FIFA returns to the pitch for another play at greatness, but does it make the cut?
The FIFA series is a bit like the iPhone. They bring a new one out every year and, no matter how many detractors they may have, they’ll always sell in the millions. And why not? The iPhone is a world-class piece of tech. FIFA is a world-class football simulation. The developers want steady, sustainable growth of a winning formula, although with FIFA 16, this can lead to a feeling of playing it safe when the cracks start to show.
The FIFA series may not make a lot of giant leaps from year to year, but the incremental gameplay improvements are a big part of what justifies each new purchase. Offensive play in particular feels a lot more responsive and free-form this year. No-touch dribbling lets you bamboozle defenders like a pro. Meanwhile, volleying, weaving and crossing all feel tighter and more robust. Overall, there’s a greater sense of weight and significance to movement that heightens the drama and definitely improves playability.
Here Come the Girls
The introduction of women’s football makes these subtle refinements even more distinctive. You won’t see as much aggressiveness or weight being thrown into their attack and defence, but the result is that the nimble, fast-thinking player is rewarded as opposed to the brute force button-masher. It’s a missed opportunity that the women’s teams are relegated to just offline tournaments and online matches, and can only compete against each other, but the foundation is there to be built on down the road.
Marching to Realism
FIFA 16 represents another play at all-out realism. The stadiums are richly detailed, from the way they’re lit right down to the layout of fans and seats. The authenticity is palpable when all the gameplay systems gel with the TV-broadcaster presentation. But issues arise when old problems with the gameplay rear their ugly heads. Defending mechanics still lag behind the more responsive attacking play, leaving defenders on the back foot most of the time and leading to the traditional dose of frustration.
Lionel Messi’s excellent characterisation once more provides a benchmark for the game’s improvement this year.
The AI is a lot more stable than last year’s botched effort in this department. Goalies have eagle eyes that make every goal feel hard-won. Your teammates feel like genuine players making runs alongside you, particularly in the slow-burning midfield game. That being said, there are still occasions where they don’t take advantage of obvious openings (sound familiar!), which in turn can force players to run the ball down the wing by themselves and generally fall back on brute force tactics.
EA is sticking to their guns with FIFA Ultimate Team, a self-contained game mode that lets players draft and manage their own dream teams. The new FUT Draft feature sees players assign custom teams to one of five formations, and match them off in four-round tournaments.
It’s pretty watered-down compared with the tactical depth on offer in the Football Manager series, but it does have a certain Top Trumps novelty factor, which unfortunately wears off fast. The problem is that players are incentivised by micro-transactions and collector’s compulsion, rather than sound strategic thinking. The revamped presentation of the whole affair doesn’t make it any less soulless.
Still “The Beautiful Game”
FIFA 16 is at its best when both teams are fighting for every inch of ground, the weight of players colliding against one another; a perfectly timed deception giving a moment’s opportunity to set up an intensely satisfying goal. That’s the FIFA we love.
This year’s game is still a technical accomplishment given the many refinements and visual upgrades, and one of the better instalments of the past few years. The inclusion of women’s football may also give daughters a new reason to join in with boys’ playtime, and the couch multiplayer is still very much an event for the whole family.
The scent of commercialism and other less savoury aspects of modern football hasn’t quite been lost, but this is still a simulation with tons of depth and plenty of replay value.