The best of the best

From: EA Sports
For: PS4, PS5, Xbox Series X,
Xbox One, PC, Switch

There was a time, you know, when football (soccer, not American) gaming was very much a two-horse race.

In fact, devotees of the Pro Evolution series were absolutely convinced their beloved series, while lacking the bells and whistles — and official licensing — of fancy Fifa, was far and away the best representation of the beautiful game via a controller.

Pro Evo’s slower, smarter gameplay won it legions of fans, and at one stage it looked like the series might actually make a serious dent in Fifa’s global dominance.

Just like that, the war is over. Fifa has won, folks.

EA, powered by the oodles of cash it made from the popular Ultimate Team mode, which seems to attract 10 pocket-money-or-parent-money wealthy teenagers for every person it turns off with its focus on microtransactions, invested heavily in gameplay to match its shiny loveliness and authenticity.

Meanwhile, Pro Evo changed its name — to the ghastly ‘‘eFootball’’— took a year off and just released a critically crucified free version of the game.

Without real competition any more, will the makers of Fifa continue to lift the bar? Or will they get lazy? That remains to be seen. For now, this veteran of 26 consecutive Fifa games is delighted to report the latest is a barnstormer.

It might be the best Fifa has ‘‘felt’’ since Fifa 16, one of the great titles in the series.

Gameplay is definitely slower, which I always rate. And there is an intangible ‘‘realness’’ — and I know how nebulous that sounds, but I am struggling for the right word — to the action on the field.

The ball feels sort of alive, natural. Your team-mates don’t do as many stupid things and look more like proper football players than ever, a legacy of the ‘‘hypermotion technology’’ that captured 22 real-life players in a mock game.

There are some frustrations — interceptions seem to be over-powered, and goalies are definitely miles better, to the point it can seem unfair — but overall this might be the best product on the field in Fifa history.

Around the game, there are also a couple of stand-out features.

For those of who us who like a few numbers to crunch, a vastly improved statistics suite greets you at halftime and at the end of every game. There are heat maps (yes!) and figures like expected goals.

Massively, Fifa also brings in the ability to create your own club in career mode, something the community has been wanting to see forever.

It’s early days — you are still a little limited to how much you can do — but lots will relish the opportunity to create your local club side and get them into the English Premier League or Serie A.

Ultimate Team, of course, is centre stage and is again chock-full of challenges and objectives and giveaways to keep you loitering around for as long as possible. It feels fine if slightly uninspiring so far — and is it me or has the game got a bit stingier with its packs?

Significantly, there is more visibility of women’s football in the game, from the regular sight of female players on the home screen to the introduction of the first woman, Alex Scott, to the commentary team in the history of the series.

Bravo, EA Sports, for taking Fifa to new heights, and what a comparison to the mess that has been made of Madden.

But will this be the last Fifa? There is talk the sponsorship agreement will end, and that ‘‘EA Sports FC’’ is just around the corner.

If this is the untimely end for Fifa, a cultural landmark, what a way to go out.

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