The future of FIFA isn’t here yet

A group of soccer players celebrating a goal from FIFA 21 on Xbox Series X

I was finally able to set up my Xbox Series X over the holidays, which meant I got to play some ‘upgraded’ versions of previously released games. Of course, one of the first I played was Cyberpunk 2077 to see how much better it looked (it does) and plays (still super buggy). But, I also threw on FIFA 21, interested to see how the first version of the series looked and played on new tech. Since my write-up of the last-gen version, I’ve been pretty active with FIFA, playing it on an almost daily basis. While the Series X version of the game looks fine, it’s not as impressive as I had hoped and it’s clear why EA didn’t bother to really market this version as it got closer to launch.

The future of FIFA isn't here yet

When you want more than just a pretty face

Starting the game up, you go through an odd but symbolic opening cinematic that leads into your first match as Liverpool face off against Paris Saint-Germain at Anfield. Once you start, you get to experience the game’s new GameCam perspective, meant to give you a wider view of the pitch. It takes some getting used to, especially if you’ve grown accustomed to the previous default camera angle. 

While I don’t mind the new angle, especially if you’re playing a wider formation or like to hug the touchline, it’s far enough away that you don’t really see the touted improvements to player visuals. 

Speaking of the visuals, I was a bit underwhelmed by the improvements. Crowds seem the same, incorporating the same look and reactions we’ve already seen on Xbox One and PS4. As for the “next-level realism”, especially the hair animations, are hard to distinguish as looking anything special. I jumped into a woman’s match, where ponytails are common, but they still looked and moved artificially. This could be more a sign of the age of the Frostbite engine but also considering how many athletes have shorter hair, this probably wasn’t something they should have considered as a selling point.

The future of FIFA isn't here yet

Next-Gen Features Next Year

The other selling-points EA highlighted on their site leading to launch don’t really stand out. The “PreMatch Live” cinematics aren’t that incredible or noticeable, especially if you’re playing online and you’re skipping these to get into a match. Same with the “Big Goal Moments”, these aren’t something most people will notice and it really feels like you have to play in a ‘big matches’ to get this sort of experience.

Since I didn’t play on the PlayStation 5, I couldn’t see how the activities feature works there. While loading on Series X is fast, it isn’t drastically faster than what I was experiencing on the Xbox One X. Also for whatever reason, Quick Resume on Series X was not working. While I could jump between Cyberpunk 2077 and Yakuza Like a Dragon, FIFA 21 would restart. I’m hopeful this is a temporary issue (as some games have had issues feature with this at launch). 

The Future is Frostbite

I’ve played a lot of FIFA 21, but mostly on my Xbox One X. With that, I don’t really see the reason to play it on my Series X as the minimal improvements didn’t really impress me. My no-so-wild prediction for FIFA 22 is that it won’t use the same engine as FIFA 21. I suspect that EA will announce Frostbite 4 this year (at the same time as they show the next Battlefield game). With the new engine, games like FIFA will use the newer one in place of Frostbite 3, which has been around for nearly a decade. Considering Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer 22 will use the Unreal Engine, EA must respond in a similar way. Expect big things for sports games in 2021 and FIFA 22 should set the tone for the genre in this console generation.