So, everyone by now surely knows that FIFA 23 is the last FIFA game as as we know it. Regardless of name, if FIFA 23 is anything to go by, then things are moving in the right direction. I have not enjoyed the last decade of the storied franchise, to be perfectly honest. Where once I couldn’t wait to get home and get online with my mates, my relationship with FIFA had broken down almost irreversibly, mainly due to my scepticism about Ultimate Team, but ultimately because of the gnawing, inner hankering for the halcyon, glory days of ’09, where playing the actual game felt like a good time.
This is not an all-encompassing, dramatic reinvention, but by Jove it actually feels like a lot of time and thought has gone into the improvements and additions. Most importantly, it is fun, and dare I say even a little bit quirky.
For starters, this instantly feels like a slower game overall, with more precise and intuitive passing, and superb use of the new speed mechanics. Rather than quicker players all having that PES Babangida-esque ability to just canter down the wing, there are now three distinct brackets of pace to be aware of. There are “explosive” players who have that classic burst of pace over shorter distances, “lengthy” paced runners who are able to make gazelle-like runs over longer distances, and others who have a nice balanced speed. Crucially, I could detect that certain players moved the way I expected them to. Timo Werner feels like he has crazy acceleration and pace to burn, and is deadly when using that speed to cut in off the wings and have a pop. Lionel Messi and Thiago Alcantara are not quicksilver, but both have it in their locker to beat opponents with an explosion of pace.
EA recorded umpteen thousand hours of motion capture to build what they have coined “HyperMotion2”. To you or me this just means more frames of animation, more skills, better physics, and elements of glorious unpredictability in terms of the way the ball deflects and bounces. Tackling – in particular slide tackling – feels relevant and useful again. The new skills on offer make a genuine difference. Technical Dribbling, employed by holding R1, is a fantastic way of making some clever touches in and around the box. Skill moves actually feel important and worth using if you have a player with the technique in their arsenal, and you are confident enough to pull them off.
Set pieces have always been a bit of a bone of contention in the FIFA, but here they seem to have struck something of a sweet spot. You can aim with the left stick, but also apply spin, curl and trajectory with the right stick, even choosing which part of the boot to strike the ball with. It is a tough ask to emulate corners and free kicks perfectly, without making it either too difficult or too easy to score. The ratio of decent strikes and centres to bad here feels a bit more akin to what you would see in a real match. And of course, there are some players better than others at hitting the onion bag from a dead ball situation, like the unerringly accurate James Ward Prowse.
Remember I said that FIFA 23 has gone a wee bit quirky? Step forward, the Power Shot. Sure, they pinched this from Konami, but it is a terrific addition. Hold down L1 and R1 and hit the shoot button, and your player enters into a longer-than-usual wind up animation for a cannon shot. You get a brief moment to manually aim before your avatar hopefully hits it with a foot like a traction engine. Of course, nine times out of ten these mega strikes go into row Z, but when you pull one off, there may be no more satisfying feeling in a football game. It is classic risk and reward stuff, and I like it a lot. Also, slightly crazed is the commentary provided by Derek Rae and Stewart Robson. Do yourself a favour and play a match with RB Leipzig to hear Steve McLaren-level language appropriation.
There is plenty more good stuff I haven’t even touched upon yet. The inclusion of the women’s game is a landmark moment and hopefully will help youngsters enthused by the exploits of the Lionesses to enjoy living vicariously through their idols. There is also promised support for the forthcoming Women’s World Cup, and the pitch side reporting duties once carried out by Alan McInally are again handled by the excellent Alex Scott MBE.
Invading FIFA for the first time is the glorious fictional universe of Ted Lasso, possibly the most feel-good television show ever created. You can manage with Ted or Coach Beard in Career mode, and play as all of your recognisable Apple TV favourites in an actual approximation of their own Nelson Road stadium. It is fair to say that I felt things stirring deep within me the first time I buried a screamer with the legendary Roy Kent. I felt like I had been struck by fucking lightning. It will also no doubt cause Arsenal fans a degree of concern that Jamie Tartt currently has better in-game stats than Gabriel Jesus.
What else is ace? Well, the cross-platform play is a bonus, unless you want to play Pro Clubs – although EA have loosely committed to sorting this out at some point down the line. In fact, Pro Clubs hasn’t had much altered here, whereas Career and FUT have both seen some new additions. You can play a Career with an actual licensed manager, and there is a streamlined way to play matches called Playable Highlights, which is a tense and taut experience that places you into the action at key game-changing moments.
When it comes to Ultimate Team in FIFA 23, there is a new chemistry system at play which mixes things up a bit, as well as a new way of earning stars in Moments. Here, you are presented with a series of ever-changing scenarios to complete using certain specific players. I am a tad sceptical about this, as it would appear that there are going to be themed, limited period Moments, which could lead to an increase in the amount players spend on extra packs for compulsive, completion purposes. In all honesty though, with some restraint, it is ostensibly possible to play FUT without spending penny one, such is the relative generosity of how EA dish out freebies, no doubt keen to distance themselves from accusations of nefarious practices.
Outside of the lengthy modes discussed, FIFA 23 is just what you want out of a football game: a damn good game of footy. Whether that is a full-on match, the futsal/streetball hybrid Volta, or the compulsive highlights mode, it plays like a dream. It looks like one too, the closest EA have come to delivering an actual HD sports broadcast. For the first time in a long time, I am once again looking forward to getting home from work and playing it, daydreaming about it whilst in the office, of my next 35-yard power screamer. I don’t care what they call it next year, if it improves on this then I will be there on day one.
New physics and mechanics all work a treat
Near infinite longevity
FUT is still an over-arching menace
Commentary is a bit dodgy in places