Unambitious and rote by design. 

ea sports, fifa 23, nintendo switch, stadia, xbox one, xbox series s, xbox series x

Saying that FIFA games are the same every year when it comes to actual moment-to-moment gameplay both is and isn’t true. Jumping from, say, FIFA 16 straight to FIFA 23, you might feel like you’ve found yourself in a vastly different game. Maybe the controls are generally the same, but the game feel, the way the players and the ball move, the way the commentary and cutscenes interject the on-pitch action, the way the game emphasizes things like pace and passing to different degrees- all of these things have changed. In that sense, it is, of course, inaccurate to say that there have been no changes, because to someone who (in this hypothetical scenario) is experiencing those seven years’ worth of accumulated adjustments all at once, it can feel like a significant difference.

The problem, of course, is that EA has built its model around the idea of people coming back to buy a new FIFA game every year (mostly thanks to the hellscape known as Ultimate Team), so if you’re in that sizeable group that has spent those seven years with seven different FIFA games, it’s hard not to feel disappointed in how marginally the needle moves each year. This is a series that is built around iterative improvements, around minor tweaks and adjustments, around small changes built up to sound far bigger than they are in the pre-launch cycle. It makes sense, then, that FIFA 23, as the last game in the series that will bear the “FIFA” name, adheres to that formula. It is unambitious and rote- by design.

“This is a series that is built around iterative improvements, around minor tweaks and adjustments, around small changes built up to sound far bigger than they are in the pre-launch cycle. It makes sense, then, that FIFA 23, as the last game in the series that will bear the “FIFA” name, adheres to that formula. It is unambitious and rote- by design.”

In the spirit of FIFA, then, let’s zoom in on the smaller differences and make a bigger deal out of them than they are, since there aren’t many larger differences to speak of here (to be fair, Ultimate Team does make some significant changes this year, but given the mode’s proclivities towards pushing players towards microtransactions, I’m not too inclined to give it much credit for that, particularly when the rest of the game clearly didn’t get the same kind of attention).

On the pitch, FIFA 23 has slowed down the action a little bit once again. Last year’s game introduced what EA dubbed HyperMotion Technology, which used motion capture and machine learning for more realistic animations and movements, and in turn, gameplay that felt more authentic. FIFA 23’s big on-pitch addition is HyperMotion2, and true to the series’ spirit, it’s all about making iterative improvements on last year’s framework. That means slightly more realistic animations, and in turn, gameplay that feels slightly more authentic.

In both attack and defense, there are some changes that you’ll notice straight away if you’ve clocked in a decent chunk of hours in FIFA 22. In defense, tackles require more precision in position and better timing for when you’re actually going in for the ball, but when you do it right, they’re also more effective (a lot of which is also down to the ball itself moving and interacting with players in a much less arcadey fashion). Defenders’ AI is also more cautious this year, which means that you won’t find gaps in the wings to bomb down as easily as you might expect, which in turn encourages you to play a more patient passing game.

Of course, as is tradition in every FIFA game, pace is still king. While defenders do a much better job of blocking channels and anticipating runs, tricky and pacey dribblers who can knock the ball about with speed and get around players who’re marking them are still your biggest asset, as they tend to be in FIFA games. With passing being more heavily emphasized, defenders being much more aware of the threat of pacey players, and matches feeling much less stretched than they so often did in last year’s game, pulling off a successful run feels more satisfying.

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“With passing being more heavily emphasized, defenders being much more aware of the threat of pacey players, and matches feeling much less stretched than they so often did in last year’s game, pulling off a successful run feels more satisfying.”

One area where FIFA 23 does purposefully try to be a little bit more arcadey (and to great effect) is with power shots. Hold down L1 and R1 while shooting, and the camera will slow down and zoom in, and your player will take a ridiculously overpowered shot from an unreasonable distance. It’s hilariously over-the-top, and it injects some surprisingly well-suited flair to the proceedings. The fact that it takes so long to wind up – and that getting the shot’s accuracy right is easier said than done – also ensures that the mechanic doesn’t feel unbalanced.

