There's a lot to Volta, FIFA 20's new street soccer mode. Rather than a one-off sideshow to the main game, it's actually multiple offline and online game styles and a full story campaign, rolled into a cohesive and enjoyable package.
Off the bat, there are three main game styles, which will be familiar to anyone that's kicked a ball around with friends. You can play with rush keepers (a term for having no defined goalkeeper) in teams of three or four. This style has tiny goals and barely any rules apart from quick free kicks for blatant fouls. Then there's street with keepers, which uses larger futsal goals and dedicated keepers, but is similarly light on rules. The last style is futsal, which plays as you'd expect if you've ever watched it: Five-a-side with keepers, kick-ons and corners, on-the-fly substitutions, accumulated fouls leading to penalties and an actual referee who will dish out yellow and red cards. All of the modes ditch the stamina, fatigue and injury systems of the regular game.
Within those game styles, though, is a variety of options. The biggest changes you can make are to the arena you're playing in: There are three pitch sizes to choose from, a variety of playing surfaces and the option to turn walls off or on. I didn't get to try all of the dozens of available combinations in my brief session, but I played enough to know that I'm going to love Volta.
I had the most fun playing three-on-three rush keepers in the smaller, walled arenas. In a typical FIFA game, my flair level is more Burnley than Brazil, but within 20 minutes or so I was starting to get the hang of the subtleties of Volta. You can get some of the way with FIFA fundamentals -- tight passing, drawing players out of position, through balls and the like -- but as the difficulty ramps up, your priorities will start to shift. There's an emphasis on tight control, flair and using your environment to play your way into the opponent's goal.
There are a lot of pre-programmed flair moves at your disposal, but I found myself more often using standard FIFA passing in new ways. For example, in one game my avatar was trapped in his own corner with a defender on his back, so I had him play a pass off the wall in front of him, turn the defender and grab the loose ball before playing a simple pass to his teammate, who then lobbed the ball forward, bouncing it off the wall above the goal for my avatar to tap into the net. This whole attack took five seconds or so, and resulted in one of the five goals I needed to win the match.
In a typical game of FIFA, you have moments of brilliance where you leave an opponent for dead, earning something worth more in that moment than any goal. Volta is a constant string of those moments. It's faster and more fluid that FIFA Street ever was, and first-to-five matches can feasibly last less than a minute, although at world-class difficulty mine typically lasted three or four.
As you'd expect, you can hop into a standard single- or multi-player Volta match from the menu, with your team composed of established players from the FIFA roster. There's also Volta Tour, in which you play against the computer controlling other real players' teams, and Volta League, which works a lot like Online Seasons in regular FIFA. The big draw, though, is Volta Story.
Volta Story is, as the name suggests, a story mode that takes the place of The Journey trilogy, which ended with FIFA 19. Rather than giving you a prebuilt Alex-Hunter-style character, Volta lets you design your own avatar. You can pick from male and female gender options, and there are a bunch of customization options after that. The resulting characters won't look out of place standing next to the 3D-scanned Premier League or La Liga stars you'll find elsewhere in the game.
The story begins with your avatar joining a street soccer crew, filled with what seem like fairly one-dimensional characters. Perhaps they'll be more fleshed out further down the line, but those I met can roughly be described as "friendly veteran," "inexplicably nasty villain," "clout chaser" and "stock background character." Either way, shortly after I met everyone, there was some contrived drama that resulted in most of them abandoning the crew, leaving my avatar and the clout chaser to go it alone in an upcoming tournament.
The story mode covers all of the various game and pitch styles of Volta, and every match you compete in levels up your character's attributes. There's even an RPG-style skill tree, which has you working toward expertise in one area -- i.e., finishing or dribbling -- or becoming more of a generalist.
After beating a team, you're able to recruit one of their players to your crew, and build out your squad in whatever direction you want. Over time, you'll be able to recruit actual street soccer stars to join you. Volta also borrows one of the more interesting mechanics of the wildly successful FIFA Ultimate Team -- chemistry between players -- and integrates that into squad building.
Although the story didn't really go anywhere in the first hour -- the closest it got to saying anything basically boiled down to "sexism is bad" -- the nature of the street game does make the rivalries, trash talking and general drama feel more natural than it did in The Journey. The presentation is also fun and more dynamic than in vanilla FIFA. One nice flourish was seeing my celebratory wall flip rendered as vertical video on a spectator's phone, rather than just captured by broadcast-style cameras.
Volta Story, then, is a blend of FIFA Street, The Journey and FUT. That's quite the balancing act, and I can't say how well EA has pulled it off after one brief session. Seeing the developers try something different with their historically incremental series, though, is refreshing.
There's a bit of an ongoing joke with EA's long-running franchises, where the company always claims the latest iteration is "the best ever." This time that strikes true. With the expected tweaks to regular gameplay, the long-overdue career mode changes and this new street soccer mode, FIFA 20 feels like a huge upgrade over 19. In fact, if Volta had been presented to me as a standalone game, I'd probably be pre-ordering it now. As a "free" addition to the game I and so many others buy every year anyway, it's difficult to see fans not loving it.