Can FIFA 21 save Google Stadia or is it all too late?

Football is a sport that relies on pace, adaptation and vision, which is ironic when Google Stadia has been diminished by closing all of their internal game studios. An action in and of itself that wasn’t supposed to mark the death knell for the streaming service, but which seems like a neighbourly farewell as it travels down the River Stix. The sad fact is that perception of Stadia had started to improve, aided by the arrival of a working version of Cyberpunk 2077, and set to close the deal with EA’s catalogue of sports games. Instead, the arrival of FIFA 21 on Stadia feels more like the Johnstone Paint Trophy than the Champions League, and much like former Paint Trophy holders Chesterfield FC, it seems unlikely that anyone will really be paying attention.

FIFA is one of the games that actually makes sense of Stadia. Here is one of the biggest video games in the world, and for some it’s the only reason for having a PlayStation or Xbox sat underneath their TV. It is, for a number of people, as far as gaming goes; an extension of their favourite pastime that allows for a kickabout without getting off the couch. Thanks to the popularity of football in the UK it’s a foundational part of gaming here, and if you combined it with the latest Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto title, you’d have a service that meets the desires of a considerable chunk of gamers.

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FIFA on Stadia

For Stadia, a gaming service that’s never really aimed at full-time gamers, FIFA seems like a great fit. Its diminutive Chromecast Ultra dongle fits in with a clutter-free setup, and opens up the possibility of gaming to people who are interested in a few games of FIFA, but don’t feel strongly enough about it to buy a big new console box.

FIFA 21 continues to double-down on the strong design work that the teams at EA’s Vancouver and Bucharest studios have put in over the past few years, though as Pro Evo offers less and less in terms of competition, this year’s outing certainly feels like a group going through the motions. That’s not helped by the transition to the next generation, an event that’s stymied FIFA in much the same way as the latest Madden. Next year is likely to see more significant change, but when the formula is as solid as it already is, you wonder where they’re going to find the nips to tuck.

This is all fine if you’re a Stadia player. FIFA 21 is the only football game in town, and there’s no alternatives or previous editions to weigh a decision against. If you play games via Stadia and want to play football, this is it. You have to wonder if this will remain it. There’s a good chance it will be, but like a scrappy team that’s scraped its way into the Premier League, football on Stadia could be relegated back to obscurity all too soon.

This is a shame. Yes, I can feel your tumultuous laughter bouncing against the screens of your desktop or phone, but it is a shame. Options are never a bad thing, and Stadia’s technology gives you a bunch of options. You can play FIFA 21 on Stadia on pretty much any screen you own, from Android tablets and phones, through laptops, desktops and your main TV screen. It’s a system that benefits those that travel around a lot, or who want to nab a few stolen minutes of gaming, and in terms of most dedicated mobile games it blows them out of the water, with the full console versions of PUBG, Destiny 2 and NBA 2K21 all available any you’ve got a decent internet connection.

How does FIFA 21 perform on Stadia?

As we’ve seen elsewhere, Stadia continues to put in performance in line with the enhanced last gen consoles, with sharp, lifelike player models pulling off a convincing example of the beautiful game. The action itself takes place at a pleasingly smooth 60fps, and goes up to 4K resolution depending on your screens and your data caps. Compare it to the game running on PS4 Pro or Xbox One X and only an absolute FIFA afficionado will pick up on any difference here from those versions of the game, assuming your internet connection is up to scratch.

Presentation is top notch, with the admittedly repetitive commentary from Lee Dixon and Derek Rae still making the whole experience feel closer than ever to a real-life broadcast. That’s the overall sensation of playing FIFA 21 – it’s an effective outing that does an excellent job of putting you at the centre of the sporting action. It offers no real surprises, but then it will please an awful lot of people who probably already know that it’s for them.

The downside to FIFA 21 on Stadia

Those of you who have managed to secure a PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X will no doubt chortle at the fact that FIFA 21 on Stadia is only aiming to match the game on last-gen machines, but that’s not the biggest issue here.

The key downside to FIFA 21 on Stadia is that there’s no cross-play, meaning there’s a potential lack of people to play against. Perhaps if you’ve got a couple of football-loving mates you’d be interested in nabbing it at over 50% off the regular price during its launch promotion, but we’re possibly looking at a niche within a niche. There will be fewer people playing on Stadia than the other platforms, and that’s inescapable.

Maybe there’s an advantage to be found in the smaller community though. Racism and toxicity have become ever more prevalent in the online FIFA community, and it’s an aspect of the game that EA have promised to do more about. However, with Stadia’s smaller, and potentially less competitive community, perhaps the situation will be improved, offering an enclosed safe-haven for those who want to play online without harassment or negativity. Then again, given the recent pile-on of Andy Robinson by the Stadia community, maybe not.

FIFA 21 on Stadia still features all of the games key modes, including the fun/gambling of Ultimate Team, but it’s worth putting a lot of thought into who you want to play it with. It truly is the perfect match for Stadia, but it’s possible that it’s already arriving a few months too late to matter.

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Written by
TSA's Reviews Editor - a hoarder of headsets who regularly argues that the Sega Saturn was the best console ever released.

2 Comments

  1. FIFA’s netcode oftentimes means input lag and connection lag on the best of connections with a next gen console.

    Can’t imagine trying to stream the game on top of it, there’s no way you could play the game competitively on Stadia.

    I’d say it’d be just fine if you’re only interested in career mode, but that hasn’t been FIFA’s focus for pushing 10 years now

    • It’s not going to be the place for ‘competitive’ FIFA for a number of reasons – but in terms of control lag Stadia remains surprisingly playable throughout if you’ve got a good – ideally wired – internet connection.

      There are of course a lot of variables that you don’t really have to consider with a regular console, but then Stadia is an alternative offering, rather than a direct replacement. If you just want to play FIFA, then there’s a pretty low barrier to entry.

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