FIFA 16 Review (PS4)
FIFA is a game that divides the community like no other. On one hand there’s the online crowd, partly comprised of Ultimate Team fans who prefer a quicker pace and in general, more open gameplay. On the other, there is the offline simulation bunch who like to slow things down (whether it be through changing gameplay sliders or the speed of the game) and play primarily vs the CPU in Career Mode. While there are some who can navigate between both worlds, it’s clear that the two groups have separate ideas of what direction FIFA should take. If early indications are true, it looks like EA has listened to and catered the game to the simulation crowd.
FIFA 15 was a game that received initial critical success. There were notable improvements (foul system & presentation) from EA’s first Next-Gen soccer offering, FIFA 14. However, once the dust settled and the initial euphoria wore off, the game proved to be horribly unbalanced making defense painful, containing a stale Career Mode riddled with legacy issues (Youth Academy & Winter Gear bugs, lack of transfers, and lack of variety in CPU teams), while also suffering from inconsistent goalkeepers despite EA’s “Next Gen Goalkeeper” feature. Thankfully, the team over at EA Canada have listened to feedback and have turned it into the best game of the series to-date in FIFA 16.
FIFA’s tagline this year of “Play Beautiful” is little bit of a misnomer. While you’re still capable of pulling-off the spectacular, the game has been injected with a dosage of realism and balance. The speed and pace of the game has been slowed down allowing for more midfield battles and less end-to-end action. Players have a sense of weight allowing for more human-like reactions when it comes to player locomotion. Turns, acceleration bursts and movement in general is dependent upon a multitude of variables. Player stats, first-touch, quality of the pass received, and body position (of both the offense and defender) will determine what animation plays out and how successful you will be in gaining the advantage. If you thought FIFA 15 had countless animations, you will be in for a real treat with this year’s version as some of them are just breathtaking. With an increased level of physicality attributed mostly to the refinement of the Ignite Engine, players no longer act like rag-dolls when colliding. When coupled with a foul system that gets it right the majority of the time, the gameplay can be quite organic and unpredictable.
Defending in FIFA 15 was easily the game’s weakest area. Due to the dreaded jogging animation, incredibly agile dribblers, and curious positioning by your backline, playing defense in 15 literally felt like you were on the back-foot. With FIFA 16, that is certainly not the case. The headline feature regarding defending is “Confidence in Defending” and it’s an incredibly accurate one. I was initially worried when EA released their video touting “Defensive Agility” as it appeared to ignore basic human physics but seeing and feeling how it works in action feels right. You’re now able to keep up with some, not all, of the game’s most adept dribbler’s thanks in part to these changes in locomotion and mobility. Hips swivel freely as you can now track runs and close down on defenders with swing-steps. Whereas this is great when defending 1v1 it’s the “Defend as a Unit” that gives me the most satisfaction (especially as a Chelsea supporter). The activity levels of your defense have been magnified ten-fold as your CPU teammates play passing lanes, cover gaps and track back on defense. Although the individual ratings don’t show it, it feels as if player awareness has received a huge boost. Breaking up attacks never felt so rewarding even if it means that you have to put in the tackle yourself as for some reason Tactical Defending still lacks a “Teammate Pressure” button. One area in which FIFA 15 nailed was fouls and so far my experience with FIFA 16 has produced mixed results as some matches will see aggressive pressure applied by the CPU (especially in the Barclays Premier League) resulting in a lot of fouls while others will produce maybe 2 fouls all match (Default World Class – 10 min halves). A deeper dive into the tactics, instructions and mentalities of players and teams might lead to the root of this issue. But as of right now fouls by the CPU are a bit on the low side. I am happy to say that handballs, broken in FIFA 15, work now.
Keepers have also been improved this as they now protect their front-post much better, come off their line quicker, and command their box with authority on crosses. They will still make the occasional howler (something not uncommon to real life keepers) but some of the new punch animations look so life-like it’s scary. I’ve seen two-handed punches by keepers who were interfered with called fouls and the occasional nasty blow being delivered to the head of a player resulting in them staying down with an injury (no concussions yet, but they can injure their shoulder if they land on it). Now that we’ve looked at the defense let’s head over to the offensive side of things.
As mentioned earlier, attacking was overpowered in FIFA 15. Player agility was skewed towards the offense allowing for attackers to jink their way around defenders and into the opponents final third with ease and regularity. With defense tuned to provide more balance, more build-up play is required in FIFA 16. “Passing with Purpose” is the catchphrase EA crafted and it’s 100 percent accurate. As referenced earlier, defender awareness has been ratcheted up forcing you to really think about your pass before playing it. Thankfully, your AI teammates will create lanes and show for you, usually giving you a safer option. If you are more of a risk-taker or someone who likes to play on the counter, the new driven pass (X & R1/A & RB) is a way to ping low incisive passes. These passes do come with the added risk of being harder to control as you’ll often see the pass recipient struggle with their first touch. I have to say that this by far my least favorite new feature. In playing vs the CPU you will often see them spam these passes frequently throughout the match. They also struggle with the concept of when to use them as they will occasionally fire one back to the keeper or to a teammate only yards away. Hopefully EA will tune the game to turn down the frequency in which these passes are used as in real life you might only see a few of these per match. Another niggle with passing is that passing percentages are little too high on default settings even if defenders are more active. Thankfully this can be remedied offline with sliders. I have personally experienced matches against English League 2 sides where I have seen passing percentages in the nineties, although this could be skewed by a smarter AI who play less risky passes. Crossing has also been improved as you can now whip the ball into the box with swerve to meet your player’s runs. Headers seem to be slightly overpowered in the sense that you can generate a lot of power from standstill jumps.
