I’ve had a kickabout with FIFA 21 on PlayStation 5, and while the gameplay is fundamentally the same as on PlayStation 4, there are some significant improvements.
For example, FIFA 21 benefits greatly from the PS5’s Activities feature. Here, from the PS5 home screen, you can press a button to jump straight into the various modes within Ultimate Team without having to go through the main FIFA 21 menu first. Brilliantly, FIFA 21 next-gen ditches the annoying language selection when you boot up the game – something that has been a staple of FIFA for years. You have to log into EA’s servers – there’s no avoiding that – but I was able to go from the PS5 home screen to matchmaking a Division Rivals game in 20 seconds, which is remarkable. It really is quite the thing.
And once you’ve got a match, the game itself loads really fast – so fast in fact that there’s not enough time to check out your opponent’s team, which flashes on-screen just before kick-off. This is a good thing, I guess! But it is handy to know what you’re up against before you start a match. Perhaps the PS5 is running too fast for its own good here.
What you’ll notice right off the bat is a new isometric camera angle, which makes it look like you’re watching a game on telly. It’s a bit like the camera you get in PES – and reminds me of football games of old. I’m still working out if I’ll stick with it. It does give you more of the pitch to see, which is great for picking out runs downfield. But the perspective does throw me off at times, particularly when I’m trying to track a high pass. It’s new and novel!
Elsewhere, the game plays pretty much the same as the last-gen version, with all the same issues present and correct (for more, check out our FIFA 21 review). The AI hasn’t been touched, so the defending and off-the-ball running is the same. FIFA 21 next-gen is just as much of a goalfest as the last-gen version. Most of my matches involve 10 or so goals. Occasionally you’ll see some new animations, mostly when your player controls a high pass and then lays it off. Is FIFA 21 more responsive on next-gen? Perhaps, but it’s really hard to tell the difference. Essentially FIFA 21 plays the same kind of virtual football here.
There are visual flourishes on PS5 and Xbox Series X and S that aren’t on last-gen, though. Some of the players’ hair moves about in an exaggerated fashion. Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson Becker is a good example of that. Occasionally you spot off-the-ball gestures from players, who’ll point to where they want you to pass the ball. Some of the player faces are remarkably lifelike, too. But you only see the bulk of this stuff in replays.
During a match, FIFA 21 on next-gen looks a little bit more detailed but I wouldn’t say significantly so. There are opening match cutscenes where you see the players getting ready for the game, which are quite nice but after a while you end up skipping them. And there are new dramatic celebrations for things like last-minute winners. Even the managers have their time to shine.
On next-gen Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp has his hug everyone routine at the end of a match, and that fist punch thing he does to the crowd. (There’s a lot of Liverpool in FIFA 21.)
And a note on the DualSense controller. The adaptive triggers mean you get more resistance on the right trigger as you sprint with increasingly exhausted players. The rumble is a little over the top, and if you have your DualSense speaker on, it makes odd noises when you’re playing, which I think are an attempt to simulate the crunch of a tackle or the crowd going wild. None of this is for me, so I turned it all off after a few games.
I had worried about matchmaking taking longer, or resulting in more Division Rivals mismatches because of EA’s decision not to go with cross-gen play – or cross-play at all. But I’ve been able to get matches pretty quickly on PS5, with only a handful of occasions where I would say the player ratings don’t lineup.
A decent effort, then, but FIFA 21 next-gen is fundamentally FIFA 21 last-gen. And let’s remember Ultimate Team is still the pay-to-win, loot box-riddled gambling sim it always has been. You can just get to all the grubby stuff quicker now.