A year ago, I wrote an article defending EA’s continued decision to hobble Nintendo Switch owners with rinse-and-repeat versions of its popular FIFA football simulation franchise.
I’ll freely admit that it wasn’t a watertight defence. But the intention was to argue that a lower-priced game that performs comfortably within the Switch’s limited power was surely better than nothing.
“It’s a sharp game that displays at a crisp 1080p and runs at 60fps. I’d rather that than a stuttering, fuzzy build of the PlayStation 4 version,” I said of FIFA 23 Legacy Edition last October.
FIFA’s gameplay was solid and it ran like a dream, which is not always a given on Nintendo’s console. Coupled with EA’s decision not to publish the franchise on Steam (and therefore Steam Deck), it was the only viable option if I wanted to play some portable footy. (Compared to FIFA Mobile, the Switch’s Legacy Edition games were minor works of art.)
After five years, EA has decided to give Switch owners a (mostly) feature-complete, Frostbite-powered version of the world’s favourite game. On paper, EA Sports FC 24 is exactly what fans have wanted, but does the end product meet expectations? Given my apologist past, I feel duty-bound to find out.
Before I strap on my boots, however, it’s worth considering why the Nintendo Switch is finally getting this upgrade. Since 2018, EA has been hesitant to offer anything more than a perfunctory kit and roster update. So what has changed?
EA’s hand has been forced to some extent, I think. With the abandonment of the official FIFA license, there’s a lot at stake. The success of the new EA Sports FC brand is crucial, and EA cannot afford any negative criticism around cost-cutting or missing features. Although the Switch may not be the most popular place for playing FIFA, it has a huge install base. And despite the console’s limitations, launching a new IP with significant feature differences across major platforms is not a great look. There’s also the inconvenient fact that you can’t have a “Legacy Edition” of something that’s supposed to be a fresh start.
It’s also possible that EA has one eye on the future. However modest the performance upgrade of the next-gen Switch may be, it will hopefully play better with the publisher’s proprietary Frostbite engine. There’s a sense that EA is laying the groundwork for games to come. Thankfully, first impressions are positive.
While bigger doesn’t automatically mean better, the game’s file size is the first indicator of change – EA Sports FC 24‘s 24GB install is twice the size of its predecessors. The menu screen shows why. A roster of options and modes that Nintendo Switch players have never seen before clearly shows this is the full-fat game EA promised. If we judge it purely on the back-of-the-box feature list, it’s a comfortable win.
It’s on the pitch that things get interesting, and where that quote from last year comes back to haunt me slightly.
It is clear that sacrifices were made to make the Frostbite-powered game work on Nintendo’s ageing hardware. Texture quality has understandably been reduced, but the most significant adjustment is the switch to 30 FPS gameplay compared to FIFA 23‘s 60 FPS.
When playing the game for the first time, the action naturally feels slower, but this isn’t solely due to the frame rate. The FIFA series on other consoles advanced gradually – but significantly – while the Switch versions were trapped in amber, with gameplay that leans more towards simulation than fast-paced arcade-like knockabouts.
After a period of adjustment, the frame rate becomes less of an issue than expected, especally while playing in handheld mode. Additionally, the resolution is a pleasant surprise, with a native 720p in handheld and 1080p when docked. So, although the on-field action runs at a reduced frame rate, it remains sharp and clear, unlike many other Switch ports.
The stress of the Frostbite transition is also evident in other areas. Pre-match press conferences are a stop-motion movie of buffering animations that pin managers askew with twisted wax-work expressions. And at the start of each match, crowds of supporters flicker in and out of existence as if trapped in a stadium-sized Star Trek transporter malfunction. Hopefully, a post-launch update – promised by EA – will address these niggles.
Despite these rough edges, Nintendo Switch owners have a lot to enjoy in EA Sports FC 24. The game offers full-featured player and manager career modes, as well as the Volta mode reminiscent of FIFA Street. Additionally, Ultimate Team has been upgraded from its pared-back Legacy outings. I suppose I should be disappointed that crossplay with other platforms isn’t supported, but the mode’s filthy monetisation practices have already led me to avoiding it altogether.
There are even a few Switch-specific treats to sample. Local Seasons mode – a genuine Legacy era highlight – returns, allowing wireless Switch-to Switch local play. And there’s the welcome option to enjoy versus matches using a single Joy-con per player. One unexpectedly fun new feature is the ability to zoom in on the action for five seconds by pinching the touch screen. In handheld mode, there is an undeniable thrill from triggering a well-timed close-up on a goal-mouth scramble.
Improvements and compromises considered, EA Sports FC 24 is a significant upgrade on what’s come before. But it’s hard to shake the feeling it’s an upgrade that should have arrived much earlier, not towards the end of the Switch’s life, and only when practically forced by that FIFA franchising furore.
Because of this, I’m not sure EA deserve a huge amount of credit. EA Sports FC 24 is great and I’m pleased it exists, but it’s an open goal that should have been scored long ago.