EA Sports has outlined all the new features for FIFA 21 on PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X and S.
In a presentation attended by Eurogamer, representatives from EA Sports revealed a raft of new mechanics for FIFA 21 next-gen, which is a free update for existing owners of FIFA 21 or a standalone $70 purchase due out 4th December. These features are not coming to the PC version of the game (here's EA's explanation for why).
On the visuals side, FIFA 21 next-gen runs at up to 4K resolution and 60 frames per second, and has deferred rendering and runtime lighting, which improves the realism of textures, including players. Some top players have new strand-based hair tech. Eurogamer was shown Liverpool keeper Alison with this tech enabled, and as he moved you could see individual hairs bounce about. It was a bit exaggerated, in the way video game hair tech tends to be.
FIFA 21 next-gen also has muscle deformation. We were shown Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba's leg in FIFA 21 current-gen versus FIFA 21 next-gen, and the difference in muscle definition was noticeable. It's hard to notice this during normal gameplay, when the camera is pulled back, but players will definitely notice it during replays.
"We were not able to implement these features before," FIFA producer Sam Rivera said. "This is something that the new consoles allow us to do because of the power of the cycles that they give us."
FIFA 21 next-gen also has ball compression. This tech shows the football compress as it's hit by the player, which adds a sense of weight to the ball, Rivera said.
"The ball is being contacted by the foot of the player, for longer," he said. "It used to be just one frame. In one frame the ball starts moving in the direction of the shot. But now as you will see here, it shows the ball stays longer with the foot, which means you feel that sense of weight on the ball, which creates a more authentic experience."
Moving on, FIFA 21 next-gen has a brand new camera angle, dubbed EA Sports Game Cam. This camera angle is slightly off-set compared to the default FIFA view, and looks a lot like the kind of angle you get watching a match on Sky Sports. EA Sports said this new view comes with a gameplay benefit, in that you see slightly more of the pitch.
Speaking of on the pitch, FIFA 21 next-gen has responsive multi-touch animations. What this means is players have animations that involve touching the ball multiple times, which in turn should improve responsiveness.
In the past, EA Sports prioritised short animations to give the player a responsive experience. The problem with short animations is that you lose some visual fidelity, as you don't get the beginning of an animation where you would see the player really getting into position to, for example, shoot.
Long animations look better, as it encapsulates the motion EA Sports captures from real humans. But, long animations can make the player feel like they're stuck in an animation for too long - and then they get tackled and the whole thing feels unresponsive.
On next-gen, EA Sports has added long animations that have multiple contact points. So, the player is contacting the ball more than once. If there's a need to transition into another animation because, say, the situation in the game has changed, FIFA 21 can make that transition because it's sampling every animation every frame. EA Sports players will notice this most when controlling a lofted pass on the chest, where the player touches the ball multiple times as they bring it under control.
FIFA 21 next-gen also has what's called off-the-ball humanisation, which is a fancy way of saying EA Sports has added animations for players to do when they're off the ball. Some of these are gestures. In a gameplay clip shown to press, we saw Liverpool forward Sadio Mane blow his nose off the ball. You'll also see the captain grab their armband, as they do in real life. You'll sometimes see players point into space, telling you where to pass the ball - perhaps back to a defender. You'll even see some players touch their hair or adjust their shin pads. Players will also move in a more relaxed fashion when they're farther from the ball and, related, foot planting has been improved to show more weight.
EA Sports also talked about big goal moments. This is extra visual and audio work when an important goal, such as a last minute winner, is scored. In that situation, you'll see exaggerated player expressions in a celebration. The manager may jump in, with even the ball boys popping off. The commentators will sound more excited, too.
Similarly, FIFA 21 next-gen has new pre-match cinematics that set the stage for the game. Here, commentators hype up games between rivals, or derby matches, or cup games. You might see the players arrive at the stadium, or see the players shake hands.
As you'd expect, FIFA 21 on next-gen loads faster - EA Sports talked about getting into a match from the main menu in a matter of seconds. The skill games you can play as a match is loading remain in the game - you can just quit out of them must faster than before. The PS5 version will let you jump straight into certain modes via the Activities feature, and as you'd expect it makes use of the DualSense controller, with player fatigue making the right trigger harder to press when you want to sprint.
It's worth pointing out that FIFA 21 does not have cross-gen play. PS5 players, for example, must play with and against other PS5 players, while PlayStation 4 players must play with and against PS4 players.
"Our games are deterministic," executive producer Aaron McHardy explained. "So if the two games on current-gen and next-gen are slightly different, they can't actually compete against one another. So we had to make a choice: whether we would allow compatibility across generations, or whether we would push the boundaries of what the new hardware offers us, with the gen five games. And we wanted to do that.
"And thus, we were able to bring all of those features that we just talked about - the deferred lighting, reimagined player bodies, player movement, all of the things that we talked about are possible because of the hardware of the console. But that means the game experience is different. And the two games cannot play against one another. So there won't be cross-play between gens."
However, you will be able to switch between the current-gen and next-gen versions of FIFA 21 and carry progress back and forth for the Volta and Ultimate Team modes. This means there are cross-gen transfer markets in FUT 21, and the top 200 for the Weekend League remains the same because you can make progress within it across generations.