlists which I listen to prior depending on whether I need to be more pumped or less pumped, and I routinely listen to one of these in the car on my drive over to practice. This means that when I play them on game-day my brain associates them with practice and puts me into the same mindset.
However, my favorite tip has to do with the idea of “chunking.” Instead of worrying about whether you’ll be at your best throughout the entire game or performance, focus on completing one action at a time.
This starts, of course, with the routine—maybe you listen to the same music, maybe you eat the same snack (another Veloskitty suggestion), maybe you put on the same clothes or gear.
Then you warm up. That’s easy to do, right?
Then you ask yourself how you’re going to complete the most important next step. When I sang a solo at a jazz concert last week, I reminded myself that the most important next step was building rapport with the audience. I could break that down even further: walk on stage with confidence, take a beat to smile and look at the audience (even if the lights are too bright to see their faces), introduce yourself, tell a joke that has worked with previous audiences, and so on.
Then you move on to the next important step. At this point, there will be variables you can’t control—an opposing team, an audience that didn’t laugh, a microphone that isn’t set to the correct level even though it was fine during sound check. That’s okay. You’ve got a song to sing, a job to do, a speech to give, a play to complete, and it’s your job to get to the end of that next action.
Then, praise yourself for what you did well. As Veloskitty puts it:
Instead of being annoyed that you were unable to hit that jammer out, instead focus on the fact that you managed to make contact with the jammer.
Focusing on what you did right—“positive reframing,” if you want the psychological term—will remind you that these unexpected variables don’t have to throw off your whole game.
At this point, it’s time for the next chunk: another jam, another song, the transition from the prepared speech to the audience Q&A. Think about what you did right during the last chunk, and how you can address what went wrong (“can I get a little more ukulele in the monitor, please?”).
Then repeat, until the whole thing is over and it’s time to shake hands with a bunch of people and go eat pizza.
If you play a team sport, or frequently speak/sing/perform in front of people, how do you handle the game day anxiety? Do techniques like routines and chunking and positive reframing work for you, or do you have a different set of tips and tricks?