Of course, we circle back to the fact that these are all very much minor and iterative upgrades, even put together. Do they make for a better game? Well, it’s slightly different, that’s for sure, but to call it meaningfully better or worse than last year’s game wouldn’t entirely be accurate. Of course, it’s still a hell of a lot of fun- not being fun is something that no FIFA game has ever been accused of, and at the end of the day, I guess that’s what matters most. Whether or not a fun game that’s slightly different than its year-old version is something you want to go out and spend $70 on is between you and your wallet.

Off the pitch, especially when it comes to Career Mode, FIFA 23 is hardly even an iterative upgrade- it’s infuriatingly static. This is a mode that’s received the shaft year over year for many, many years, and the meteoric popularity of Ultimate Team has only made things worse on this front. FIFA 23’s Career Mode, however, feels particularly egregious with its lack of meaningful improvements. The biggest change is transfer ratings, with the game giving you a grade for every sale or purchase- but even that system is awfully shallow. It emphasizes transfer fees and overall ratings to the exclusion of almost everything else. I replaced a 31-year old David de Gea with a 26-year old Andre Onana because I wanted a ball-playing center goalkeeper, but the game handed me a low rating simply because Onana has a lower overall rating. Similarly, it doesn’t make sense to get an F rating for a transfer just because I ended up paying a measly 900,000 more than what the game thought I could have managed if I had had stronger negotiation skills.

Meanwhile, you can now also play as real-life managers- though your mileage will vary depending on who you choose to play as. The likes of Pep Guardiola and Steven Gerrard have been very meticulously rendered, but Erik ten Hag, for instance, looks absolutely nothing like himself- just a random bald bloke with some facial hair. And really, those are probably the only notable change in this year’s Career Mode that’s even worth mentioning. A massive chunk of the FIFA audience plays these games every year purely for Career Mode and nothing else, and as ever, it’s massively disappointing that EA seems to care so little about that side of the experience. This has been true for years, and it still remains true- the mode is in desperate need of a radical reimagining. At this point, FIFA’s Career Mode is starting to feel like Bilbo Baggins on the eve of his one hundred and eleventh birthday- like butter scraped over too much bread (or, you know, James Milner’s career as a footballer).

ea sports, fifa 23, nintendo switch, stadia, xbox one, xbox series s, xbox series x

“At this point, FIFA’s Career Mode is starting to feel like Bilbo Baggins on the eve of his one hundred and eleventh birthday- like butter scraped over too much bread.”

Ultimately, you probably know exactly what you’re in for if you’re deciding to take the plunge and play FIFA 23. Beyond what I’ve discussed here, FIFA 23 adds some more decorations to its windows with new cutscenes, new menus, and what have you, but the selection inside the store is the same as it’s been for years on end, with a few minor variations. FIFA 23 is Jordan Henderson in video game form. It’s not too exciting, it’s not terribly ambitious, and it mostly sticks to what it’s good at. It’s a steady Eddy that’ll get the job done- but after years of having Jordan Henderson in your team, wouldn’t you rather have someone like Christian Eriksen on the pitch?

It’s still a fun game with all the pomp and production value that you’d expect from FIFA, but with the series adopting the (significantly worse) EA Sports FC moniker starting next year, I’m hoping it’ll make meaningful changes in other areas as well- because it’s about time we got some of those.

This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 5.


THE GOOD

Slows down the pace; Improved defending; Solid production values; Still as fun as ever.

THE BAD

Career Mode continues to be a disappointment; Like every year, it’s just a marginal improvement.

Score: 7

Final Verdict:

GOOD

The last game in the series to bear the FIFA name is a fittingly unambitious entry. It makes minor changes here and there, but there’s not an awful lot to differentiate it from last year’s offerings. Thankfully, the on-pitch action is still a hell of a lot of fun.

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