With more error in passing, the emphasis on dribbling is more important than ever. FIFA 15 introduced a new-found sense of freedom when dribbling as the ball was no longer glued to your feet. FIFA 16 has taken that approach and expanded upon it with “No Touch Dribbling.” With this new feature you can allow the ball to roll, feint and create the separation you need to beat your man. The CPU also uses this feature, to mixed results, as they employ a variety of dribbling moves in an attempt to beat you, a sign that they are becoming much more human. Many demo users complained of a “catch-up bug” where defenders would disregard speed ratings and catch up to attackers. At first this appeared to the case, but after becoming more familiar with the new dribbling mechanics I was able to vary my dribble (with the use of the R-Stick to tap the ball ahead) distances as well as put my body in front of the defender to ensure that if they wanted the ball they would have to go through me thus creating a foul.
Shooting hasn’t undergone any significant changes as far as I can tell. Body position, timing, and player attributes all play their part. If I had to pick any area of concern with shooting, I’d say that manual shooting lacks some oomph. However, this can be remedied offline with sliders. A few years ago one of the major complaints with FIFA was goal variety. Too often it seemed like you would see the same goals over and over again; the dreaded 2-on-1 tap-in or even worse, the angle finesse shot into the upper right/left-hand corner. Much to my delight, the goal variety FIFA 16 offers is as dynamic as ever. Volleys, chips, tap-ins, headers, own-goals, scrambles in the box, long-range blasts and perfectly curled shots all grace my console’s saved highlights. One area of concern that could use an upgrade is shooting from range by the CPU, specifically, frequency. Only certain players (mostly notable players with shooting traits) seem audacious enough to attempt efforts from outside the box.
The abundance of game Game Modes in FIFA 16 is another strength of the series. Career Mode, Ultimate Team, Skill Games, Co-Op seasons, and many more all return. Notable key additions are the use of Women’s National Team's and the FIFA Ultimate Team Draft.
A staple of offline simulation fans, Career Mode returns with a few marquee additions and some much needed refinement. The first thing you will notice when starting a Career Mode is the presence of Pre-Season Tournaments. These tournaments have become all the rage for top clubs around Europe as a way to grow their brand globally and are represented fairly-well. In FIFA 16, you will have three options to choose from, with the tournament proceeds varying based upon the level of competition. If you choose the likes of Stoke City as your club you don’t have to worry about initially being paired up with Real Madrid or Barcelona. For a first iteration, these tournaments are surprisingly well thought-out as clubs will play a mixture of youngsters and first-team regulars, much as they would in real-life. Some international players might also be unavailable as they participate in summer tournaments for their country.
The second major addition is the addition of "Player Training." Player improvement was somewhat random in FIFA 15 and didn’t really correspond to on-the-pitch performance. In FIFA 16, you can now use skill games to train your players with different games available for separate positional sets. It’s a simple implementation by EA that does a good job at breaking up the monotony in Career Mode. The Youth Academy has also been refined. No major additions except for the ability to scout a few new countries but the main issue plaguing recent versions, youth products coming in with low physical stats, has been corrected. Also gone is the infamous May 1 update as players now improve year round. You can also train then in the aforementioned “Player Trainer” leading to some interesting decisions. Do you assign training to the fringe player or do you look towards the future and prepare that youngster for life in the first team?
Apart from these tweaks, Career Mode remains largely untouched. Transfer logic and frequency is still sub par as teams don’t make enough transfers and when they do. they still hoard players at certain positions. In my test Chelsea Career Mode I saw Manchester City bring in PSG’s Edison Cavani and Tottenham’s Harry Kane. While City does have a propensity to buy strikers in real life, they will also sell off or loan out those surplus to requirements. The CPU is aggressive at offering you transfers and will often test your fortitude. Despite some lowball offers I have seen Real Madrid come in very high for Eden Hazard as well as Valencia for Cesc Fabregas. Unfortunately, there still is no transfer log and really and visibility into other leagues apart from the League Table. When you’re buying a player you have no idea what kind of form they’re in or what their statistics look like. Loaning out players is a little easier this year and players do improve when out on loan if they’re getting playing time. I actually had to recall a defender from loan as I was hit with an injury crisis at centerback.
