Aside from the new name and logo being emblazoned on almost every menu screen in sight, you'd be hard-pressed to distinguish EA Sports FC 24 from the latest FIFA game. In short, EA's latest football sim introduces a number of subtle improvements to its on-pitch action while sprinkling in some incremental additions to long-standing game modes like Ultimate Team and Career. It still offers an exciting, albeit familiar, game of back-and-forth football, but the demanding yearly release schedule isn't doing the series any favors. Even with the fancy new rebrand, EA FC is an expected follow-up to FIFA 23, offering a slight evolution rather than anything revelatory.
As is often the case from one game to the next, the pace of play in EA FC 24 feels a tad slower compared to last year. If history repeats itself, this is likely to change in the coming weeks--particularly once superpowered cards are more prevalent in Ultimate Team--but creating openings via slick passing moves is currently the best way to break down a stubborn defense. It helps that player movement is ultra-responsive, to the point where it's possible to wiggle out of danger without needing to utilize the game's agile dribbling mechanic. This is easier to do with a diminutive and agile player as opposed to someone like cover star Erling Haaland, but he excels in other areas, often bulldozing right through defenses. Either way, the movement of players--and their noticeable differences--looks much smoother than in the past; the connective animations between disparate movements flow together seamlessly. EA adds a deluge of new animations every year, but those in EA FC 24 lend the game a more natural look and feel that's immediately palpable in the way you move across the pitch.
Unfortunately, other areas of the game remain unchanged, much to the game's detriment. Goalkeepers occasionally try to save shots by diving sideways into the goal, which usually results in them either punching the ball into their own net or letting it sail over their heads. Passes will sometimes veer wildly off target, and defending can be frustrating when successful tackles regularly bounce back to attackers, especially when it puts them in a much more advantageous position than they were in before. It doesn't help that off-the-ball AI still has trouble tracking runs, and referees are wildly inconsistent in regards to what is and isn't a foul. I've already encountered a few baffling red-card decisions--although one could argue this is sadly authentic. The removal of driven lobbed-through passes also takes some getting used to, but this seems to have been done in service of EA FC 24's new PlayStyles mechanic.
PlayStyles make the differences between players even more pronounced by shining a spotlight on their strengths. Most players are equipped with a few distinct PlayStyles, pulling from a total of 32 that are spread across six categories: scoring, passing, ball control, defending, physical, and goalkeeper. It's fairly easy to notice when a player has a PlayStyle like Finesse Shot or Incisive Pass equipped because it feels much more satisfying to perform those actions. These aren't abilities you have to activate like a Mario Strikers power-up, either; they organically happen as you play. It's an intuitive system that fits into the natural flow of a match, tapping into each player's individuality by adding a fresh layer to the usual moment-to-moment gameplay.
Most world-class players are also afforded a single PlayStyle+, which elevates a regular PlayStyle by bumping up its attributes to ensure that these players stand out. Mohamed Salah, for instance, has the aforementioned Finesse Shot set as his PlayStyle+, allowing him to perform finesse shots much faster and with more curvature and accuracy than other players. It's a signature ability that's reflective of the real player and emphasizes one of his main strengths. In the same way, a player like Joshua Kimmich can deliver a lobbed pass with more pace and accuracy than someone without the requisite PlayStyle+. Previously, almost any player could hit long passes on a dime. Now, it's the domain of the very best, giving you more options to consider when it comes to building a team.
This shakes up Ultimate Team--EA's card-collecting cash cow--because you might not always choose a player based solely on their ratings. This is also doubly true now that players from the women's game have been integrated into Ultimate Team, with six women's leagues--including the Barclays Women's Super League and National Women's Soccer League--creating even more squad-building opportunities. With everyone from Sam Kerr to Alexia Putellas, the influx of female players are well-balanced for mixed-gender matches. The attributes between men and women are equal, so Lena Oberdorf can utilize her strength the same way Virgil van Dijk can. Still, most of the female players are better suited to specific positions and roles due to their height, much the same as their male counterparts. Shorter goalkeepers, for instance, tend to leak goals despite their attributes, so it's rare to find a team willing to start a female 'keeper. It's the same problem that afflicts five-foot six-inch Jorge Campos and his Hero card. At the other end of the pitch, however, the close control and low center of gravity players like Marta possess are sure to shake up the Ultimate Team meta, especially once more special cards are released.
