FIFA 23 (Multi)
FOOTBALL has come a long way since grimy peasants kicked an inflated hog bladder between two trees. And in a way, the latest FIFA game marks the end of an era. The best-selling sports franchise in the world, EA's perennial kickaround has been the gold standard in armchair football since FIFA International soccer hit the Mega Drive in the lead-up to Christmas 93 – scrapping the genre's bird's eye view for the now standard broadcast angle.
It's been an annual tradition ever since, but FIFA 23 blows the final whistle for the franchise. After FIFA sought to more than double their $150 million a year licensing fee, EA called it a day, and from next year the series will be christened EA Sports FC. Though with no competition (Konami's one-time rival PES, now rebranded eFootball, is a broken horror show) a rose by any other name will smell just as lucrative – even if recent years have seen FIFA devolve into a gambling sim with its much maligned but hugely successful Ultimate Team.
On the pitch, there's an unrivalled fluidity to the action, with physics, AI and animation combining in an unholy union that finally delivers the "authentic experience" promised all those years ago on the Mega Drive.
Its career mode is blistering, with the addition of transfer analysts and the arrival of off-pitch activities adding another layer of realism to your avatar's season. But its greatest new gameplay perks are inspired by old-school arcade jollies – power shots for thundering the ball goalwards and the set-piece feature, where you scramble to place the cursor on the ball for masterful variety on its hoofed trajectory.
We finally get to play women's league football – albeit with only the English and French premier divisions and a meagre dribble of international outfits – and, let the joy be uncontained, it's now possible to play as a real-life manager.
Surprisingly, though, FIFA 23 still doesn't use VAR, even though it's been ruining the real thing for nearly half a decade now. And, in a sign of the times, players can turn off 'critical commentary', lest Tarquin hear a bad word about his woeful performance. You can't hide the scoreboard from fragile egos, though.
EA now rakes in more money than FIFA itself – helped no end by Ultimate Team, which generates billions for the company. In fact, its dopamine-driven gambling accounts for nearly a third of the company's total income.
The mode's monstrous march continues unabated, flogging virtual packs of player cards to 14-year-olds yearning for a team full of Neymars. New to FUT this time is Moments – single-player challenges that let you bag currency by completing mini skill challenges, such as recreating marquee moments in a real player's career. It's cute, but the basic premise still stinks.
Once again, FIFA 23 is a game of two halves. The actual footballing action offers some of the finest kick-arounds ever committed to binary. It's just a shame the focus continues to be on the tawdry – if admittedly glossy – Ultimate Team.
So, while the final whistle blows on FIFA, half of it, at least, goes out on a high – and if they think it's all over, EA's licensing deals with 19,000 players, 700 teams and more than 30 leagues will ensure they'll be tying up their virtual laces again this time next year.