EA Sports continues to impress this year with another top-tier production designed specifically to cater to both die-hard fans and newcomers alike. This combination of accessibility and streamlined depth has been a common theme in this year’s sports titles from Electronic Arts, and I appreciated it in both Madden NFL 16 and NHL 16 . Now, here it is again in FIFA 16 and additionally, the developers have taken another step in the refinement and authenticity of the gameplay. Once again, you can tell EA Canada listened to the feedback from last year’s iteration and worked to polish and hone every aspect of the latest entry.
The graphics are improved as well, as there are more animations and the raucous stadiums are more energized and detailed than ever. Players look a little better (if I’m remembering FIFA 15 correctly) and the in-game action, supplemented by a wide variety of camera angles, is exceedingly dynamic. This generation, we’re noticing a flashier, more TV-centric presentation of sports games, which gives the interactive experience a heftier dynamic appeal. Even when the camera is set back to see a large chunk of the field, the graphics remain crisp, clean and realistic. It’s certainly true that some camera angles make the game look better than others but that’s not much different than other sports games.
Once again, the audio cements an experience that’s just begging to be recognized as a progressive simulator. Sound is always a critical part of just about any popular sport but as any soccer aficionado will tell you, the sound of a loaded arena during a tight match is unparalleled in the world of athletics. EA tries to capture this as best they can, offering the player a mélange of appealing audio, ranging from subtle gameplay effects to the explosion of a hard-earned goal. The announcing is spot-on (with only a few minor flaws), the soundtrack is appropriately diverse and the field effects continue to impress throughout. In general, you really do feel as if you’re watching a real soccer match, which is an illusion any good simulator tries to produce.
FIFA has long since been a high watermark for video game sports and this year’s entry is no exception. With a new Draft Mode within the FIFA Ultimate Team and a bunch of additions and refinements to an already solid gameplay mechanic, FIFA 16 presents us with the most robust and well-rounded sports title of the new generation. But when a game, especially when it exists with a franchise that sees annual entries, strives to reach new levels and break a few boundaries, the comfortable and familiar take a back seat. In other words, while there’s no doubt in my mind that die-hard soccer fans will eventually adore the new FIFA , you have to embrace the changes. It doesn’t play exactly like last year’s effort and while that’s a good thing, you may initially be annoyed. Yes, you have to re-learn a few things.
It’s a definite challenge but the avid fans won’t shy away from that challenge, especially when they acknowledge EA Canada’s dedication to the sport. The team had several goals with the new FIFA , and one of them was to eliminate simple player speed as such a crucial gameplay element. Many had complained that a player’s speed was really all you had to worry about, as the other character stats always played second-fiddle to speed. That has been addressed here, so the matches automatically feel more balanced. It’s not just about lofting balls out to the wing so your super fast player can break behind the defense. That tactic can still work but now, you really have to consider the other factors, which do play a significant role.
Personally, I’ve always felt a little overmatched on defense. I could never get the hang of it. But defending in FIFA 16 seems like a more evenly-matched affair; I’m not merely trying to impede the player’s progress by tossing the kitchen sink at their feet. Now, slide tackles are a little more useful (I actually performed a successful one on my first try) and if I want to be deft and tactful, I can just try to poke the ball away. The better slide tackling is a big plus, because you’ll start using it in a variety of situations, and you finally feel as if you’re in full control on defense. One downside: Because defensive players have a lot more range this time, I’ve been tackled by players when I thought they were too far away. In fact, I think they can get me from too far away. Gotta take the bad with the good, I guess.
But unlike the Madden of two years ago that basically put all its eggs in one basket, focusing almost entirely on beefing up the defense, the new FIFA continues to focus on balance. The offense is better, too, and you can’t take advantage of some little eccentricities to give yourself the edge. The best part is that so many of the battles take place at midfield, which makes more sense. Pushing the ball up-field is a matter of skill and timing; it may take you some time to master this more dynamic and more authentic style of gameplay. There will be many times where you get frustrated and begin to think it’s actually too difficult to get into any sort of rhythm. But like most robust and rewarding simulators, the satisfaction level skyrockets once you buckle down and learn.