Ultimate Team improves in a few other areas, too. Position modifiers are a thing of the past, so players can now simply slot into any of their secondary positions without needing to spend a resource to do so. This gives you more room to experiment with both formations and where to position specific players, especially when their PlayStyle+ might be better suited elsewhere depending on your own playstyle. Squad Battles matches are also mercifully shorter this time around, dropping from six-minute halves to only four-minute periods either side of halftime. This prevents these clashes against the CPU from feeling like too much of a slog while still giving you enough time to tick off a few objectives.
Evolutions, on the other hand, is an exciting new feature that gives you the chance to improve and customize players from your club for the first time. If a player meets certain criteria, you can choose to evolve them by completing a number of challenges--such as winning four games with that player in your starting 11--to unlock a permanent stat upgrade. Different types of Evolutions will cycle through each season, but at launch, one of the options lets you take a bronze player with a maximum rating of 64 and transform them into an 84-rated gold player. This is exciting for supporters of lower-league teams because it gives you the chance to actually use one of your favorite players in Ultimate Team. It also means you don't have to rely solely on pack luck. You now have the potential to improve your starting striker to keep up with the power curve without needing to spend coins on a new one or pray you pull one in packs.
The one downside to Evolutions is that it provides another avenue for predatory microtransactions. While most of the current Evolutions are free, there's one upgrade path that lets you transform a winger from a 79 rating to an 85 rating. It costs either 50,000 in-game coins--not an insignificant amount--or 1,000 FC Points. The latter can only be purchased with real money, either in 100-point increments at $1 each, or 1,050 points for $10. This is just another layer to Ultimate Team's inherent imbalance, where those willing to spend money have a much better chance of building a strong team than those who don't. EA FC 24 has already courted controversy by introducing an Elite Season Opener Pack that costs 285,000 coins or 3,000 FC Points. It's ostensibly a pay-to-win bundle, but one that also has a chance of giving you little more than a pile of duplicates. I'm sure EA received a fat check to make sure every Ultimate Team match is "delivered by Amazon Prime," so it's more than a little dystopian that it's still asking for extra money from its already-paying customers.
Fortunately, microtransactions haven't yet made their way into either Player or Manager Career. The former adds Player Agents to help flesh out the mode by giving you a checklist of objectives to complete throughout the season in order to earn a new contract at your current team or transfer to a new club. This sounds like a solid idea in theory, but some of the objectives are completely nonsensical. You could score 40 goals but still be released from your contract because five of them weren't overhead kicks. Other objectives task you with achieving feats no player ever has before, like accomplishing 37 assists across a single season. Manager Career fares better by introducing seven tactical identities for you to choose from. You might opt for a defensive approach with Park the Bus or use Gegenpressing to relentlessly press your opponents high up the pitch. You then need to hire coaches that match your identity, with better coaches boosting the attributes of your players. Again, this is a solid idea, but I didn't notice it having a tactile effect on how my players felt to control. Once again, the series' single-player modes feel like an afterthought compared to Ultimate Team.
EA Sports FC 24 is a better game than FIFA 23, but only marginally so. PlayStyles, Evolutions, and the addition of women in Ultimate Team are all positive steps forward, but it takes just as many steps back. The same gameplay issues continue to crop up, Career mode is underbaked, and Ultimate Team is still marred by the inescapable presence of microtransactions--and they've only gotten worse. The on-pitch action is excellent, with some frustrating caveats, and it's capable of moments of pure footballing joy. For those expecting a reinvention to go along with the new name, this is not that. EA FC 24 is the same ugly, beautiful game.