I have lasting regrets about FIFA Street. When I reviewed it on Xbox 360 several years ago, I thoroughly enjoyed its arcade atmosphere and globetrotting presentation. But as eventually became apparent, it was ultimately rather shallow—certainly not enough to sustain a full retail release.
Fast-forward seven years, and EA is once again trying to revive FIFA Street, this time in the form of Volta—a new mode that is being introduced in FIFA 20. At first blush, it seems like a mistake. FIFA has enough issues to address without adding a whole new mode, one that seems destined to be a disappointing shadow of the FIFA Street games fans loved so much on PS2 (and even those games are remembered with rose-colored glasses).
But to my surprise, FIFA Volta is, dare I say it, good. It still isn't big enough to fill out a full retail release, but it doesn't need to to be. Being just one mode among many helps it to balance expectations while allowing its more casual gameplay to shine. And it already feels more fully-formed than recent additions like Madden's Face of the Franchise and NHL's World of Chel, boasting a globetrotting adventure with a large number of game types.
Volta was unveiled during E3, but EA's event two weeks ago was my first chance to finally play it. I began with the one element that left a slightly bad taste in my mouth: the character creator. It's decent, but it could definitely use a little bit more flair. You can choose from a variety of models and head types, but hairstyles are quite limited, with almost no colors to choose from. Basically, if you want Megan Rapinoe's famous pink hairdo on your own character, you're out of luck. Thankfully, my experience went up from there.
After creating my initial character, a gal sporting fairly generic athleisure named Kat Flyer, I was confronted with several missions spanning the globe. I subsequently tried out 3v3 and 5v5 play in locales ranging from a rooftop arena in Tokyo to an indoor Futsal court in Germany. Every location had its own local commentator, all of whom excitedly screamed play-by-play in their own particular language. It got a little repetitive at times, mostly because it's tough to record unique lines with that many commentators, but it added a bit of local color that I found charming.
Playing 3v3 in a walled court is obviously quite different from the traditional FIFA experience. There's no keeper, but the goal is effectively a mail slot, meaning that it's easy to miss even if you have a point blank opportunity. There's no time limit, so the first to reach the prerequisite number of goals is the winner.
While Volta obviously doesn't offer the tactical depth of 11v11 play, matches can get quite intense. You need to have a good grasp of basic dribbling techniques, and you need to to use the environment around you, especially the walls, which allow you to send passes richocheting around the court like pucks. Defense is by far the hardest element of 3v3, as you're in almost constant danger of breakaways. Whoever gets the ball first is at a huge advantage.
The Futsal court, by contrast, is far more open. With no walls, it feels like a more traditional soccer experience, but its hardwood floors are reminiscent of the NBA. Having five players instead of three makes it easier to actually defend than in 3v3 Rush, but it still feels open-ended and exciting.
Volta mixes and matches these modes with different arenas, which are set across most of the major continents (but not Australia... poor Australia). In a clever touch, you can build your squad as you go, recruiting the best players from the teams that you beat, many of whom are actual player-created characters pulled from the cloud. With a wide variety of cosmetic options set to be released over the course of the year, Volta stands to have the sort of personality that has been sorely lacking in EA's sports games of late. My favorite addition: women can finally play on the same court as the men.
The variety afforded by Volta's multiple gameplay types, player recruitment, and locales will be crucial to its longevity. Where FUT is for the competitive players, and franchise mode is ostensibly for sim fans (yes, I'm aware of its various problems), Volta seems to be for fans seeking a change of pace from the usual FIFA experience. It's further bolstered by House Rules for local play, which let you set specific conditions like how many goals you want to play, as well as a full online Seasons mode similar to the one in FUT. Seasonal cosmetic items, objectives, and events add incentive to keep checking back.
It's all part of what is looking like a more robust entry than usual for the series. Just yesterday, EA revealed the first details about FIFA 20's career mode, which take advantage of Volta's character creation tools to expand the range of managers who can appear on the pitch. The updated career mode also changes up progression, introduces interactive press conferences, and appears to finally add to the number of storylines that play out across each season.
We're still a couple months away, and much depends on the rebalanced gameplay, but I'm feeling very positive about FIFA 20 right now. Where FIFA Street wasn't quite enough to fill out a separate retail release, Volta seems to have found a happy home in the main series, giving solo players a unique and fun experience with a ton of personality. If the online team nails the events and puts out some strong cosmetic items, it really does seem like the kind of mode that can stay strong over the course of an entire year.
It's been up and down generation for FIFA, with the transition to Frostbite in particular being a rocky one for the series. But with the introduction to Volta; big updates to the career mode, and more nuanced gameplay, FIFA 20 seems to be signaling a determination to finish the generation out on a high note.
FIFA 20 will out for everyone on September 27. As usual, it will be released in waves, with those who pre-order and own Early Access getting priority. You can find everything you need to know about FIFA 20's release date and gameplay changes right here.