Platforms: PS5 (reviewed), Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S, Nintendo Switch
Release Date: September 29, 2023
Genre: Sports sim
FIF… sorry, EA Sports FC 24 is the Thanos of soccer sims. Historic name changes or not, it’s inevitable. As a slightly bitter Arsenal fan, I’m not exactly thrilled by the fact Manchester City super striker Erling Haaland is this year’s cover star. But it’s an entirely appropriate marriage. Like the Marvel supervillain, EA’s genre-defining sports game can simply snap its fingers to obtain instant, chart-topping sales success year after year.
First up, let’s get the big question mark out of the way first. Losing the FIFA branding hasn’t stopped EA from sorting out official deals to ensure all major European leagues are properly licensed with real team names, kits and competitions.
The Champions League and Europa League still feature with all their electrifying bells and whistles, which means the loss of that iconic name has no real effect in terms of how authentic the on-field action looks or feels.
This season’s entry is mostly a really good football game. Sorry, reporting to you live from Scotland means it's known as football (or The Beautiful Game) here. I’ll do my American pals a solid by referring to EA Sports FC 24 as a ‘soccer’ title from here on out… even if it slightly slays my soul.
Regardless of the naming semantics surrounding one of the most popular video game franchises in the world, this is a quality sports sim. Last year’s FIFA 23 was one of my favorite entries in the series for years — in large part because I wanted to play it every week thanks to the fact my beloved Gunners were gloriously (and unexpectedly) leading the English Premier League for 75% of the season.
Obviously the robotic efficiency of Pep Guardiola's Man City put paid to the notion of Arsenal winning their first title since 2004, yet regardless, FIFA 23 felt like a swashbuckling return to form for a series that has taken as many misguided steps back as it has tripped upon well-judged stumbles forward.
Full disclosure: I’m not all that good at FIFA when it comes to online matches. Of the dozen or so competitive games I played for this review, I won exactly four of them. Yet even when I’m getting pasted by Real Madrid or City — and trust me, at least 80% of players choose those two super clubs when it comes to online clashes — I can still appreciate FC 24’s underlying qualities even after suffering dispiriting defeat after defeat.
New season's greetings
A lot of the criticism that surrounds annual sports game updates revolves around the fact they often play out like overpriced DLC; where you’re essentially paying for minor mechanical tweaks and the latest squad updates.
There’s definitely still an element of that in-play with EA’s latest soccer effort, but there’s no denying it has made some significant on-pitch strides since FIFA 23.
A week before I went studs-in on EA Sports FC 24, I decided to dedicate a night to manually transferring a lot of players to their current real life teams in FIFA 23; the auto update transfer function had clearly been abandoned recently with the latest entry about to hit the market.
Manually transferring the GOAT of all GOATs Lionel Messi from PSG to Inter Miami felt wild, but it was also a process that took all of thirty seconds.
Is upgrading to EA’s latest soccer game just to have up-to-date squads worth $70? Obviously not. Yet EA’s latest footy entry — grant me the indulgence of using the proper name for the world’s global sport this one last time — is an improvement on the already strong FIFA 23.
Field of dreams
As ever, the latest EA soccer game is bogged down by company buzzwords that sound fancy, but don’t always affect the on-field action all that much. The series’ latest engine is branded with the tag of ‘Hypermotion Technology’ that admittedly sounds seductively futuristic. In practice, it means animations look more realistic, player likeness are more on the money and the game’s lighting model is definitely more impressive.
There’s nothing truly game-changing in these improvements, but they are welcomingly evolved (if minor) upgrades all the same. The main takeaway regardless of these subtle tweaks is this: EA’s brand of virtual soccer is still a country mile ahead of what Konami’s shamefully compromised eFootball franchise has devolved into in recent years.
In terms of on-field improvements over FIFA 23, FC 24 moves the goalposts in certain areas. There’s nothing truly revolutionary about how EA’s latest ball-hoofing juggernaut has evolved. Yet what incremental tweaks that have been added are appreciated.
If you decide you want to face a challenge as daunting as playing Luton’s reserves against a treble-winning Man City side, Competitor Mode and Player Based Difficulty options are welcome additions if you kick the game into Legendary difficulty or above.
By switching these sliders on, superstar players instantly stand out from their journeyman counterparts, meaning Mbappe is going to leave his League 1 counterparts in the dust due to his Road Runner-aping speed the vast majority of the time.
Personally, I’m all for these player-differentiating features, as older FIFA entries have definitely been guilty of making the likes of De Bruyne hard to differentiate from the likes of a chronically-underperforming Deli Alli in seasons past.
Raising the (cross)bar
EA has also upgraded its game in other easily appreciable areas. Crosses now feel notably more effective than FIFA 23’s anaemic efforts, while outpacing a fullback with a lightning winger like Bukayo Saka, then drilling the ball back to an on-running Gabriel Jesus, feels way more achievable than in FIFA 23; where simple cutbacks felt all about impossible thanks to the AI’s ludicrously committed marking.
Presentation is predictably impeccable. The game looks gorgeous on my LG G3 OLED TV, with player likenesses impressing more than ever before. As always, the little club-specific details that really matter to fans remain present and correct in EA's latest soccer sim.
Example? When I take to the field with Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium, my team is instantly serenaded by the 'North London Forever' fan song that quickly swept through the ground when the Gunners were going hard for the EPL title last season.
These details really do matter, and whether it's admiring Burnley's faithfully recreated Turf Moor or 'admiring' Everton manager Sean Dyche's spot-on likeness, EA Sports FC 24 nails its presentation at almost every level.
To finally address Dumbo in the corner, you’ll notice I’ve splurged a lot of words without mentioning the series’ headline FIFA Ultimate Team mode. And I’ll be honest here, it has and never will hold any interest to me.
At its heart, this is a mode that doesn’t do enough to discourage impressionable youngsters from pilfering their parents’ credit cards to sink real world money into pay-to-win gambling mechanics.
Sure, you can amass a competitive squad by grinding out online results the hard way, yet ultimately EA still gives fans of the series the ability to cut corners to amass a dream squad by pouring actual cash into random player packs, where you’re as likely to land a Jonny Evans as a William Saliba.
It’s a grubby, yet hugely popular mode that has helped make EA’s soccer series the global phenomenon it is today. And while I appreciate the improved tutorials and inclusion of women ballers into FUT, it still feels like a mode lasered focused on getting young soccer fans into a quasi-form of gambling.
EA Sports FC 24 review verdict: (mostly) sublime soccer
Luckily, for this 38-year-old dinosaur, all I really want to do is help Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal win the league for the first time in 20 years through the continually compelling Career mode. Currently, I lie 8th, 10 points behind a high-flying Chelsea, while Man City currently toil in 15th place after a dozen fixtures.
If the real Premier League table looks like that next May, with a major swapping of the Gooners and the Blues current league positions from my virtual season, I’ll gladly massage Haaland’s shins for the next half decade.
Does EA Sports FC 24 reinvent the wheel when it comes to virtual soccer action? Absolutely not. But then, it doesn't need to. This is another confident entry in a series, which, thanks to the state of Konami's eFootball 2023, has no real competitor on its march to yet another title.