In recent years FIFA has been looking to innovate with its yearly releases, adding something to spice up the annual entries in the footballing franchise. A few years ago we had the addition of The Journey, but now that Alex Hunter's journey has come to an end, we have Volta being added to the mix. It's a mode reminiscent of FIFA Street in which you take your skills outside of the official rules and regulations you're used to, playing matches in small arenas away from traditional pitches.
Unfortunately, this mode wasn't playable at the EA Play event before E3 this year, but we still managed to get our hands on the base game, trying out the Kick Off mode for ourselves. We were pleased to see young Dortmund player Jadon Sancho on the menu screen, and we had the choice between Real Madrid, Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain, Borussia Dortmund, Liverpool FC, and Atlético de Madrid, all of which played in the Wanda Metropolitano in the Champion's League final, keeping up FIFA's prominent use of the European competition.
The first thing to note, ironically, is that we didn't feel a lot of difference compared to last year's game. At most EA Play events we notice a new feeling when we get out hands on the controller, but the core gameplay felt very familiar as soon as we started playing. It's clear there are small changes happening here, not big sweeping ones to disrupt the whole of the experience, as evidenced by the extensive pitch notes we were provided with not too long ago.
It was also refreshing to see some updated player models as well, as we noticed Sergio Aguero's blonde hair when we played as Manchester City - a small feature but one that helps increase immersion, especially in FIFA when these appearances can often go out of date quickly.
Obviously, we can't make any dramatic statements considering the brief time we played the game, but what we can say is we did notice an improvement to the through balls, as we played a lot of cutting passes into the path of an attacker making a darting run forwards. This is something Sam Rivera noted in our interview with him - that passes should go where you want them to go more often - and we can see the early stages of that shining through with the attacking.
"So there is three main components that we are focusing on in FIFA 20: on the ball, off the ball, and the ball itself," Rivera told us when we spoke during EA Play. "So we have re-architectured game flow. So it's a new game flow that gives more time and space to the dribbler, and that creates more one-on-ones, and that's exactly what we want. Why? Because a one-on-one is time when you can use your skill to beat the defender, where you need to be a little more manual in how you defend and how you attack, and what skill moves you use."
Particularly in defence, EA's emphasis on manual defending is clear, since the AI won't do as much of the heavy lifting. We found ourselves scrambling to select a player manually and clear the ball ourselves, since it quickly became obvious that this was necessary, and this should hopefully let players show their skills in defence a bit more. Maybe it's worth sharpening up before FIFA 20 removes those super AI defenders.
Overall our brief look had us cautiously impressed with FIFA 20. Nothing felt dramatically different, but with yearly iterations like this, that's hardly a bad thing. The changes under the hood could be noticed creeping in, and if everything comes off as Rivera and his team say they will, we could be looking at a more refined version of FIFA than we've seen in FIFA 19, which is ultimately the main goal.