Hands On With FIFA 21 On PS5 — It Really Is A Whole New Ballgame

The PS5’s DualSense controller creates a FIFA experience unlike any other.

Liverpool’s midfield was ragged. We’d been high pressing all game and as the second half wore on, it became harder and harder to convince the Reds to jockey an attacker, let alone make a 10-yard sprint. And I do mean physically harder. Soon, PSG’s fresh subs were streaming past their markers and a two-goal lead evaporated in a 2-2 draw. I learned firsthand how PlayStation 5’s new DualSense controller is changing the game in FIFA 21.

Loading up a new FIFA game is an annual ritual shared by countless footy fans. Usually, EA throws you right into a match as soon as you boot up to throw some new features at you and show off some fancy new graphics. I’ve already played plenty of FIFA 21 on PS4 — maybe too much — so I wasn’t expecting much when I installed the PS5 version, which launched two days earlier than the scheduled Dec. 4 launch date. 

I was wrong. 

The new controller changes everything. I just hope people don’t just turn the new features off to stay competitive.

I’m one of the lucky ones who managed to snag a PlayStation 5 (I actually bagged two, but one went to a lucky 11-year-old whose aunt is shacked up with the right guy), and I played the PS4 version of FIFA 21 on the PS5 for a couple days before EA dropped the PS5 version (the upgrade is free) on Wednesday. I don’t know if I’ll be able to go back to the PS4 version after feeling what can be done with the DualSense controller on the PS5 version, even if it’ll be hard to find online opponents on PS5.

Playing FIFA 21 on PS4 with the PS5’s DualSense controller is far superior to the old DualShock 4, with more subtle vibrations and more precise button presses. The PS5 version of the game takes things to a whole new level.

As we discussed recently, EA Sports planned to make the PS5 upgrade to FIFA 21 more than just a simple port. After playing a few matches, here are a few thoughts on FIFA 21 PS5 for those of you patiently waiting for a chance to score your own PS5.  

The first thing I noticed when booting up the PS5 version of FIFA 21 is a new intro when you first load the game. Instead of just jumping into a match, you jump into the head and heart of a young girl who is a mascot ahead of a Champions League semifinal between Liverpool and PSG at Anfield. 

FIFA 21 PS5 Review

TAA completely oblivious to the adulation of his young mascot.

With her Scouse accent, she talks about the joy of seeing these players up close and really sets the stage for what is about to unfold.

After showing players exiting the bus and making their way into the locker rooms, the scene shifts to a rocking Anfield as players take the pitch. The graphics, of course, are gorgeous and lifelike, with the exception of the dead look in Ángel Di María’s eyes. 

FIFA 21 PS5 Review

Never change, FIFA. Never change. (And yes, this was from a different match.)

Once the match kicks off your hands immediately realize this isn’t your older brother’s FIFA. With the incredible sensitivity of the DualSense controller, you feel everything, whether it’s taking a step forward, kicking a ball or clattering into a challenge.

I played Astro’s Playroom, the pre-installed tech demo/game that shows off the new PS5 controller, so I knew what it was capable of, but the way the controller vibrated almost in unison with the crowd at Anfield is something that is hard to fully appreciate without feeling it for yourself.

FIFA 21 PS5 Review

Bobby Firmino and VVD scored early as Anfield was roaring, but PSG came back late.

There is, of course, a give and take to all this. 

As your players tire, the trigger buttons used to sprint become harder to press — the PS5 controller can create varied levels of resistance on the triggers. Attackers struggle to get forward to chase long balls, midfielders can’t quite get to passes sent a foot away from them and defenders lazily lunge in and commit fouls. Bring on a substitute and their fresh legs remind you of how easy it was to move around at the start of the match. It adds so much to the realism, for a while. 

In my first match with these enhanced vibrations, I noticed my controller clicking and whirring for the first time. Because you’re quickly changing players, from tired starters to fresh subs, the controller has to rapidly switch resistances, and you can hear the controller physically making those adjustments. It takes you out of the game a bit.

After playing the initial game I hopped into FUT to see my data had been seamlessly transferred over. (Only FUT and VOLTA modes will transfer data; sorry, Career Mode and Pro Clubs fans.) I played a Squad Battle and was stunned at how quickly the match loaded. After decades of playing FIFA, I’m used to starting a match and then putting my controller down to check my phone or something as the game loads. This time as soon as I set my controller down the game was ready to kickoff.

Additionally, menu lag all but disappears on the PS5 (this was also evident in the PS4 version), though there is still a slight pause whenever substitutions are made in game. 

I then tried out a Champions League final (this time I was PSG) against Manchester City and the surrounding visual spectacle of the event was on full display on PS5, but it wasn’t anything too spectacular (and Man City failed to put up a fight, losing 7-1). 

FIFA 21 PS5 Review

A sign of things to come this season?

Online multiplayer was a different story. 

I hopped into a quick Online Seasons game that did not go well. I played probably 100 online matches on the PS4 version of FIFA 21, never experiencing any lag whatsoever. This match, however, saw multiple moments where the action just stopped for a half second. Perhaps this was because there are few folks who have a PS5 right now, meaning I may have been matched up with someone far away, but it was jarring to experience. 

It didn’t help that I lost as Arsenal to Borussia Dortmund 3-1. It made me wonder: Was my opponent using the same enhanced vibrations and increased resistance on the PS5 controller as I was? Or did this person turn off those features to increase competitiveness? 

This is my biggest concern with FIFA 21 PS5's best feature. I love how the controller adds to the feel of the game, but if I’m playing online in a competitive manner, whether it’s FUT or Online Seasons, I want to give myself the best chance to win. Having to press even slightly harder to make Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang sprint only decreases my chances of being competitive. 

It would be nice if EA Sports forced players to use the same controls, but at the highest level this could become a problem, as those who play on the Xbox Series X/S won’t have any experience using such a novel controller. (The new Xbox controller doesn’t have any of the bells and whistles seen on the DualSense.) Fortunately, it is hard to turn off these features, as you have change the controller settings at the system level across all games, not within FIFA itself.

FIFA 21 PS5 Review

Kevin's looking fresh but Sergio forgot his tie.

I was ready to not be impressed by the FIFA 21 PS5 version. While not much has changed in terms of graphics and on-the-field gameplay, speedier menus and load times combined with the realism of the DualSense vibrations and resistances make this a FIFA experience unlike any other. Sadly, I fear I may turn this feature off to stay competitive.

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