No-touch dribbling is something else to figure out when on offense and this can be invaluable. Feinting one direction can send your defender groping for air, and the new precision passing system allows you to combat the stiffer defense. As I just said, the midfield battle is a taxing one but here’s where a hard, pinged pass – executed by holding down the R1 button – can be a lifesaver. If you want to eliminate the seemingly ceaseless turnovers during midfield encounters, take advantage of the precision passing and press forward. Of course, you can’t just zip the ball over there without any potential consequences as opposed to a soft pass. Players with lesser ability will have more difficulty fielding the pass, and it’ll take some time before you figure out the correct angles and distances. Again, practice makes perfect.
Now, this is where we come to a more subjective part of the gameplay: The balance and pacing is better, in that it’s more realistic, I think. But some fans might not think it’s “better” because it does slow down the overall speed of the game. There’s more battling, which some find intense and satisfying, but there may be fewer crowd-pleasing breakaway moments. As speed is no longer the ruler of the field (even if it’s still crucial) and there’s an emphasis on up-close-and-personal contests, sometimes the field feels…smaller. To some, this may lend the game a narrower, less expansive feel, and could in turn have a negative impact on one’s excitement level. I guess it depends on what you’re looking for in your soccer simulator, and I can’t speak for everyone. But I can at least mention it.
Then you have to consider the addition of Draft Mode, which makes the popular Ultimate Team that much more attractive to soccer buffs. You still purchase card packs and build your own team, but now you can also build a temporary team on a position-by-position basis. The finished team is pitted against other Draft players and the Coin rewards are larger than normal for a winning streak. And as I said in the Madden NFL 16 review, I’ve always had a soft spot for card collecting, as I was indeed a collector in my younger days. Opening up a digital pack isn’t quite as satisfying but the thrill of discovery is still there, and while Draft mode requires 15,000 Coins to enter, it’s worth it because piecing together that team is a blast. Hell, it isn’t that much different than some of the games I used to make up for myself (cards tickle the imagination).
As for the online portion, it seems to work fine, although I’d still recommend playing with friends. If you have like-minded buddies, who feel the same way about this sport as you do, you’re far more likely to become engaged in memorable matches. As for the functionality of the online servers, it seems all right, with the exception of a few misconnects. Chances are, if you can get a few reliable and enthusiastic players to participate again and again, you can have tons of fun throughout the fall and into the winter. I have found that, like the Draft, it’s all about finding just the right pieces for any given team. There will always be morons online (sadly unavoidable) and when it comes to in-depth sims, you must weed out the dopes and play with skilled players who simply enjoy the competition.
FIFA 16 added what it needed to add and refined what it needed to refine. It pinpointed the problems bogging down last year’s entry and fixed them. Perhaps one could argue they went too far in the other direction, thereby changing the pace of the gameplay for the worse, but I don’t agree. I think with any simulator, you’re going for authenticity and this FIFA entry might be the most realistic yet. With enhanced defensive and offensive tactics and maneuvers, the invaluable new Draft mode, and the general refinement and dynamic nature of the game, soccer fans should be very pleased. There’s always room to improve but we have to moderate our expectations a little when a publisher has to deliver a new entry every year. We can’t get drastic updating but we can get improvement and obvious dedication, and we get exactly that here.
The Good: Excellently detailed characters and stadiums, along with fluid animations. Great sound effects and commentary. Addition of Draft mode is a huge bonus. Improvements on both sides of the ball. Playing defense doesn’t feel as much like a crapshoot. Fantastic control. Better pacing and balance throughout.
The Bad: Some may view the slower pace as unfulfilling. Minor online hiccups. Long-time fans will still have to practice a bit.
The Ugly: “Too well-balanced for any ‘ugly’ to exist.”