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Striker duo of Alexandra Popp and Erling Haaland: For the first time, there are mixed-gender teams in »Ultimate Team«

Photo: EA Sports

The new name still sounds strange. For around 30 years, the term "Fifa" stood in the gaming world for EA Sports' football game series, which shaped the genre like no other. As early as the nineties, football fans agreed to "play Fifa", which has become a catchphrase for football duels on PC, Playstation and Xbox. EA Sports left its once strong competitors such as Konami's "Pro Evolution Soccer" behind in the 2010s at the latest, also with the help of expensive but market-savvy licensing deals.

However, after at least the world football association Fifa and EA Sports did not come to an agreement in their negotiations, the latest part of the series is now released without the usual license of the association, which mainly affects the game title. It is now unwieldy "EA Sports FC 24". But fans of the series don't have to worry. Under the hood of the is also the classic "Fifa" this year. The game hasn't lost any of its atmosphere, depth or graphics, and apart from the World Cup, it's all there you would expect: 19,000 professionals, 700 clubs and 30 leagues. These include the top three German men's leagues and the Women's Bundesliga.

However, in its online game mode Ultimate Team, the heart of the series, EA Sports dares to experiment: The football simulation breaks down gender boundaries for the first time. This means that this time, in addition to Haaland, Mbappé and Co., the so-called packs, which can be used to get new professionals for your own fantasy teams in the style of Panini packages, also include the stars of the women's football world such as Oberdorf and Putellas.

If you – with a lot of luck – draw the right cards or negotiate them on the transfer market, you can now let Alexandra Popp strike alongside Erling Haaland. There is no noticeable gender difference in values in this fantasy football world: shooting power and sprint speed are comparable for women and men. Only the proportions of the bodies have been retained, as documented in our photo series, which also outlines the main innovations in »EA Sports FC 24«.

The way women's football has been integrated shows that EA Sports has not only tried to imitate reality this time around – it has reinvented the football circus for digital. It's a revolution that doesn't suit everyone, as unrealistic as "Ultimate Team" has always been in many ways. However, it is doubtful that EA Sports will ever turn back this wheel. The British version of »EA Sports FC 24« even goes one step further when it comes to the advancement of women: Sue Smith is the first professional footballer to be allowed to comment on the virtual game scenes.

Like robots on the soccer field

Something has also changed in other areas in the new version, although not always for the better. EA Sports has been praising the new movement system called Hypermotion V for months – but so far it gives the impression that the developer studio has dribbled with it. Thus, the controls in the new part seem more cumbersome. Compared to the filigree professionals from »Fifa 23«, the footballers in »Ultimate Team« now stalk across the pitch like rusty robots. During my test, I also repeatedly encountered graphics errors. In one game, for example, Karim Benzema suddenly disappeared and spent the rest of the game as an invisible ghost striker.

Basically, »EA Sports FC 24« plays similarly to »Fifa 23«. In some places, EA has at least made an effort to give the game a new coat of paint. These include, for example, the "Evolutions" feature, which appears in "Ultimate Team". In this variant of the game, it is necessary to complete certain tasks with a suitable professional, such as winning a game of a certain level of difficulty. If the objectives are achieved, the player card will be better. In this way, even bronze players can be transformed into gold strikers. This is a nice role-playing feature, at no extra cost.

However, EA Sports is sticking to its proven checkout model according to the motto "If you want more packs quickly, you should pay". The company earns more than four billion euros annually with additional purchases for its games – not even including the standard purchase price of 60 to 110 euros for the game itself. The pay-to-win concept in »Ultimate Team«, which makes it easier for rich players to put together strong teams, has unfortunately proven itself for the manufacturer: Some players spend hundreds or even thousands of euros annually on virtual professional packs, because unlocking new packs for free is rather tedious. Whoever finally draws Kylian Mbappé or Lionel Messi one day will have an advantage in online duels.

One game, two digital currencies

However, the chance of getting hold of such a top player via a pack is, as usual, meager. The more realistic way is to virtually trade other cards drawn, through which you can get coins for virtual bidding on someone else's Mbappé or Messi. With the »EA Sports FC Points« and the coins, »EA Sports FC 24« houses two digital currencies, one of which – the Points – can be bought with real money.

A sophisticated system is likely to encourage many players at »EA Sports FC 24« to invest more and more over the course of the season. The trick: The player cards start the season with moderate shot, pace and dribbling values, but new, stronger cards come later. So if you put together an expensive top team at the beginning, you will be left behind in terms of value a few weeks later. EA Sports also likes to press icons like David Beckham, Ronaldinho and Zinédine Zidane on new special cards that trump the previous ones.

This upward spiral twists and turns, which means that even absolute top players are pulverized by new special cards a few weeks later. Even the new "Evolutions" feature shouldn't change much about the fact that next summer completely overpowered 99 cards will probably be squandered again at low prices – because then the successor to "EA Sports FC 24" should be on the shelves. "Fifa" is history, but its card theatre continues.

»EA Sports FC 24«, released for ages 12 and up, for PC, Playstation 4 and 5, Xbox Series X/S and Xbox One as well as Nintendo Switch, about 70 euros