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FIFA 21 is a breath of fresh air as gameplay speeds up, Career Mode gets revamped

FIFA 21 makes a lot of notable gameplay gains that will keep you playing all season, and all year, long. Courtesy of EA Sports

With winter fast approaching, there’s no shortage of soccer on TV these days, but Friday marks another notable event on the soccer calendar: the worldwide release of FIFA 21, the latest iteration of the blockbuster video game franchise from EA Sports.

How does it play, what’s new this year and how do the player ratings stack up? We’ve got all that, and a word from the game’s new lead commentator, covered.

Jump to: Gameplay | Career Mode | Other modes | Superlatives | A word from Derek Rae | Verdict

A much smoother, faster game

Real-life soccer is chaotic and fluid, but previous versions of the FIFA game have felt at times inescapably blocky and slow-motion by comparison. Tackles would be chunky collisions between finely sculpted pixels, passes would skid and soar around the pitch, though never too far from your intended target. Headers would scoff in the face of physics.

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This year’s game feels like a massive upgrade when it comes to capturing the silken ebb and flow of the sport. Tackles come with consequences; limbs and player momentum are much more touchy and true to life, so that poor split-second decisions about taking an extra step or trying to change direction result in losing the ball. Passes made when the player is off-balance or on their weaker footbehave as they should; the end result is a much more frenetic and exciting experience.

Equally, the speed is notable in attack — everything about gameplay is souped up in the pursuit of goals, goals and more goals — when it comes to building play through midfield or switching the ball from flank to flank to open up scoring opportunities. On the defensive side of the ball, the effect is notable; poorly timed challenges result in fouls, bookings, red cards and generally chaotic play, the likes of which we haven’t seen in the Premier League since… Man United vs. Tottenham at Old Trafford and Aston Villa vs. Liverpool at Villa Park. (Sorry, Man United and Liverpool fans. Not sorry.)

It’s clear that developers have heard the fans’ calls for improved AI when it comes to the 21 players you don’t control at any one time during a match. The decision-making of your teammates and opponents is vastly enhanced and makes for more fun game play: as you’re charging through midfield with the ball and looking for passing options, your teammates make much smarter, sharper runs. They are quick to course-correct in order to stay onside, too; there are even options for you to tell them exactly where to run with a flick of the control’s bumper.