Our recent review of NBA 2K20 highlighted the main issue that I tend to have with sports games. While they are fun and it’s a joy to submerse yourself in the world of one particular sport in a way that removes the stress of actually being in that world, the act of playing the game itself can be awfully repetitive. There are only so many ways that you can play a sport without it getting kind of stale. It’s the nature of sports games: The best part of career modes is building a team, the best part of playing online or against friends is knowing you’re playing a human and not a computer, etc.
So how do you keep things fresh? Usually it’s by tweaking gameplay from year to year to make the latest edition of the game feel current, or by adding a story mode of some kind. FIFA 20 did both of these in its newest game mode, Volta Football, which is as fun and addicting of a mode as the FIFA series has had in years.
The mode — which I stopped to play for 15 minutes after typing that last sentence — is a joy. Volta Football harkens back to the FIFA Street games. Released in 2005 with sequels in 2006 and 2008, along with a reboot of the game in 2012, the FIFA Street series was the footy version of its hoops partner from the folks at EA Sports Big (try to read that without hearing it in the voice from its intro), NBA Street. While there have been elements of street football in more recent FIFA games, namely when Alex Hunter has played a game or two in “The Journey,” a full mode in FIFA 20 is new.
There are two ways to play Volta Football. There is a story mode, one that is pretty fun, if not a bit clichéd. You’re a member of a street football team looking to rise through the ranks and eventually win the World Championships. You go through ups and downs and blah blah blah, you have played the story mode in a sports game before.
This is secondary in the mode to things like squad building, which you get to do by beating opposing teams and selecting players to join your crew, and traveling around the world, playing different types of street footy — keepers, no keepers, walls, no walls, and different numbers of players and formations. There’s also the goal of accumulating coins to unlock things clothing and shoes and haircuts, a pet peeve of mine that has become more and more commonplace in sports games.
The other, and for my money best, way to play Volta Football is to skip over the story mode altogether and just give it a spin, with each team (both club and international) in the FIFA universe at your disposal in the game’s Kick Off mode. There are a few Volta House Rules games, but it’s far more fun to select a regular game and get to playing. Volta Football is fast and exciting, and the more you play it the more you want to get better at it.
Unlike your standard matchup in a FIFA game, which is oftentimes about tactics and the collective ability of your team, Volta Football places a major emphasis on skill, which makes it representative of the incredibly skillful players that succeed in this style of play in real life. It’s a new challenge for players, especially if you, like me, tend to rarely or never use the right joystick on your controller when you play, opting to instead pick your opponent apart with movement and passing combinations.
In forthcoming FIFA games, assuming Volta sticks around (and I desperately hope it does), perhaps making it a touch easier to make incisive passes would be a nice addition, but in fairness this is more of an issue on the smaller pitches upon which you can play than the bigger ones. They do change size, and while games are fun on the former, they are at their best when the pitch is more wide open, both because there’s more space to play and there’s more flexibility to do things in 1-on-1s with defenders.
It’s also, I found, a bit too easy to get disorganized defensively and get absolutely thrashed on the counter attack in the Volta modes that don’t involve a keeper, but that’s an awfully tough equilibrium for the people who make the game to find, and instead, I should probably just not be as bad at it.
Other elements of FIFA 20 are really fun. There are some small (but useful) tweaks in Career Mode that involve a better look into player morale, along with postgame press conferences and interactions with players as opposed to the old system of getting passive aggressive emails from them and not being able to do much with them. Gameplay is changed up, too, with more of an emphasis on improving both your own defending and AI defending. While EA Sports figured out that fast players should be able to blow by much slower defenders when they beat them, something that hasn’t always been the case in FIFA games, in general, playing the game itself feels more meticulous than usual.
Perhaps this is because of the fact that the game wanted to make defending more important, and good defending will invariably muck things up, but how frenetic Volta Football feels surely plays a role. You get a sense of whiplash oscillating between the old and the new, which isn’t an indictment of the former as much as it’s an endorsement of it. It can feel there are two games in one: the latest FIFA release, and the way of playing FIFA that serves as a new and welcomed challenge.