The time is finally upon us. EA has reached its final FIFA instalment, so get out your handkerchiefs and prepare to wave a solemn goodbye to football’s most popular franchise. Of course, that’s a little disingenuous; EA isn’t actually saying goodbye to FIFA, just the FIFA name, so the series will continue under the slightly less memorable moniker of EA Sports FC. In the meantime, however, we have this final EA FIFA game, so how does FIFA 23 stack up against its predecessors?
We would say “how does it stack up against its rivals”, but the fact is that since Konami’s PES (now eFootball) destroyed itself with its most recent entry, FIFA pretty much has no rivals. It stands alone in the world of football, and so FIFA 23 only has to manage the task of being better than previous FIFA games. Happily, EA hasn’t chosen to rest on its laurels. There’s a sense of reinvention at play here, one that will come as a relief to anyone who thought FIFA was beginning to stagnate.
Much of that reinvention is thanks to the new HyperMotion 2 system, which appears to emphasise the individual play style of different players better than it once did. Now, Kylian Mbappé doesn’t just play like every other striker; his blistering speed and lack of ability to convert corners into true opportunities show themselves up much more clearly than they did in FIFA 22. HyperMotion 2 makes FIFA 23 feel like a realistic game of football, which is commendable.
This quality extends to FIFA 23’s manager mode, too. Thanks to HyperMotion 2, it doesn’t just feel like you’re making a series of arbitrary decisions off the pitch; instead, you will have to carefully consider every player’s strengths and weaknesses before you send them off into a game. Will this player’s poor speed matter in a game where they’re up against players with low skill ratings? Are you overemphasising ball control in your game and leaving behind defence? These are real, impactful decisions you’re going to have to make in the manager mode, and HyperMotion 2 enables them all the better.
Unfortunately, HyperMotion 2’s biggest strength, which is a sense of fluid, organic realism that previous FIFA games have lacked, also proves to be its biggest downfall. There are moments on the pitch where players mess up big set pieces or shots that they should never get wrong. HyperMotion 2’s emphasis on machine learning and AI-driven decision-making means that there are some spectacular misses, even when you’re bringing your A game.
This doesn’t happen too often, but it does happen often enough to be frustrating. Sometimes, we feel like we’d take a less realistic game of football if it meant we didn’t have to deal with some of FIFA 23’s more baffling moments; corner kicks that go completely unacknowledged, for instance, or through passes that simply sail past our hapless striker, who just watches as they float past the goalposts and give the opposing team a free goal kick.
If you can get to grips with HyperMotion 2, though, there’s a predictably great game of football to be had here, and there are more modes and options than ever before. FIFA 23 provides a dizzying array of ways to experience its core gameplay. The Career mode is a sight to behold, complete with hugely complex skill trees and plenty of branching decisions.
HyperMotion 2 makes the impact of your decisions feel more meaningful, too; you’re not just adding numbers to a sheet, but instead fine-tuning a player throughout their career, improving their skills and bringing them up to competition standard. It’s a consistently exciting way to experience a journey through the world of professional football.
One area in which FIFA 23 has made leaps and bounds is that of representation. Gone are the days when men could be rampantly misogynistic about women’s football; thanks to the victory of the Lionesses in the Commonwealth Games in 2022, awareness of women’s football has shot up (and rightfully so), and FIFA 23 has included a much broader range of options for the women’s game, including the Women’s FA Super League and the women’s World Cup.
Unfortunately, there is one big, ugly stain marring the face of the otherwise-great FIFA 23, and it’s the Ultimate Team mode. Even though this game mode has proven immensely popular, it’s no less exploitative and microtransaction-riddled this time around, and token concessions towards more transparent loot boxes made by EA don’t feel particularly meaningful.
This is still a mode that will drain all of the money out of your wallet if you allow it to, and the level of anti-player and anti-consumer feeling that seems to have gone into its design is nothing short of breathtaking. Acquiring the players you want will either take hours upon hours of grinding or a quick, sneaky visit to the microtransaction shop.
A new Chemistry system is a double-edged sword; while you can now assemble teams based on what you want rather than what works, Squad Building Challenges push you towards microtransactions in a way that feels baked into FIFA 23 at the base level, essentially rendering microtransactions a core gameplay mechanic. It’s gross and predatory, and frankly, we would rather see the abolition of Ultimate Team than see this disrespectful anti-player behaviour continue. Such is life, though, and if you’re willing to put up with the nonsense, Ultimate Team is probably the best it’s ever been.
It can be difficult to judge FIFA games. They don’t change a huge amount each year, and after all, how can they? Football is football, and once you’ve achieved what can reasonably be described as a true-to-life simulation (although we’re sure many fans would disagree), you’re left with incremental, iterative changes. For what it’s worth, FIFA 23 is probably the biggest gameplay shake-up the franchise has had in years, and it feels great. Ultimate Team is still a blemish on the franchise’s reputation, but this is the best football sim you’re going to find right now.