I had an okay time with Volta, FIFA 20’s new street football mode, during my solid afternoon with it at that same event in July where the FUT part of the day saw EA Sports take a bit of a grilling. It’s snappy, easy to grasp but still with a little bit of nuance to it, if you play for a while, and it’s plenty generous as a mode itself, too. There’s a sort of Journey, crossed with Be a Pro, crossed with Ultimate Team feel to things. Absolutely my type on paper, as the kids say – only it’s just missing that bit of magic to tie it all together.
There are two main ways to play the mode: with your own player, created from scratch, and a team of made-up street stars that you can “steal” from defeated opponents (really it’s more of a copy – you get to choose which of their players to nab but they still keep the player themselves); or with real clubs, online or offline, picking a selection of players – Bale, Ramos and Modric from Real Madrid, say – to make up your small-sided team.
Much of the basics were made clear back at E3, but if you’re unfamiliar, you can play with various team sizes – 3v3 with rush ‘keepers, 4v4 with or without ‘keepers, 5v5 with futsal rules, and so on – and similarly you can tinker with the pitches themselves, turning walls on or off to allow you to play rebounds to yourself or keep things slightly more traditional. When you play online, that customisation is worked in through a ‘house rules’ system, where whoever plays at home plays on their preferred pitch with their preferred team sizes and rules.
Where it hits a snag is that actual reason to play the mode itself. I’m not sure there is one, barring the artificial reasons that are now pretty par for the course in big service games like this. There’s a sort of RPG-like progression to your main character, as they level up over time (I should note as well the actual options for customising your avatar are pretty wide-ranging, which is great, and so they should be). There’s the progression in the sense you can poach other players to keep improving your team – that has a compulsive draw a la Ultimate Team. Then there’s the cosmetic store, of course, where the messaging remains the same: nothing is up for sale with real money – just the Volta Coins (the official name for the “grind currency” EA mentioned a couple of times when we last spoke) – and as far as I could tell from digging around, no random-chance loot boxes or “surprise mechanics” either.
The thing is, those are all external things encouraging me to keep playing Volta, the same way trophies or achievements are. The actual gameplay itself, I worry, just doesn’t have the depth – in fact the amount of progression mechanics in there suggests there’s a bit of an awareness of that, a mode overcompensating for itself. You’ll quickly work your way through the handful of arenas, all nicely realised in their own right, especially the rooftop pitch in Japan, and then it’s just back to gathering more anonymous, computer-generated players with higher numbers on them and maybe an especially garish pair of shorts. Strip all that out, and once you master the feel of Volta (fast) and a few tricks (lobbed passes and trick shots – tricks are intentionally far easier to perform here, in an attempt to keep things fun) and you feel like you’re effectively done with it.
It’s also borderline frustrating, after a while. One of the big problems I’ve had with FIFA for a little while now is the sheer franticness of the match speed can make every game feel like a battle of the wills, a sort of migraine of end-to-end drilled balls pinging back and forth until one bad touch leads to a breakaway. For all the efforts to make FIFA’s 11v11 play feel more considered this year, Volta goes in the opposite direction. After a while you’ll feel like you’ve been banging your head against a wall as well as the ball itself. It hurts.
Even with all that said, though, I think one thing would have saved Volta – in fact I think it would be a revelation, honestly. I think it needed the developers to have some more fun, and not just “you can do some skill moves easier” fun. Real fun. This year Ultimate Team is getting house rules modes that let you pick up power-ups for super-human speed, the ball glowing, players booking it around like lightning. Volta mode has neon sneakers and those weird futsal goalkeeper gloves that make your ‘keeper look like she takes cycling to work a bit too seriously. It’s po-faced and Disney-channel sanitised, too, much the same as the Journey was before it. Which is obviously understandable because of age ratings but also, don’t take the realism route with football gameplay and then have cutscenes and in-match shouts where players aren’t allowed to swear, or even show the faintest bit of aggro chat or playground beef. Imagine football where nobody swears! Imagine street football in a cage in North London where nobody swears.
Anyway. I miss FIFA Street. I miss pelting a player through his own net with Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink. I miss dumb fun, and Volta mode’s worse off for the lack of it.