RIYADH: “EA FC 24” is the new name for EA Sports’ dominant football game. Once known as “FIFA,” the series developer and publisher recently split with world football’s governing body.
The move has ushered in a new era for fans who may be pleased to know that the on-pitch action is slicker while still providing a roller coaster of emotion, similar to the real thing.
One of the reasons EA Sports ended its 30-year association with FIFA was to explore new opportunities and partnerships that were once a conflict of interest.
The first instalment feels like a familiar pair of football boots – a safe addition with which players will instantly feel comfortable.
Dramatic changes are likely being kept in the locker room for future editions, as development is tight on annually released video games. So, what, if any, changes have appeared for the teams in the Saudi Pro League?
All 18 SPL teams from the current 2023-24 season are included in “EA FC 24.” From title holders Al-Ittihad to newly promoted Al-Riyadh and all those in between.
The sudden influx of international stars that gave transfer expert Fabrizio Romano sleepless nights is up to date. The likes of Sadio Mane (Al-Nassr), Neymar (Al-Hilal), and Karim Benzema (Al-Ittihad) line up for their new sides and, in doing so, lift the overall star rating and playability of each side.
So, fans of the clubs that made big moves in the summer can play as their favorite team online without fear of being hammered each time.
It is also great to see the Roshn Saudi League idents for the TV-style coverage before, during, and after the games, creating another layer of authenticity.
Saudi football fans may also be pleased to note that many more people use SPL teams online this year. By setting the Seasons or Co-Op settings to fit a favorite club, a similar match-up can quickly be found.
Previously, in “FIFA,” players could sit in an online lobby for what felt like hours and would rarely find an equal matchup for Damac or similar. Opening up the restrictions would inevitably lead to one-sided games against Manchester City, PSG, and Real Madrid on repeat.
There is also a big matchday feel to local derbies, too. EA Sports has added a little more drama to the likes of Al-Nasser versus Al-Hilal with more background on the long-lasting rivalry that comes through the pre-game presentation and in-game commentary.
There are only two official stadiums from the SPL in “EA FC 24” — the faithfully recreated King Abdullah Sports City and King Fahd Stadium.
The eagle-eyed will notice these are the same stadia featured in last year’s “FIFA 23.”
Although fans may be disappointed, the approach is not limited to the Saudi teams.
For example, the Dutch Eredivisie only has Ajax and PSV, and Portugal’s Liga comes with FC Porto and Benfica official stadiums. Lionel Messi’s Inter Miami stadium is not even in the game.
Inside the stadiums, as the cameras pan the crowds or pitchside crew and security, there is not much Arab representation. In fact, players will not find any traditional dress anywhere in the grounds. It may seem like a minor issue for a sports game, but it matters.
The game currently uses the same animated crowd as it does in every other stadium and switches the football shirts to match.
You can forgive EA Sports for using the likenesses of the licensed commentary and pundit teams they use in the game’s EA TV presentation, such as Stewart Robson and Derek Rae. But finding a fan in the stadium sporting a thobe or abaya is currently impossible and feels like a missed opportunity.
Stadium chants are also off-target. When Cristiano Ronaldo scores for Al-Nassr, the home crowd erupts into a baffling rendition of Manchester United fans’ “Viva Ronaldo.”
The development of “EA FC 24” probably did not leave much time for EA Sports to capture the atmosphere, but hopefully things will be more accurate for the Saudi matchday feel next season.
Lastly, “EA FC 24” does not have all the official kits. Again, this is not an issue solely aimed at the SPL, as other league teams can be seen playing in off-brand outfits. But users are unlikely to be happy if they were looking forward to playing with Al-Okhdood in their licensed shirts.
It is a bit of a mixed bag regarding SPL representation in “EA FC 24.”
It is great to see the teams have been given a statistics boost to reflect the 2023 summer transfers, and playing with them online is fun and a break from using the usual suspects.
EA Sports will build on the entire experience for next season. The explosion of the SPL popularity likely caught them off guard, as it did with most, which is why it currently feels slightly odd. But with the world’s gaze fixed on the league, it is hard to ignore it now.
More than anything, it would be nice to see some distinctive Arab representation around “EA FC 25.”