Back in June, after playing preview code before E3, I stated that FIFA 16 could be the best in the series if EA didn’t mess things up. That sentiment (mostly) held true after I played it at gamescom too, so it’s fair to say I was very much looking forward to the final game. After playing it for a solid week, hours on end, it pains me to say FIFA 16 doesn’t manage to take that crown. In fact, on a gameplay level, it’s one of the most disappointing entries in the series to date.
Game: FIFA 16
Developer: EA Sports
(PS4 review code provided by publisher, Xbox One version played via EA Access)
It all starts off well, with slower pace of the game and the ability to play a good passing football impressing, but delve further and the shine starts to wear off. This is mainly down to the changes EA has made to the defensive AI. It’s an element of FIFA 16 which, depending on whether you’re playing other humans or on your own, is indifferent to say the least. If you’re playing multiplayer (online or off), the new defensive AI is great. Your teammates will cover spaces well and track back intelligently, leaving you less exposed on the break or vulnerable to players with pace. It’s a refreshing change compared to FIFA 15, making multiplayer matches lots of fun. However, offline, playing against the AI (on world class or above), it makes for a horribly frustrating experience.
You see, it seems like EA forgot to balance or tweak the defensive AI to cater for a good experience when you’re not playing a human. Your AI opponents, no matter the team, will usually hold a very rigid, unrealistically solid defensive line. This, more often than not, will mean you have to pass, pass and pass again in an attempt to break down two banks of four to create a chance or simple shooting opportunity. This might sound fun and “realistic” to some, but given that the pitch in FIFA is already quite small it makes for an extremely frustrating experience. 99% of the time, I felt like I had very little space to manoeuvre in and create nice, flowing passing moves. Even when I did, the opposition would home in and close down the space before I had a moment to think about my next move. Throw in some incredibly static attacking AI (you have to press a button to trigger teammates to run) and it’s just not fun. The majority of my games ended 0-0, 1-0 or 2-1, and I’m very few of them were the true definition of fun.
All of this has a domino effect, with the lack of space making dribbling in FIFA 16 a complete chore. There little to no room to express yourself with the decent players let alone the star ones. Given the reliance on top players in FIFA 15, especially their pace, I get what EA has tried to do, but they’ve gone completely the other way. Dribbling feels like you’re battling with a combination of your controller and the game itself. It doesn’t feel responsive, with players taking an extra touch or two rather than moving in the direction you want. It almost feels like you’re trudging through mud. As a result, before you know it the opponent is on top of you in flash or simply shuts down the space you want to move into. One of the new features, no touch dribbling, helps to somewhat alleviate the frustrating nature of the dribbling, but far from a solution. Plus, this facet of the beautiful game isn’t all about feints and skills, so it really shouldn’t be a “fix” in any case.
On the off chance you do manage to create some sort of space, the shooting isn’t particularly satisfying. Pardon the pun, but it’s incredibly hit and miss. It was the same in FIFA 15, and it would appear EA has done little to fix this part of the game. Sometimes it will feel great when you smash the ball into the net, whereas you’ll feel like you’ve punted a heavy balloon. Thankfully, unlike last year, goalkeepers react pretty well to shots. Sure, they’ll make the occasional error, but nothing catastrophic like FIFA 15. I just wish the shooting was a bit more consistent so the shot stopper could shine a bit more. Still, it’s not all bad as the passing side of FIFA 16 is excellent. You can actually play a nice game of passing football; it’s just shame that surrounding elements (mentioned earlier) restrict you from taking full advantage of it, especially the new ‘pass with purpose’. Due to the lack of space, it’s actual purpose is almost completely negated. That said, the passing side of the game is still one of the best parts of the game. The new dynamic crossing (actually varied depending on players in the box) is also very good, and something you’ll do a lot given the lack of space in the middle of the pitch.
