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FIFA 20 kick-starts the franchise by taking soccer back to where it began: the street

Written by 
Published in Soccer
Monday, 23 September 2019 11:00

It's finally here! Just in time for an international break, the new FIFA game arrives to fill all your free time and keep you indoors during the bitter winter months.

But how does this game stack up to past editions? We've got you covered.

The basics: FIFA 20 is a good game

If you've enjoyed past FIFA games, you'll love this. It's that simple. The realism has been increased and player movements inch even closer to reality: it's fun seeing players sprint at top speed down the wing only to lose the ball because they're exhausted and can't maintain their silky touch on the ball. There's also a full array of expected enhancements you demand from a franchise: squad updates, new swag, a comprehensive array of domestic leagues and national teams as well as a fresh new graphic look to the in-game menus.

Whether you love the FIFA Ultimate Team mode, playing a career with your imaginary self or working your way to becoming a digital Jose Mourinho tormenting your favourite team, FIFA 20 satisfies.

There's also a lot more thought put into the AI both in-game and around it. I feel like opponents no longer willingly glide out of position allowing me to complete a through-ball or create space; there's much more cohesion and organization in teams you play against no matter the difficulty level or the league in which you're competing.

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If you go the manager route in a career mode, you'll enjoy the updated press conference/post-match options, allowing you to go full Roy Hodgson with measured, reasonable remarks to the media or embrace your inner Marcelo Bielsa by constantly bigging up your team and your style of play.

Equally, I'm no longer the only team making bizarre moves in the transfer window. I enjoy the more realistic haggling over player purchases and sales -- they've added new settings for these meetings so you're not always inviting teams into your office but perhaps meeting them at a wine bar -- as well as the fact that no matter how much work the developers do on building this game, there are still some things that resist their tinkering.

Take the fact that in my career mode, Man United sold Paul Pogba for £100 million and immediately offered me £35 million for Xherdan Shaqiri. I really felt like Ed Woodward was part of the FIFA matrix and for that, I was grateful. United can't even be competent in a video game.

Just play VOLTA FOOTBALL all the time

After years of incremental tweaks, EA finally made a massive change. FIFA 20 came along with VOLTA FOOTBALL, which makes this game feel essential in a way it hasn't in years.

Don't get me wrong: I've been a faithful player of every FIFA game even while feeling underwhelmed, but I've spent several nights putting several hours into the new play mode because it makes me reconsider, and fall back in love with, the digital version of the beautiful game.

Gone is the THE JOURNEY, a three-year narrative arc involving Alex Hunter, Danny Williams, his brother at Paris Saint-Germain and Hunter's half-sister who tries to win the World Cup. (There's a lot going on in that series.) In its place is a much swifter and more engaging story about an indoor/street soccer team run by a legend of the street game and their quest to win the World Championships.

There's drama, intrigue, conflict and rabonas. You meet some digital avatars for real-life street soccer pioneers -- Edward van Gils, Rocky Hehakaija, Issy Hitman and Jason "Jayzinho" Quezada (find them on YouTube, trust me) -- along the way, all of them offering mentorship or a reality check depending on your progress. The story through the mode is fairly rote but it dazzles for introducing you to a wildly different style of video game soccer.

Remember FIFA Street? Or even the Nike commercials in a cage back in 2002, with Eric Cantona as emcee and losing teams getting dumped off the massive boat when eliminated? VOLTA is a natural extension of both.

Games are short, sharp and speedy, perfect for a brief 10-minute distraction from work (I swear to my bosses that I have not done this at all) or if you've got a little downtime in which to bash through a tournament. The conventional FIFA modes feel sluggish by comparison, what with their pesky four-minute halves (the lowest setting) and 11 vs. 11 on overwhelmingly large pitches. In VOLTA, you're in claustrophobic but electrifying "cages" or walled playing surfaces, similar to the pick-up spots in Manhattan, London or Paris that birthed some of the world's best players.

Facing off in 5 vs. 5, 4 vs. 4 or 3 vs. 3 with variations allowing for goalies or open nets, the action feels genuinely unique. It's progressive and more in the spirit of where people play these days; it's also a neat homage to the mythology that surrounds basketball courts like Rucker Park or Venice Beach, the latter serving as the setting for the iconic movie "White Men Can't Jump." (There's a VOLTA tournament option in Venice Beach too.)

Unlike the "regular" game mode or even FIFA Ultimate Team, the learning curve is steep but swift. Simply dive in and begin stepovers, banging the ball off the walls to your similarly scrappy teammates -- seriously, your teammates run the gamut from over-written to background filler -- or finding new ways to flick a ball into a small, low net. Repeat, repeat, repeat until you're crushing all comers.

There are the usual video game/RPG factors like coin accumulation, items to unlock, rare clothing options for completing difficult accomplishments and a skill tree, but the attraction is just the chance to play soccer like you've probably never played before.

The superlatives

Everyone cares about the ratings, so here's a quick skim of the bests in some key categories that should help you when it comes to building your own super-team.

The showboats: These are the players who boast the most close control. Use these 10 if you're looking for the optimal players to control in one-on-one situations: better yet, only 49 players in a database of over 17,000 earned the five-star skill designation. Hallowed company indeed.

Cristiano Ronaldo leads the way followed by Neymar, his PSG teammate Kylian Mbappe, Man United's Paul Pogba and, perhaps surprisingly, Thiago Alcantara at Bayern Munich. Rounding out the top 10: Angel Di Maria, Philippe Coutinho, Marcelo, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Riyad Mahrez. Remarkably, Lionel Messi is not among the five-stars despite being the top-ranked player in the whole game.

What a difference a year makes: This is the group that has earned the biggest ratings jump in FIFA 20 compared to the 2019 edition. Consider them the guys about to break through in the beautiful game and consider building around these players if you're looking to take a smaller club to the hallowed ground of world domination.

Sevilla left-back Sergio Reguilon (+13 rating jump) has burst onto the scene in FIFA 20, while Borussia Dortmund and England winger Jadon Sancho (+12) makes total sense considering his emergence out of the Man City youth set-up to become a bonafide Bundesliga star. Eintracht Frankfurt defender Evan N'Dicka (+12) could be the next player to command a massive transfer, while Milan forward Krzysztof Piatek, a Dortmund duo -- center-back Dan-Axel Zagadou and striker Jacob Bruun Larsen -- Lille defender Mehmet Celik, Lyon left-back Youssouf Kone and future Bayern goalie Alexander Nubel (currently of Schalke) all boast a +10 jump in their ratings.

Also some good news for Man United fans: Aaron Wan-Bissaka has upped his game in the eyes of EA with a +9 rating. If only the same could be said of his teammates...

Here's the beef: The strongest players in FIFA 19 are mostly defenders and strikers, as you'd expect, but nobody beats the beast that is Adebayo "The Beast" Akinfenwa, who even released an eBook in 2017 thanks to his cult status as the most powerful man in the FIFA series.

This year, he has competition for his crown in the form of new Aston Villa striker Wesley, Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly, Inter/Man United forward Romelu Lukaku and Bayern Munich center-back Niklas Sule.

The need for speed: Finally, the fastest players in FIFA 20. Pick them up and watch your team blur around the screen.

Adama Traore retains his 96 PACE rating alongside PSG's Mbappe, with a quarter just a hare behind at 95: Man City winger Leroy Sane, Toluca left-back Anibal Chala, FC Tokyo striker Kensuke Nagai and wide man Gelson Martins of Monaco.

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