Keen FIFA players that worked their way through the surprisingly effective and affecting ‘trilogy’ of The Journey may have noticed the 100 million selling football series’ inclination to go back to the street.
As your fictional footballers Alex Hunter and Danny Williams rubbed shoulders with Neymar et al on football’s world stage, there were flashes of what EA Sports were cooking up for FIFA 20. A kickabout in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, a first-to-five car park rivalry between Alex and his precocious sister Kim, a sponsored appearance at the Tango League.
As The Journey hangs up its boots, the result of those not so subtle hints is FIFA 20’s breakout street football mode Volta.
Sitting alongside the lavish representation of modern football that FIFA has become, Volta is looking to shine a light on the burgeoning street scene. Here you can kick around in the fast-paced, skills-focused football; from 3-on-3 in a London football cage, to 5-a-side on a Tokyo rooftop, to the squeaky-floored arena of futsal.
“It's something we've been considering for a while,” says FIFA Creative Director Matt Prior. “Because it's one of those rare features that the core have been asking for and also has the potential to break down the barriers for people who are not into football. There’s this whole world out there that we've not really tapped into that I think is on the cusp of going big.”
To that end, Volta is vying to be a more ‘authentic’ take on the street football world. While skills are easier to perform and you can happily punt shots off walls, the basis of the football is carried over from the 11-v-11 game. This is not ‘FIFA Street’, then, with the ridiculous rainbow flicks and super-powered shots that series entailed. I wondered, though, were EA ever tempted to go that route?
“No, not really,” sasy Prior. “Because that was of its time. And we want you to come to Volta with a tribal knowledge and how it works in the sense that you can bring all your skills from 11-v-11. And at the same time, if you come to FIFA via Volta and then you decide to transition to 11-v-11, you're not having to relearn those skills.”
FIFA 20 Volta: Fun, but does it have longevity?
In the hands, then, Volta is immediately familiar to FIFA players. Almost to a fault, it seems, with the greatly reduced pitch size initially offering a fiddly challenge. But once you settle in, it makes sense. You are tempted to try and take on every challenger with a flick or a trick but, while easier to perform than in the main game, is not the most prudent way to victory.
Instead it is about negotiating those tight spaces, drawing players in with tight passing triangles and threading the needle more precisely than you would with the space allowed on a full football pitch.
Over the best part of a day’s play, Volta is a lot of fun. A few hours in and I’m banking passes off barriers and flinging my defenders in the way of goal-bound shots. The different arenas and ‘disciplines’ that dictate the size of the pitch, the amount of players and whether there are walls or goalkeeepers or not manage to keep things varied.
As a devout disciple of 11-v-11 FIFA, however, my mind began to wander about longevity. Is it a gimmick that will run its course before I revert to playing endless online Season games as my beloved Watford? For the already converted, that’s seems relatively likely, but Prior and EA’s aim with Volta is as much appealing to new players than retaining the old.
“It's inherently more accessible, you don't even need to follow a team, you don't need to understand the offside rule,” says Prior. “We will always want to attract new players because if the game doesn't attract new players, it's ultimately doomed because people will grind out as they have kids and all the other things that life throws at you.”
That isn’t to say that Volta isn’t looking to capture the attention over the long-term. While Prior stresses that the new mode isn’t a replacement for The Journey (“it’s much bigger than that,” he says) there is a story element to it. You will take your own customised street footballer, male or female, on a tour around the world. As you play other teams, you can recruit new players to your squad. A feature that will cross over to online play too, with you able to recruit other created players.
And to facilitate this, of course, is a raft of cosmetic items that you can buy through in-game currency (which you can doubtless pay for with real money too, but ‘surprise mechanics’ are prudently left to the FIFA Ultimate Team mode, which EA have no intention of tweaking off the back of regulatory scrutiny over loot boxes).
FIFA 20: On the pitch
Volta is the headline addition to FIFA 20, then, but 11-v-11 has received the usual nips and tucks as EA seek to improve the on-pitch action. There are no sweeping changes here it seems, but plenty of welcome tweaks that may not make the back of the box.
Ball physics have been improved so that it bobbles along the ground more believably, AI defending has been scaled back but player-controlled tackling is far more robust and accurate. Teams keep their shape better while defending. Pace and strength are more of a factor, meaning whip-quick strikers can outpace a bulky defender, but not outmuscle them.
Basically it is a laundry list of the niggles from FIFA 19 that appeared after hours of play neatly crossed off. New ones will doubtless replace them, as is the way, but for now the changes feel laser-targeted towards my own grumbles.
New is strafe dribbling favoured by Neymar and Thierry Henry, while set-pieces have been changed (again) to offer more options at corners and free-kicks. You can now perform a dipping ‘knuckle-ball’ shot with a flick of the stick, for instance, along with a more precise aiming mechanism that does initially have the potential to be over-powered.
Most noticeably, the action has been slowed down considerably. A move that is likely to split opinion down the middle. The exact speed is likely to be tweaked ahead of release (I’m an advocate of a slower pace, but this was a little treacly even for me), but EA’s gambit is to give attacking players more time on the ball and ask them to create and exploit space on the pitch.
Interesting, then, that the tightness of Volta and more open spaces of the 11-v-11 should seem to run counter to each other. However, a new focus on one-on-one skirmishes wherever you are on the pitch seems to be the glue holding the two modes together.
The established modes of FIFA 20 may not be undergoing dramatic overhauls themselves this year, including FUT and a career mode with a handful of welcome tweaks but no major changes. But, should it pay off and find a new audience, Volta could prove to be the football series most disruptive long-term addition for some time.
FIFA 20 is released on 27 September for PS4, Xbox One and PC