Another issue that plagued FIFA 15 was tactics, specifically those employed by the CPU leading to different team styles. In my experience so far this has been varied. All of the “under-the-hood” tactics return but it still seems like “Player Instructions” and in-game “Team Mentality” trump actual team tactics. In a test match, placing the “Aggression” team tactic up to 100 did not produce the same results as changing the individual instructions of my players to “Aggressive Interceptions.” I have noticed that the clubs in the Barclays Premier League have the most variety when it comes to play with clubs like Southampton using the strength of Graziano Pelle as a target man where Arsenal played a more intricate passing game with Theo Walcott looking to get behind my back-linet. One major area of improvement is the need for clubs to play to their star players. In several exhibition matches vs FC Barcelona, Leo Messi (the FIFA 16 Cover boy) was mostly a virtual spectator. There were even times where it seemed like he would be back in his own half defending while their right-back, Danny Alves, was more forward than him as Barcelona attacked. As someone who watches Barcelona frequently, I can say with confidence that this rarely happens. Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the lack of an online Career Mode. This has been atop the OS Wishlist’s for years now and is long overdue.
FIFA Ultimate Team (FUT)
The widely popular Ultimate Team returns with the inclusion of a new pay-to-play (15k EA Coins or 200 FIFA Points =~$2.67) “Ultimate Team Draft.” This new mode within FUT sees you build your squad from a five player positional draw. Start out by selecting your desired formation before selecting a captain. From there you’ll fill out your squad as you would in the regular FUT mode, taking into account team chemistry as you set your lineup. Once your squad and manager are set, you take to the competition, whether it be single player vs the CPU or online against human opponents. Rewards are then doled out based upon your success. EA continues to set the bar with the success of Ultimate Team but the verdict is still out on whether or not this pay-to-play mode will be successful.
Women’s National Teams
For the first time in FIFA’s history, you are now able to play as 12 of the world’s best women's national teams. When this feature was announced the reaction was very mixed. Once the demo hit and the community got a chance to play as them the mood did a complete 180. EA Canada has nailed the look, passion, and overall feel of the women’s game. Female specific animations and face/body scans lead to an accurate visual representation while also contributing to the unique playing styles. Brazil’s Marta feels dangerous on the ball with her agility, pace, and skills while Team USA’s Amby Wambach is noticeably stronger and lethal in the air. The only downside to this addition is that you can only use them in Exhibition Mode and the Women’s International Cup. Once can only hope that EA will continue to grow the mode adding more National teams and possibly even Women’s Club Teams.
Presentation in FIFA is undoubtedly one of the genre’s best. From stat overlays, to in-game updates from around the league, to slick menus, FIFA continues to raise the bar. FIFA 16 sees the introduction of the authentic German Bundesliga package after introducing the Barclays Premier League last year. Hopefully next year we’ll see an expansion to include Spain’s La Liga or Italy’s Serie A. In-game, the crowd is boisterous as ever as you’ll hear familiar chants such as “When the Saints go Marching in” from Southampton supporters or Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge army yelling “Jose Mourinhoooooooo”. Commentary has been improved although as with any game, you’ll hear recycled lines as you pile up the hours played. The Soundtrack is catch as ever and new weather effects such as “hazy” and random rain showers are now available. Nine new stadiums have been added bringing the grand total to 78 (50 authentic, 28 generic).
Graphics for soccer titles are a bit tricky. Most people, including myself, play from a camera distance not ideal for showing off the game’s graphical capabilities (Tele or Tele Broadcast) as the only close-ups you’ll see will be cutscenes or replays. When the game does zoom-in, you’ll see improved player faces, body scans, and crowd visuals that show off the power of Next Gen. Hopefully as we progress further in the season, players whose faces are strangely omitted (Memphis Depay of Manchester United comes to mind) will be updated as the generic FIFA faces can look shockingly bad and/or recycled.
FIFA 16 boasts a strong list of licensed clubs/leagues most notably, the world’s most popular league, The Barclays Premier League. While EA lost out on the full license to the Brazilian national league, several Brazilian clubs are included in the game in the “Rest of the World” section. One area which could really use improvement is in the National Teams. Too many national teams go unlicensed and appear with generic kits. Others are strangely omitted (Croatia and their lovely checkered kits).
Learning Curve & Control Scheme: FIFA’s one of the easier pick-up-and-play games due to its flexibility and consistent control scheme. You can hone your skills on the lower levels and still find it challenging before progressing up in difficulty.
Visuals: Solid, but there’s still room for improvement in player models, skin textures and crowd models.
Audio: From the catch soundtrack to in-game sounds that follow the action, FIFA 16’s overall audio package is excellent.
Value: For the money, you'd be hard pressed to find better bang for your buck. From its smooth online experience to its plethora of offline modes there’s something from everyone. EA Canada has really pushed this game towards more of a simulation experience and while some will find it different and unfamiliar, there’s no denying that this is the best simulation of the sport EA has produced.
Score: 9.0 (All-time Classic)