You’d have thought that right now would be a very exciting time for people and companies who make video games. After all, there are brand new versions of the PlayStation and Xbox available (if you’re lucky enough to find somewhere they’re in stock), and all the technology that comes with them to work with. In reality, though, it’s probably the most difficult time of the past five years. When making new games this year, game studios have had to decide whether to focus on the existing generation of consoles, focus on the new generation, or try to make different versions for each generation. Most of them have opted to go with the third option – which basically involves making two versions of the same game and creates a lot more work.
Having gone to all that trouble, game companies would very much like it if people bought the ‘next-gen’ versions of games they already enjoy when they make the step up to the new format. That’s easier said than done, though – especially when the next-gen games are so much more expensive than their current-gen predecessors. Players need to know whether the upgrade is worth it before they part with even more of their cash. We’re going to try to answer that question in relation to the most recent version of the most popular sports gaming franchise on the planet – FIFA 21, by Electronic Arts.
Before we get into the differences between the current and next-gen versions of the game, we have a bugbear we wish to address. Almost unbelievably, this new version of the game still features the same loot box mechanics that have driven it for years. This whole ‘pay to win’ feature with its random box contents has been a money grab for years and ought to have gone the way of the dinosaurs by now. There’s almost no difference between paying for loot boxes and playing online slots with 10 free spins. That’s the reason why they’ve been banned in Belgium and are soon likely to be banned in the United Kingdom. You could even argue that they’re worse than the games on online slots websites because at least you can win real money from them. All you get for your real-world cash in FIFA 21 is in-game rewards, and even then, the rewards might not be worth what you paid for them. Please, EA, let’s leave online slots to the professionals from now on and focus on making great games for players rather than trying to bleed every dime out of them.
Thanks for letting us get that off our chest. Now let’s get onto the game!
The first improvement that should be noted is the game’s loading time. The PlayStation 5, as Sony has been so keen to tell us, comes with a high-performance SSD that all-but makes loading times a thing of the past. If you’re a seasoned FIFA player, you’re probably accustomed to spending a minute or two waiting for each match to load and another minute or so waiting for the menu screens to load again after the match ends. That’s no longer the case on the next-generation versions – and that goes for the new Xbox too. You should never be left waiting for more than a few seconds for anything to happen. No more playing the same boring training games to kill time before the real action starts. In terms of speed, it’s pretty instantaneous.
Sticking to improvements between the two PlayStation versions of the game, the console’s new controller makes a considerable difference, too. The PS5 controller features ‘haptic feedback,’ which allows you to ‘feel’ every touch of the ball and every tackle. While the PS4 controller vibrated and rumbled, the new controller is more nuanced and sensitive. It makes gameplay feel more authentic, and while it’s not quite the same thing as being out on a pitch and playing for real, it helps to create a more immersive atmosphere and focus your mind on what’s happening on the field. You’ll even know which foot the player you’re controlling kicks the ball with, as you’ll feel it on the left or right-hand side of your controller accordingly.
Speed and touch are important, but most people also expect a visual upgrade when they move between one version of the game and the next. If you’re one of them, you won’t be disappointed. We’ve seen it unkindly suggested that the graphical differences between the two versions of the game are mostly about haircuts, but that’s not true. There’s also individually-animated sweat and stubble on player’s faces, a brand new lighting system that makes television broadcasts appear to be more realistic, and a camera angle that doesn’t exist on the current-gen version of the game. You’ll notice players in the background doing little ‘human’ things, like adjusting their boots and shinpads and wiping their noses. That’s not a game-changing improvement, but it’s a little extra dash of realism.
The final notable difference (as far as we’re aware) is something EA is referring to as an “enhanced matchday experience.” In real terms, that means more animations in and around match days – especially for big matches. Team buses pull up in front of expectant crowds, we get to see inside the changing rooms, fans sing songs as they throng into the stadiums, and so on. None of this actually matters in terms of the way the game plays, but if you like your football simulations to be as real as possible, this is a new peak for the series.
All in all, it looks like PS5 players get a slightly better deal than Xbox Series X players purely because of the haptic feedback on the controller, which the Xbox can’t mirror. As for whether you desperately need to buy the next-gen version if you already own the current one – we’re not convinced. If all you care about is playing games, the mechanics are largely unchanged. If you want something deeper, more immersive, and more persuasive, though, the next-gen version is the way to go. Having made that decision, your next move is to locate a next-gen console so you can play it. Looking at the stock projections for the Christmas period and beyond, all we can do is wish you well in your quest if you haven’t got one already!