Things are changing in the world for football gaming. After thirty years, EA and FIFA are finally going their separate ways after the two factions failed to settle on a deal to cement their ongoing collaboration.
While there’s something undeniably bittersweet about this football media institution coming to an end, it could well signal a new beginning. EA will continue to build on their stellar work going forward, albeit without an official licence, in the form of their upcoming EA Sports FC series.
And with developers ranging from Konami to 2K Games tipped to assume the FIFA mantle, we could be at the outset of a new golden age of soccer sims.
In light of this, we’re casting an eye back on some of the greatest football games released right up to the present day – each innovated and delivered something unique and captivating for the football public to enjoy between match days, and each continues to enjoy a strong following in 2023.
Pro Evolution Soccer (The Early Years)
In recent years, EA’s officially sanctioned FIFA game series has been the final word in football titles, but this was not always the case. During its heyday, Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer gave FIFA more than a run for its money, with many finding their preferred the gameplay it offered when compared to the ‘official’ football series.
While FIFA always managed to thread the needle between realism and arcade fun, making it an accessible and entertaining game for all players, PES was for the purists.
Konami’s commitment to creating a more realistic, sophisticated and deep game won over a generation of hardcore gamers. This is all the more impressive when one recalls that PES had to make do without any licensed players, teams or leagues.
PES eventually declined over the years, with many citing its 2002-2005 entries as the high water mark. PES’ successor, eFootball, has thus far struggled to hold a candle to it – though with a growing number of licensed players and leagues signing up to the project, there’s hope for the future – especially in the post EA x FIFA era.
While console capers exert an outsized influence on our top rankings here, there are many compelling footie titles to explore outside of their purview. And this is good news, given that not all fans are necessarily looking for a dyed in the wool soccer sim.
Those that prefer a different pace will find plenty to explore in the world of mobile and browser-based titles.
Take Play N’ Go’s critically acclaimed golden goal slot as a shining example – this single payline, three reel title combines the boundless entertainment of the one-armed bandit genre with all the prestige and adulation of The Beautiful Game. With a generous return-to-player percentage of 94.12%, those keeping their eye out for the coveted golden football symbol will find fun and value in equal measure with this title.
While our decision to place the latest FIFA in this list probably has as much to do with recency bias and nostalgia as its objective merits, there’s no escaping the fact that EA’s swansong as torch-bearer for the FIFA franchise hits all the right notes.
Not only is this a World Cup-year FIFA title, which always brings the biggest and best the series has come to be known for over the years, but EA has pulled out all the stops to ensure this is one to remember.
Yes, the microtransactions continue to skew the purity of the experience, and goalscoring still overrides all other aspects of gameplay, but this title has continued to refine a winning formula.
There’s also no escaping the fact that it’s easily the best looking football game we’ve ever seen, taking the horsepower of its next generation platform and running with it.
A final touch that will be well received by the FIFA faithful is the game’s World Cup Mode soundtrack, which brings together all the greatest hits from the past 30 years of the franchise.