Is FIFA 23 a worthy goodbye to the iconic license, or should you just wait for EA Sports FC?
FIFA 22 was quite a positive surprise. Admittedly there wasn't many improvements in terms of game modes or new features. But what it is really about, the action on the pitch itself, was probably the best since FIFA 16 - the last game in the series before the ill-fated switch to the Frostbite game engine. The introduction of the so-called HyperMotion technology based on motion capture of professional players in real training situations lead to more realistic animations and elevated the gameplay in several aspects. In FIFA 23 the technology has been upgraded to HyperMotion 2.0 and is said to result in 6,000 unique animations against 4,000 the year before. But has the actual gameplay been elevated as much as the numbers suggest?
The short answer is no, not in the slightest. But that isn't to say there aren't improvements. FIFA 23 is once again beautifully presented with smooth graphics and realistic sound effects. Before kick-off we are now treated to a short cutscene of happy fans strolling through the streets on their way to the stadium, and while there are fewer beers and a less hostile atmosphere than in real life, it still gives another little extra boost to the match day experience. On the pitch itself, animations are still very impressive. Defenders make desperate attempts to intercept the ball, and offensive players have a wide variety of ways to gain control of the ball whether it's using their head or controlling the ball with their knee. Even collisions between players are handled in a pretty realistic fashion, and identical animations performed simultaneously by two or more players, are mostly a thing of the past.
But, as football fans know, it's not the quality of the individual players, but instead the way the team moves as a unit that determines the game. And in this aspect FIFA 23 doesn't really improve much. My main gripe with FIFA 22 was that the back four (or five if you have an Italian coach) often was positioned so deeply that they may as well be standing behind the goal. This has been "fixed" now, and the defensive line doesn't fall quite that deep when defending a lead. Are they perhaps a bit too high on the pitch now? Probably, but aggressive pressing and more resilient defenders, still poses a decent challenge on World Class or Legendary difficulty. It also seems that the defenders have become better at drawing offsides. Or perhaps the strikers have become worse at timing their runs - with FIFA it's always a few steps forward and a few steps back.
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In many ways that is the main problem. The gameplay in FIFA 23 has been adjusted, but not really improved. Take the set ups, that has once again been overhauled. Now, instead of placing a marker where you want to hit in the goal (penalties and free kicks) or on the pitch (corners), you'll now just point in the general direction. Curve, height, and the crucial precision are then added by choosing where you'll hit the ball. It feels more realistic, but only slightly as it's still too easy to hit perfect shots and the visual indicator makes it feel like you're playing PGA Tour 2K21.
The last noteworthy gameplay improvement is the new Power Shot. Previously if you pressed LB/L1 + RB/R1 when taking a shot, your player made a hard, low shot that barely lifted from the grass. Now the button combination unleashes one of these incredible shots that, when hit just right, will send the commentators into rhetorical overdrive (sadly only in real life - Derek Rae and Stewart Robson are still "dull as dishwater" as a much better FIFA commentator would have said it). Initially I feared this would been an unstoppable super move, but luckily that is not the case. A power shot requires both plenty of room and space to pull off, and in most situations, you are better off performing a normal shot. If only the camera didn't zoom in and time didn't slow down when you try to pull it off, because it looks quite ridiculous.
Overall, the gameplay is pretty much identical to FIFA 22. HyperMotion 2.0 is a marked improvement over the last-gen versions stuck with the old match engine, but all teams still play like Manchester City and Liverpool rolled into one - quick passes, intense pressing, and a flat-out refusal to ever make a cross. The ball is glued to the players' feet and passes feels like laser guided missiles. At times it's quite spectacular, but it quickly gets repetitive whether you are playing online or against the AI.
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The fact that the gameplay is somewhat stuck in the mud could perhaps be tolerated if their were very meaningful additions outside of the pitch. Unfortunately, that isn't really the case. One major addition is the possibility to play with female clubs in the English Women's Super League or the French Division 1. The timing of this addition couldn't be better coming off the back of a great European Championship in Britain that really illustrated how far women's football has progressed in the last couple of years. But really, EA Sports doesn't deserve any praise, after having introduced women's national teams back in FIFA 16 and only now, seven years later, adding some slightly meaningful content.
