FIFA 21 REVIEW: The revamped career mode and nostalgic FIFA street are an instant hit

And so begins another football season and another installment in the incredibly successful FIFA franchise hits store shelves.

In what is a turbulent, unpredictable and worrying year for the world at large and the footballing landscape, the return of a shiny new FIFA is just that little bit more welcoming. That’s a little more reassuring.

First, is this the kind of game you can pick up and not realize the hours are ticking by? Absolutely.

A new football season and a new FIFA as the hugely popular franchise makes its annual return

Kylian Mbappe is FIFA 21's poster boy and one of the top rated players in the game

Kylian Mbappe is FIFA 21’s poster boy and one of the top rated players in the game

But wasn’t most FIFA football games like that?

Die-hard fans of will be as hooked on the latest offering as it was on its predecessors, but it’s the beauty in the details that we really care about.

So is FIFA 21 different? And how much?

To release it early: players expecting glaring changes to the game system and the way FIFA flows will be disappointed.

Instead, you can see nuanced tweaks sewn into the existing skeleton of the soccer machine. Passing is smoother, players are more responsive, and in general it feels like the game transitions into one another in a much friendlier way.

Subtle details can be seen in gameplay while stadiums are recreated in stunning fashion

Subtle details can be seen in gameplay while stadiums are recreated in stunning fashion

FIFA designed realism across the board, with Anfield's exterior seen here

FIFA designed realism across the board, with Anfield’s exterior seen here

But those are the little things you feel after you get used to the new product. In terms of immediate first impressions, everything feels pretty much the same as it did 12 months ago.

There is indeed a lot to like. A well-crafted build-up is rewarded with great goals that feel like they’re being streamed straight from the live action. Realism comes into its own in FIFA 21, but there are still distracting elements.

Perhaps, unlike me, your FIFA skill level will quickly iron out any teething troubles, although it feels like the game’s rigid defense system is a lot more taxing than it has been in years past. Chunky, almost.

Holy patience must be maintained as the game’s figurehead, Kylian Mbappe – now rated a 90 overall – charges blindingly towards your defensive line. It’s certainly a baptism of fire, dive in and you’re done.

Still, the game feels very much like a learning curve. Being humbled once allows the user to quickly realize they need to push players back while also bringing support into play. Fans will be pleased to know that speed attributes are back with a bang this time, truly putting speed demons in a league of their own.

FIFA has tried so hard in recent years to level the playing field in terms of pace, almost to the point where it has become redundant. Now, fortunately, it’s fine-tuned and just right. A new Agile Dribbling feature will also wow the crowds, with the trigger buttons on each console becoming your new best friend, causing plenty of body roll and false spins.

Passing the game is smoother, while dribbling has been revamped and pace is key again

Passing the game is smoother, while dribbling has been revamped and pace is key again

Liverpool's title-winning season sees them as one of the top-rated teams in the game

Liverpool’s title-winning season sees them as one of the top-rated teams in the game

Player selection is now crucial and those who fail to pay dues to the forwards they face may find themselves on the sore end of humiliation.

Passing repertoire remains high throughout, with the welcome continuation of reactive surfaces and weather conditions affecting the ball. Walk into a tumultuous autumn Premier League game and you’ll soon know all about it.

One outstanding feature is the career mode. Some people love it, some hate it. In any case, the exaggerated criticism leveled at this medium by FIFA last year has been addressed.

This time we find a much more polished offering that includes a Football Manager-style interactive game simulation that allows you to switch between the standard FIFA game view and the new Sim view at will.

It may be long overdue, but it was definitely needed. The much-loved transfer window has also been tightened, with negotiations feeling a lot less robotic for players and in line with the club’s financial and competitive status.

FIFA has responded to criticism of Career Mode and added Football Manager features

FIFA has responded to criticism of Career Mode and added Football Manager features

If you don’t get lost in career mode, “Volta” street football offers a complete palate cleansing. After its introduction in FIFA 20, Volta has been chiseled and the good things have been improved while the bad things are… well, gone.

The mode offers a nostalgic throwback to the days of FIFA Street and offers a variety of options to play the small side games with the biggest names in the world.

Improved changes to the system include VOLTA Squads, Featured Battles, new match types, The Debut and VOLTA Kick-Off.

But for the masters of online discipline who head straight to Pro Clubs and FUT, the main theme is steady progression. New features include FUT Events, Live FUT Friendlies, FUT Stadium and One FUT Club which offer refreshed options.

“Volta” street football brings a dose of nostalgia from the days of FIFA Street

Users can choose locations around the world to play short-sided games with the superstars

Users can choose locations around the world to play short-sided games with the superstars

The same thrills and treats continue, and the ongoing treasure hunt to grab a Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo or Mbappe remains as rare as ever, although of course the excitement is always in the quest.

All in all, while it won’t go without criticism, FIFA delivers and promises a new set of excitement for devoted fans to take with them into the next year and beyond. With additional subtle details trickling out at random intervals, there’s little danger that the new offering will start to feel dated anytime soon.

And last but not least, the sight of stadiums full of enthusiastic fans fills our hearts and leaves us longing for a return to normality.