Games: FC24 football sim kicks-off post-FIFA era for EA Sports
EA Sports FC 24 (Multi)
WAVING goodbye to the FIFA name for the first time in 30 years, EA's annual kickaround may have been rebranded, but it's business as usual for the world's most popular football series – including the gaming juggernaut's annoyingly subtle yearly gameplay changes.
'I Can't Believe it's not FIFA' comes stuffed with all the licenses, updates and tech buzzwords you'd expect, but it's no surprise that Ultimate Team gets the most attention: EA's cash cow, where players splash the cash on building a fantasy football team, gets more and more popular, and this year's effort gives the women's game a big consensual kiss on the lips by including female players for the first time.
In terms of rankings, Kylian Mbappe sits top of the pile alongside Spanish captain Alexia Putellas and Man City duo Erling Haaland and Kevin De Bruyne.
FUT's marquee addition this year is Evolutions, allowing weaker players to be levelled up through completing objectives, meaning you can nurture those lowly bronze cards into rude health rather than coughing up for a star. It's still a bloody racket, though.
The game's management chops also get a boost, with the ability to hire coaches for individual player development. Signing deals feels smoother, while pre-match reports detailing your opponent's recent form, line-ups and tactics provide the inside scoop on how to approach any game.
With most of FC's improvements affecting Ultimate Team and management, it's not so much 'FIFA la revolution' for the actual gameplay, and pitch action is more of the same. If anything, it plays slower than previous seasons, with less snappy action and sluggish progression.
The headline this year is the introduction of PlayStyles, boosting the signature moves of individual players to reflect their real-life skills, such as First Touch or Power Shot. But if FC doesn't reinvent the wheel, it's saved, once again, by the ridiculous levels of licensing on show, with 19,000 players across 700 teams.
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The Republic's Premier Division is amongst its 49 leagues, while Man City's (and, erm, Greenisland FC's) Jonny Evans is the highest-rated Irish player. And for some Old Firm fun, new stadiums include Ibrox and Celtic Park, which thrums to the incessant blaring of You'll Never Walk Alone (the Bhoys love a bit of Rodgers and Hammerstein).
Of course, it all looks amazing, with broadcast quality camera angles, glorious stadiums, new lighting systems and cute touches such as the ref's bodycam view when doling out cards.
Fancy fabric tech means strips look more realistic than ever – you literally feel like you could lean forward and touch cloth. If there were jumpers for goalposts, I'd wager they'd look incredible.
EA have played it safe with the artist formerly known as FIFA. They always do. Still, FC 24 is as good as it's ever been – and, for its ravenous fanbase, that's enough.
It may be 'goodbye, FIFA', but a rose by any other name...