GamingReview: FIFA 16

Review: FIFA 16

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The biggest compliment we can pay to EA’s FIFA, is that each yearly iteration is as anticipated as the start of the football season itself. With each coming season, comes a new hope; and it begins with the announcement of fixtures. With FIFA, it begins with the announcement of new features and refinement of play modes. So let’s talk about what’s new.

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Defence

One of the key criticisms of FIFA 15 was that it was a brilliant attacking game, but lacked a little in defence, with players often frustrated by super quick wingers, exploiting space defenders had no chance of covering. It sounds small, but to change the balance of the game to allow defence to play a much bigger role is a risk, but it’s one that’s paid off, big time.

There’s a few refinements and additions that deliver a more realistic game this year, including the ‘swing step’ and ‘reactive AI’. These two elements are simple enough, but together sift the focus from playing fast wingers to a better all-round formation based game.

The ‘swing step’ is essentially a new positional move allowing defenders to pivot or quickly change position so as to now open up large spaces for wingers to exploit. The key thing here, is you’ll notice it happening, but within a matter of games, come to except this as normally, so it has little impact on gameplay, outside of evening the odds.

EA’s waxed lyrical about ‘reactive AI’ in the build up to release, and it’s clear from the start the impact this refinement has on gameplay. As opponents make runs on and off the ball, defenders and midfielders move quickly to track that run, but in this year’s game, another player drops in for cover in the area vacated. This single move makes formations more solid in defence, while still allowing fluidity in attack. Strictly speaking, you shouldn’t really see a formation in real life when attacking – only when defending, and FIFA replicates this brilliantly.

A final tweak to defending, and attack, is interceptions. In the modern game, this is a key part of defending with and without the ball – the further up the field you are, the quicker this leads to exploiting the opposing team – the closer to your goal, the faster you can recycle to maintain control, or break through the midfield for a faster attack.

Attack

So when you take away the biggest way to exploit opponents through speed by fixing the defence, and team defending as a whole with realistic shapes, can you retain the rush of a brilliant attack, or utilise through balls without them becoming the go-to tactic online? EA’s answer is to make the midfield the most important part of the game, and rightly so. It’s with this one, simple adjustment, before you even get into the final third which makes 16 the bet FIFA in years.

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After any Premier league game, you’ll see a bunch of stats, including interceptions, assists, shots on and off target. They’re all important, but one which FIFA hasn’t managed to replicate thus far, as bee the balance of play across each third. Finally, with tweaks to the controls and the new ‘pass with purpose’ feature, the midfield finally gets its moment to shine.

Controlling the ball is all-important in this area of the pitch, because a slight error, or a misplaced pass can directly lead to an overload, or leave you in no position to effectively defend, and having to give away a foul in front of goal. It’s the quickest way to get to the area, too, with through balls becoming less important, leading to a bigger pay-off when they do happen.

A key addition for online matches, as much as offline is no-touch dribbling, effectively freeing you from the ball, allowing feints, swerves and re-positioning of the player around the ball with the right stick. It’s a subtle change, but a welcome one in the possibilities it creates, and the speed at which you’ll continue to move without engaging traditional skill moves. For online matches, this increases this plays into the hands of the pros, but also allows the layman to really impress with their skills. The days of four passes to the opposition box aren’t gone, but mastering no-touch control certainly adds another skill element to traditional tactical play, and one you’ll need to learn to exploit opponents.

These key gameplay features don’t instantly take hold, and the first dozen or so games will feel slower than last year. But stick with it, and these refinements present an iteration of FIFA which allow the engine to excel, creating new types of goals, and intriguing challenges for those who like to go deeper into tactical play. They allow the flow of the game to increase and decrease like real world football, and together, they make FIFA more playable for the long term, encouraging master, rather than showing the goods to the player at the first kick and allowing them to run with it. It’s a laudable design decision, and one I commend.

But what else has changed, been added, or taken away? The biggest, is the addition of women’s football. While you can’t play the WSL, or actual championships, you are given a host of national teams with which to explore the nuances of the women’s game.

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If you’ve watched women’s football before, and I have for about three years, you’ll know it isn’t so much based on strength, nor speed; it’s about the core elements that make football great. Passing, movement, and playing for love, rather than money, which has tainted the male version of the sport. With the women’s offering in FIFA 16, EA has created an even more realistic simulation, and one which can be more satisfying than the men’s, duplicating player attributes, team strengths, and the ‘feel’ of the football more closely than anything FIFA has done before.

While the women aren’t household names, and there aren’t many teams, or indeed leagues, this year’s inclusion of women’s football is a brilliant first step in what I hope will be a standard feature that grows over time, including licenses, tournaments, its own manager mode and single player mode.  The world is at the feet of EA with this game mode, and I hope they take the ball and run with it.

Of course, Ultimate team gets a makeover, this time with Ultimate Team Draft, a mode than allows you to pick formations, and a team from a draw of five players, then playing in a series of four matches. Winning four matches in a row nets you some serious rewards, including packs and coins. It’s simple, but bloody addictive, and we can see this mode becoming popular online, although it’ll be interesting to see how EA iterates on this for FIFA 17.

Two more additions to FIFA 16 take the crown this year, though, and the first of those is training in Manager Mode. Too often you’ll find yourself simulating between matches, or even straight to transfer windows, which are unfortunately unchanged, simply to buy more players, or sell the duds. To be fair to EA, it’s very similar in Football Manager, and the addition of training builds a two-part challenge into every week. Firstly, do you train your players, or just got to the match? It’s time consuming, and you will play the same training drills over time. However, the second challenge is who to train – your first team, or your youth team. Do you invest that time now in your first team, or build for the future?

Even then, you’re limited to six individual drills aimed only at improving the attributes of players. As it stands, training is a great addition to gameplay, but if team training is added in, and if each player in your team had a chemistry rating in manager mode, wouldn’t that make coaching a real possibility for a mode that’s still hugely popular? It’s not there right now, but it’s only a small step from the current design, and I’d love for EA Canada to take it to the next level.

Traditionally, reviewers often compare FIFA to PES, and although PES has had a great year, I’m personally of the opinion that it’s swapped places with FIFA, rather than improve. It’s gone more Arcade, while FIFA has drifted In a new direction. But, it’s drifted that way with purpose. How do you continually try and make the best sports game better? It’s a difficult challenge every year for EA Canada, but it’s one they never shy away from. This year, although the gameplay changes mean the feel of play isn’t instant, the world’s best sports game has gotten better, not from immediate thrills, but through subtle tweaks and additions that mean you’ll still be enjoying FIFA well into the summer. Just as the Premier League is wide open this year, so many believe the race for superiority in football games is too. I’m not one of those people. FIFA is far and away the king of football games. The king is dead. Long live the king.

SUMMARY

Available now on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC.

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Available now on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC.Review: FIFA 16