For three decades, FIFA and EA Sports have enjoyed a partnership as devastating as Xavi and Iniesta during their Barca pomp. Together they’ve navigated the blocky nineties, the menacingly drooped shoulders of the early noughties and over the last ten years truly spoilt us with the crème de la crème of footballing authenticity. Now, billions of on-the-pitch minutes later, comes their final title game: FIFA 23.
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And if you’re going to close a chapter on the planet’s most popular video game series – before they rename it EA Sports FC, of course – how better to do it than with both men’s and women’s FIFA World Cup modes?
Indeed, it’s shaping up to be the biggest and most inclusive FIFA title in history. From NME’s hands on with an alpha build of the game here are the biggest takeaways from playing the men’s and women’s modes…
First things first: proper tackles are back. Sadly, you can’t two-foot the goalkeeper as you could way back in that other milestone World Cup year, 1998, but you can aggressively slide tackle, keeping hold of circle/B for longer to increase the size of the imprint you leave on your opponent. More crunching than a cereal advert, there’s even a new sliding clearance that allows players to clear both ball and opponent into row Z.
Not that it’s all blood and thunder though. You also have the chance to use backheel tackles when using the best defenders on the game; something I wish I’d known before getting Thiago Silva an early bath in less than 30 minutes against Real Madrid.
Another welcome overhaul is that foot races are much less predictable. It’s no secret that an overreliance on pace has continually hampered the series. However, rather than put the brakes on the likes of Neymar, a new feature, AcceleRATE, splits players into three different speed categories: explosive, controlled and lengthy. With enough space, this allows a rangy runner like Virgil Van Dijk to make up ground and win the ball ahead of someone with more of an explosive standing start, such as Kylian Mbappé.
Also set to get tongues wagging is the addition of a Power Shot, AKA thunderbastard mode, which you activate by pressing L1+R1 at the same time as shooting. It takes an age to animate and you’ll need optimum precision as you need to aim your shot manually. The key is knowing exactly when to use it.
Accuracy is absolutely crucial for success on FIFA 23. There are more ways to score than ever – including downward volleys into the ground and new types of diving headers – but mistime a connection and you leave yourself at risk of looking pathetically Sunday League, hitting thin air as your hopes, dreams and that inch-perfect cross sail past you all at once.
Score a worldie, on the other hand, and you might even bag yourself an AR intelligence replay, which annotates spectacular finishes in slow-mo with lines of trajectory, degrees of curvature and a speed clock. Could this help banish the scourge of the ‘sweaty goal’? I certainly attempted more long-range efforts than I normally would in the hope of unlocking the souped-up replay.
It might have been a while since we first saw Roberto Carlos bending a freekick on FIFA, but the Brazilian would no doubt approve of the new aim mechanics on free kicks and corners. Such is the level of control when using the right stick to decide what part of the ball to make contact with and how you’d like to bend or swerve it, you might as well be putting Tiger Woods on corner duty.
For penalty takers, it’s still about timing (the closer your pressure meter is to the ball when you hit shoot, the more chance of it hitting the target) but composure now plays a part. PKs are highly reactive to the game, meaning if you’re in the 88th minute, as opposed to the 30th minute, your room for error decreases.
The biggest impact on my own playstyle came with ball control. Gone are the slidey motion effects of 22, now “every step matches the path”, as one FIFA line producer put it during a reveal presentation. They weren’t wrong – I found dribbling to be much more fluid this time around, every manipulation of the ball in-step and in-tune with the player’s body and centre of gravity.
A lot of these improvements are down to Hypermotion 2, the AI-learning driven motion capture work that helps bring player movement to life, be it the dinky nature of Phil Foden’s jinking dribbles, to the directness of Sam Kerr when she bears down on goal. In fact, with thousands of new animations courtesy of Hypermotion 2, the women’s game has never looked better in video game form; every flick, every turn, every backheel can feel as if you’re seeing it for the first time.
FIFA 23 also features the biggest (and most unique) variety of passes to date. Expect to spray plenty cross-field with the outside of the foot or even guide a few in close quarters via the top of the back or the bum.
One major disappointment in 22 was how freakishly speedy the goalkeepers were in one-on-one situation, almost pre-ordained to fish the ball from between your toes. Luckily for FIFA 23, balance seems to have been restored as I enjoyed more balanced duels with my opponent between the sticks.
Up in the gantry, the commentary team remains the same as Derek Rae and Stewart Robson continue to be ride or die. However, if you aren’t partial to their awkward patter you’ll be glad to know you can now pump in music from the FIFA menu soundtrack during a match, which is mixed perfectly to ensure you to get all the vibes without missing the biggest sounds inside the stadium.
Which brings us on neatly onto the crowd, which itself feels more dynamic than ever (read: they actually jump up and down in time with the songs now). Elsewhere, the pre-match cinematics, particularly at the likes of Anfield, have also gone up a notch, looking every inch the TV build-up package, you’d expect on a Champions League night.
Weird as it sounds, the pitches on FIFA 23 look more detailed than ever before. Kudos to EA, the grass even cuts up as it would in real life: any muddy marks made in the first half where you’ve sent an overeager left back for a hotdog will still be there in the second 45’.
Roll on FIFA 23’s release in September, then, when millions of gamers will look to tear it up themselves.