'FIFA 20' takes football back to the streets - and it's bringing the fun factor with it.



For an annual franchise like this there will always be the challenge of changing just enough to justify a new game - other than the transfer window squad updates and new kits - without feeling like you've alienated a (super) loyal fan base by doing too much tinkering.

Thankfully, 'FIFA 20' looks to have found the winning formula, and the new Volta mode is a massive part of why this year's title feels so fresh.

A call back to immensely popular 'FIFA Street' series which launched in 2005, the exciting mode brings back an amazing sense of fun to the beautiful to the beautiful game, with so many features and developments combining to create something special.

Although some players might be disappointed to see the end of Alex Hunter's Journey, Volta does well as a replacement story mode with gamers creating their own footballer and seeing them rise through the ranks on the streets.

The voice acting isn't always spot on, but the customisation alone more than makes up for this. It's something fans have wanted for a while in other areas of the series, but it fits in nicely here as part of a unique setting.

Beyond just being fun - and it is, ridiculously so - Volta also gives you a chance to hone your skills in a more relaxed environment.

A Champions League final at Wembley might not be the time to try and bust out the old rainbow flick, but playing in reduced teams in a range of unique street setting is the perfect opportunity to test out some cheeky tricks in preparation for a bigger game.

In a nice touch, the street mode also lets you take control of a mix of male and female footballers, with EA Sports doing a near-perfect job bringing the format back. There is even the chance to recreate the 6 vs 6 matches of Indoor Mode so beloved by 'FIFA' purists from the '97' and '98' editions.

Away from the excitement and thrills of Volta, the main focus for the developers is FIFA Ultimate Team (FUT).

It's a big money spinner for the studio, so it's no surprise that they continue to concentrate on it.

Of course gamers with deep pockets, or generous parents in the case of the millions of teenagers and youngsters who play 'FIFA', can splash the cash on loot boxes to get a better team and perhaps unearth the ultra rare Ronaldo and Lionel Messi cards. But players who don't want to fork out real money for packs can earn XP and rewards through milestones (daily, weekly and seasonal), and one could say these earned rewards make improving your line-up in this way more special.

Unfortunately the lottery aspect of FUT does still remain - EA Sports is still staying coy on the actual odds of finding the world's best players - but the mode continues to be incredibly popular, while going from strength to strength.

One disappointing side effect of this has been the slight neglect when it comes to season mode, which appears to have been shoved to the side a little over the last few years.

An overhaul of some kind is probably long overdue, but in reality there's not much EA can do to tinker with the formats of real-life football competitions like the English Premier League or UEFA Champions League.

So, enough about the game modes, how does 'FIFA 20' actually play?

Honestly, it's a big step forward this year, with the action on the pitch taking strides when it comes to balancing defending and attaching to create a realistic - but fun - gaming experience.

For the new title, defence has been given something of a face lift as it becomes more of a challenge.

In one-on-one situations, the emphasis is now on dribbling and pace, which could give attackers the advantage and will allow teams to really punish their opponents on the break. Let's just say if you are one-on-one playing as Ronaldo the defender is going to have do very well to stop you skipping past and unleashing a trademark shot.

It gives a more tactical edge to proceedings, as players have to decide when to be patient and when to put a foot in, with the risk of leaving yourself open to a devastating counter - while shooting is also more rewarding as players get to grips with a number of updates.

The best alteration has most certainly been made to free-kicks.

FIFA Best Player of the Year winner Messi was the inspiration behind a tweak on set pieces and the Barcelona maestro's technique to whip free-kicks around the defensive has been recreated in pixel format with the new aim and spin feature.

Penalties - often the bane of gamers - have also been enhanced with the same tool, providing a better way of putting the ball beyond the goalkeeper from 12-yards out, which means that games decided by which player was less worse than the other from the spot are over.

The classic 11 v 11 mode also sees improvements to the pitch mechanics too providing realistic bobbles and bounces off the grass replacing the slick glide across the turf from previous years. The modifications to players off-the-ball movements - along with an emphasis on tactics and a slower pace - also contribute to the best simulation of the sport EA has ever put out. Although in a twist of fate 'FIFA' devotees will have to make do with no Juventus, thanks to 'Pro Evo' taking the licensing rights of the Italian giant from 'FIFA' meaning we're left with Piemonte Calcio, a swap which brings a wry smile to those who had to deal with the lack of official teams for year's on Konami's rival football title.

'FIFA 2020' has brought back a sense of fun to the franchise with Volta tapping in to the freestyle football craze that accounts for millions upon millions of YouTube views, however, it has definitely not lost sight of what we love about the beautiful game.

If 'FIFA 20' was a team it would be a cross between Pep Guardiola's all-conquering Barcelona side and his current Manchester City Premier League juggernaut, near perfection.

'FIFA 20' rating (reviewed on Xbox One): 4.5 / 5

By Alistair McGeorge and Philip Hamilton

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