Are lots of small and subtle changes to the gameplay and player animations enough to make FIFA 20 worthy of your time and money? If that's not the case and the new gameplay mechanics - or even old ones that have been tweaked, as our colleague Sam noted the first time he played the game at E3 - are insufficient for your tastes, EA Sports has another proposal for you to consider. A very different one, in fact. This proposal goes by the name of Volta, and it's essentially street football wrapped up in a complex and meaty package.
With five weeks to go until launch EA came to Gamescom 2019 with a version of FIFA 20 that's close to final. For the first time, we cast our eyes over the menus and took a look at some of the game modes. Bye, bye blue tones, as grey and pink defines the default colour palette of a pretty much unchanged visual design.
In the demo version that we got to try in Cologne, there were a few Volta modes, including Story Mode and Quick Match (where you can play a single match and tweak things via House Rules). The former branches into five game types including three, four, or five players per team. Besides Futsal, which uses official rules, you can opt to play with or without goalkeepers and walls. The latter introduces the survival game type we knew about from E3, and the no-rules way to play, which lets you be as aggressive as you want. EA Romania's associate producer, Ionel Stanescu, told us about the modes expected in the final release:
"Volta Story [is] our new narrative-driven experience that is kind of used to onboard people into the universe of Volta football. Then we have Volta World, which takes you through 17 unique locations as you take on squads that other people build that are controlled by the AI. And last but not least we have Volta League, which is our online PvP mode. And usually, online is a bit scary so casual users, they stay away from online because it's a little bit intimidating.
"But for us, with Volta football, we really wanted to create a space where is easy to get into and it's easy to pick and play. Just get the controller if you play FIFA before, the mechanics are the same, so you know how to shoot, how to pass the ball, how to control your player... but if you haven't played a FIFA game ever, it's super easy to just pick [up] and play. And, for example, if you are playing in one of the many environments that have Worlds there is less rules, so you don't have to worry about offsides, or the ball going out of play and all that kind of stuff that is intimidating people in football."
In Volta's story, however, you create your own character - male or female - and dress him or her in regular clothes. It looks like there would be tens of items to unlock, and none of them are behind a paywall, as you unlock them by spending Volta coins earned by sweating on the pitch. At least that's the case at launch, Stanescu told us, which worried us a little bit about what the future may hold. In Quick Match, on the other hand, you simply choose a real club to play with and select the best players from the full squad (they'll be wearing the same kits too). If you don't support the best team in the world but it still has four or five good players, this is a great way of making them truly competitive.
Last up, it's time to choose the venue. There will be 17 locations in the final game, including Buenos Aires, Rome, Miami, Berlin, Barcelona, Warehouse, Rio de Janeiro, and New York. It is important to note that not all of them let you play with and without walls. Design-wise, they're not super complex - pretty much the opposite in fact, and they remind us of fighting game stages, with a small crowd cheering no matter what happens. That said, we appreciated the inspiration taken from real-world cities.
Street football is about ball control, quick thinking, and finding a clear angle to shoot wherever you are on the pitch. Volta plays almost the same way, with the same buttons, but you need to adapt your play style to suit a small team and a confined space. Either you move the ball fast or you have to try dribbling, which is hard when defenders stick close to you. Controls-wise it's easier to perform tricks, but they have to make sense. To help you, AI-controlled players move around the arena, creating passing options, and you can always help yourself by playing with walls - Volta with walls on and no rules is like playing ice hockey. Finally, you'll also have to adapt your shooting technique because the balls physics are lighter.
Stanescu added that "you'll find out this whole universe built from the ground up in the FIFA gameplay engine, and using the power of Frostbyte brings to life street football as it means to everyone." Maybe this is a reference to all those new animations that represent the cocky and insolent behaviour some people show on the streets. Like or dislike it, they are well implemented.
We're really pleased to see the concept behind FIFA Street returning, this time as a game mode and not as a standalone release. Our first contact with Volta was positive mostly because it ups the tempo and brings something very different to the pitch. While FIFA 20 might not change a lot as a simulator, there is a spark of hope in Volta.