Gameplay is mixed bag, but EA continues to excel with its presentation in FIFA 16. That Sky Sports broadcast feel is more apparent than ever, with player stat comparisons displayed before matches and noticeably improved commentary. Martin Tyler and Alan Smith are great, chatting about relevant topics and building up matches nicely. It’s the best, most natural sounding commentary I’ve heard in a FIFA game to date. The visuals side of the game is mostly positive, with improved player models heading up the new changes. Body types still have some way to go, but now look far more realistic than the WWE style ones that plagued FIFA 15. Moving hair is now in too, thanks to the introduction of women’s football (more on that in a bit). Gameplay visuals remain vibrant even though some detail is lost compared to close up shots, but that’s to be expected given the impressive stadiums and 3D crowds. Animations are mostly buttery smooth, but this year more than any other I noticed at times it feels like the game is a bit over-animated. Players will take an extra touch or move a little bit more than you want them to, resulting in a lack of responsiveness. There’s also a slight drop in the frame rate during foggy matches or snow. Nothing huge, but it’s worth a mention nonetheless.
Quality of gameplay and small visual niggles aside, as a package, FIFA 16 is fantastic. All the modes from last year are present (both online and off), with new additions to career mode and Ultimate Team (FUT) bulking things up. I’m still not a huge fan of the mode (think it’s extremely unbalanced), but if you dig FUT then you’ll get right on with what’s on offer in FIFA 16. The introduction of the draft mode to FUT means you can quickly get into the mode, get some top players and go online to earn some prizes. It’s essentially a way to get new people into FUT mode proper by giving them a taste and eventually getting them hooked. I didn’t bite, but I did enjoy the immediacy of it and the fact that it’s actually (ironically) more balanced the proper mode.
Career mode is FIFA 16’s other big mode, and boy is it fantastic. From player management to transfers, the depth is almost up there with Football Manager. The additions of pre-season tournaments and player training only serve to highlight its brilliance. Depending on how you do, you earn extra transfer money by jetting off to play in friendly cups with the likes of Barcelona and Juventus. It’s great, giving pre-season matches some meaning, especially if you need that extra cash to fund a big deal. Player training allows you to train up to five players in different areas, improving certain attributes based on how they do. It’s pretty balanced too, as mainly the promising young players will improve at a steady rate. Older players will improve slowly, or sometimes not at all. Example, I trained Anthony Martial for half a season on his finishing and he went from 77 to just over 78 in that area. It’s completely your choice if you want to play or simulate these sessions too. I mixed and matched, choosing to simulate more than play in a bid to move through the season.
Elsewhere, the introduction of women’s football is a big headline, and it’s pretty good. I’d even go as far as saying it’s more fun, responsive and open than the men’s game. It’s a slight disappointment that you can only play as women in a few modes, but I’d imagine their inclusion in FIFA 16 is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what EA has planned. I just hope that before they think about expanding that part of the game for FIFA 17, they look long and hard at the mixed bag that is the gameplay in FIFA 16. It’s a real shame that it has ended up like this. The preview code I played before E3 was fantastic, verging on being the best FIFA and in turn a great football game. However, yet again, EA has delivered a final product that is quite a bit off what they showed off a few months before release. Is it better than FIFA 15? Yes, probably, but just. Is it better than FIFA 14? No, and that speaks volumes. Personally, I think it might be time for a new engine as it seems like Ignite is holding EA back from taking that next step with FIFA. That step to match something like NBA 2K16. I could be wrong, but either way EA has to do something next year otherwise Konami will smell blood.
Jam packed with top modes and great presentation, FIFA 16 continues EA’s tradition of offering lots to get stuck into. However, when it comes to gameplay, it’s a different story altogether. Against other humans it’s enjoyable enough, but play against the AI on higher difficulty settings and its flaws are very much apparent. More frustrating than fun, FIFA 16 is one of the most disappointing games in the series to date.
A SECOND OPINION
Adam Neaves: After hours upon hours of playing FIFA 16 one word rushed through me head when I sat down to write this second opinion… Frustration.
FIFA 16 plays a balanced enough game of football. The pace of FIFA 15 has been toned down a lot, defensive awareness of your team-mates has improved and it’s fun to play with your friends. Playing against Asim, we had a couple of great matches, which included some memorable moments such as Asim completely destroying me with Memphis Depay! Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about playing on the higher difficulties against the AI. The fun just dissolves instantly into pure frustration. What looks like a big pitch suddenly turns into a small cage, with next to no space available to move around in. This isn’t fun, nor is it realistic, making it a real chore just to finish a match. EA needs to make huge improvements to the AI and balance things next if they want their fantastic career mode to truly shine next year.
To sum up, FIFA 16 is a decent football game, but ultimately extremely frustrating. EA needs to think hard about where its heading when it comes to FIFA 17. An overhaul might well be in order.