A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this game.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that FIFA 21 is the latest chapter in the long running soccer franchise for the PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Nintendo Switch, and Windows PCs. The title keeps the focus from the previous two year's titles, with a street soccer element bolstering the professional soccer league gameplay. There's a hefty amount of promotional material for companies thanks to the many billboards around arenas, as well as the logos on player kits (or uniforms) that can constantly be seen in close up shots and replays. The game's also sold in three separate versions, each of which provide varying amounts of content for the Ultimate Team mode. The Ultimate team mode also allows players to purchase credits for this mode through the store using real money or lets players earn it by competing in matches by themselves or with other gamers online, which can be redeemed for new gear, athletes, and items. Online play is unmoderated, which could expose players to inappropriate content, but otherwise, there's nothing offensive to be found within the game.
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What's it about?
FIFA 21 is the newest chapter in the soccer franchise which attempts to bring both the street and professional club focus of the world's most popular sport into one package. Building on the foundation of older titles, FIFA 21 now boasts more than 700 teams in more than 90 stadiums, more than 30 leagues from around the world, and more than 17,000 players. Like many sports games, there's a number of enhancements that have been made to this year's game. Volta, the street focused version of FIFA, now allows players to hop into games with friends quickly thanks to the Volta Squads, which lets you team up with four other players to take on opponents. Players can also explore a quick prologue in the streets in "The Debut," a mode that introduces a squad of players hoping to make a name for themselves on the global stage of street ball. Players can even recruit some star athletes in the Featured battles mode. The ever-popular Ultimate Team returns with the ability to build teams of your favorite players. This year, players can also build and customize their own home stadium, establishing everything from team chants and anthems to the color scheme of seats, tifos, and celebratory fireworks. Career mode returns, letting players build a created athlete from a promising prospect into the star of a club, or lets them step into the shoes of a manager, running the club from the sidelines. Plus, there are a number of additional gameplay adjustments, such as enhancing your dribbling moves, letting players decide when to direct teammates to sprint towards the goal or get open for a pass, and adjustments to defensive play. The PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S versions feature enhanced graphics, along with new cinematics of players arriving at stadiums or walking through media zones, and faster load times. There are also new celebratory cutscenes after goals, a new camera based on TV broadcasts, and for PS5 owners, haptic feedback through the controller gives feedback during the game for tackles, shots, and as your player tires on the pitch.
Is it any good?
Even though there are some tweaks that have been made to the gameplay, it's hard to not get over the feeling that this is practically the same experience as last year. FIFA 21 presents three distinct segments of gameplay with its career, Ultimate Team, and Volta modes, but these are almost identical to last year's title. There are slicker overlays for menus and tutorials, and a larger focus on co-op play across virtually all modes, but for the most part, gameplay's the same as it's been in the past few years. For example, the career mode has some new visuals for managers to sim matches, but in many ways, the player and career mode have the same schedule micromanagement, skills games, and gameplay. By contrast, the adjustment to Volta, the street game, feels anemic because its storyline is, at best, about three hours long before you're essentially pushed into the action of online play, or trying to hunt for athletes in the Featured Battles mode to add to your squad while completing challenges to unlock new clothing options for your team.
At least play on the pitch has some improvements that are pretty useful. Players can now directly control teammates making cuts towards the goal, allowing them to create their best attack scenarios with strikers or wingers. There's also been some additional tweaks to ball control thanks to the new Agile Dribbling system, which makes it easier to make cuts and keep the ball away from defenders. While these two enhancements do improve the gameplay, this, along with new crossing options for the passing game, imbalances the action significantly towards the offensive side of the ball, leading to a large number of goals being scored. It's not perfect – both your players and the opposing AI will still cause a significant number of offside calls to be made when they're starting their attacks – but defenders often have to rely on the perfect tackle or the best player having the best position to effectively counter incoming strikes on goal. Ultimate Team has also received new adjustments as well, especially in the form of a customizable stadium that will allow you to build out your home arena's chants, tifos, and even celebratory fireworks. Even better than crafting your home stadium is the elimination of some elements that just weren't useful, like training and fitness items that just felt like a chore for this mode. That way, you can focus solely on building your squad, partnering with other players, and accomplishing seasonal goals. It's still the mode that most players will dedicate the majority of their time to, and there's lots of content to sink into, unlock, and play. The next-gen versions of the game are visually striking, with the almost non-existent load times and visual fidelity of cutscenes standing out, especially if you score a go ahead goal in the last minute of play and you watch your team erupt in celebration. But playwise, there's nothing new here. The haptic feedback on the PS5 is a nice touch, particularly when it comes to having a sense of a shot that clangs off a post or you feel the heartbeat of a player as they're running, but if you were looking for new gameplay content, there's nothing to be found, which feels like a slight incremental update to this popuilar franchise. Overall though, while FIFA 21 is still a fun and enjoyable chapter of the Beautiful Game, it's hard to not shake the feeling of déjà vu when you step onto this virtual pitch.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about consumerism in FIFA 21, which is full of branding, including logos, billboards, and broadcast graphics. Is it OK that the publisher makes money from gamers and advertisers, too? Is product placement harmful?
Is it worth it to buy an annual sports game? If the developers release a free downloadable update to account for changing team rosters, do you really need to buy one every year? Can you skip a year or two, or do the new features and better graphics justify the purchase? Does it help that console gamers can get an upgrade to the next generation system for free?
- Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S
- Price: $59.99
- Pricing structure: Paid
- Available online? Available online
- Developer: EA Sports
- Release date: December 4, 2020
- Genre: Sports
- Topics: Sports and Martial Arts
- ESRB rating: E for No Descriptions
- Last updated: June 29, 2021
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.