Besides friendlies, practice and tournaments, Career is the last mode still standing for those that prefer to play offline. A new menu makes the game less intuitive for veterans and is probably still too clunky for new players, while the most prominent addition doesn't really work as intended. I'm talking about the ability to simulate a game by automatically skipping all the boring parts and only playing the highlights such as dangerous set ups or counter attacks. But while it's not that hard scoring goals in newer FIFA games, it still requires a few attempts and with only a handful of chances for each team during a simulation, a 1-1 draw felt like a regular goal show.
In many ways the different kinds of simulation illustrates what's wrong with the Career mode. You can now jump straight to the result, see little dots battling it out (as in Football Manager) or play the highlights yourself. Three distinct options, two of them newly introduced, and all pretty much unsatisfactory. The simple text simulation that resulted in realistic scores and at the same time was quite exciting was last seen in FIFA 19 and since then Career mode has just become more clunky filled with unnecessary additions such as the revamped training mode (from FIFA 21) and the many, many awkward cut-scenes and post-match interviews. It's even worse this year. For example, when playing as Arsenal I sold Gabriel Jesus and got two separate, but identical cutscenes of him leaving the club and being escorted to the door by the manager. The second was a bug (one of many in the Career mode) but the first was also completely unnecessary not to mention completely unrealistic.
For online play the most prominent addition is full crossplay between Xbox Series X, PS5 and PC. Besides that, we are once again talking minor adjustments instead of meaningful additions. Volta has been integrated with Pro Clubs, so your progress in the latter can be used to buy novelty glasses, tattoos, and strangely coloured jackets for your virtual street football player. A couple of new power ups makes the arcade-like mode a bit more exciting, but for the most part Volta is still just regular FIFA on a smaller pitch where the players do their very best to make simple passes seems overtly complex. A fun Mario Party-like mini game, where you are battling with other players to hit obstacles or juggle the ball, illustrates that there is still potential in Volta, but the fundamentals could really do with some more polishing.
Ultimate Team is still then the place where most hours and crucially most money are going to be spent. Yet, EA hasn't gone out of their way to change their lucrative mode this time around. The most noticeable change is a new Chemistry system, that gives a bit more flexibility in creating your dream team. Besides battling for virtual rewards in Division Rivals and Squad Battles, you can now also try your hand at Golden Moments. Here you are tasked with completing objectives based on real matches - the first of the rotating playlists are about the coaching career of Jürgen Klopp and the sudden breakthrough of PSG Star Kyllian Mbappé. The idea is solid enough, but the execution is lacking as your objectives (such as crossing or making a specific dibble) often has no relation to the actual moment you are supposed to recreate. And of course, you're playing with your ultimate team, not the actual squads of say Mainz 05 during Klopp's successful reign.
After having somewhat stagnated during the last console generation, the FIFA series looked to be back on track with the shift to newer hardware. FIFA 21 offered lots of improvement outside of the pitch and FIFA 22 made many crucial improvements to the actual gameplay. In comparison, FIFA 23 falls flat on both parameters. It's not bad, and there are certainly plenty of additions if you scroll through the game's website. But that's just it. The additions feel like they are designed with bullet points in mind, not like they are meant to change the game in any meaningful way. As the licensing deal with FIFA is expiring after the release of this game, the next FIFA is going to be known as EA Sports FC. Hopefully this means that EA has been saving their resources for an impressive relaunch, but whether that is the case or not, FIFA 23 was not quite the send-off the license deserved.
6 / 10
Plenty of game modes, leagues, and official licenses. Beautiful presentation on and off the pitch. HyperMotion 2.0 leads to some impressive animations. Addition of Crossplay.
Gameplay has been adjusted, not upgraded. Most additions feel half-baked. Career mode is bloated. Matches most of the time still don't feel like actual football.