FIFA 16 is a rare and disappointing step backwards for the world’s most popular football series.
Such a misstep was bound to happen eventually; every year we hear the same complaints that not enough has changed, leaving EA under constant pressure to find ways to keep the formula fresh. Inevitably, that pressure has led them to try to fix things that were never broken.
You see, while the many tweaks to the on-the-pitch experience help FIFA resemble real football more than ever, they ruin the responsive gameplay that made FIFA 15 such a good time.
Beginning with the positives, the defensive AI has received a welcome upgrade. Defenders are now better at playing their way out of trouble, so last year’s tactic of pressing really high up the pitch and trying to force a defensive error won’t work.
Things will be more difficult for your midfielders too. Expect the AI to close you down and cut off your passing lanes more effectively than last year. The midfield battle is now just as scrappy as it should be.
It’s clear that plenty of work has gone into upgrading the animations as well. Players change direction much more naturally, making dribbling and turning on the ball look remarkably realistic. It’s one of the few steps towards creating a realistic football sim that hasn’t come at the cost of fun gameplay.
One of the most noticeable new features is the trainer. This is a kind of on-the-fly tutorial that gradually teaches you the controls via on-screen prompts and seems like it would a great way for complete newcomers to learn the basics.
The women’s teams are a welcome, if not fully fledged addition to the series. There are only 12 national teams to choose from, and they’re limited to friendlies and a single offline tournament.
The women’s side of the game feels different to the men’s side. There’s more freedom in attack and physicality plays less of a role. Tactics and techniques that work with women’s teams won’t necessarily work with the men’s sides, making the women’s game more fun for players who want to play expressive, attacking football.
The rest of the changes on the pitch only serve to spoil the perfect balance that EA managed to achieve in FIFA 15.
The match day presentation is still as good as it’s ever been, even if it’s still not on the levels of Madden. Having said that, there’s very little in the way of new commentary, and players’ faces somehow look less life-like. At least they’ve finally realized that Toni Kroos isn’t ginger.
Every FIFA seems to come with a new dribbling feature. This year it’s the much-touted ‘no-touch dribbling’ system, giving players the ability to use body feints to wrong-foot defenders, the way small, agile players like Messi and Isco do.
For a headline feature, it’s surprisingly redundant, and there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to when it works and when it doesn’t.
FIFA now has so many ways for you to beat defenders, but there are really only one or two that are consistently effective; making the others, like the no-touch dribbling, good for little more than showboating.
What really holds FIFA 16 back is the pace of its gameplay. Passes feel like they’ve been slowed down, possibly to compensate for the new ‘driven ground pass’ feature. Players also feel less responsive and agile than they did last year.
These two changes combine to make the game feel slow and lethargic compared to its predecessor. You can’t deny it’s more realistic, but more importantly, it’s not as fun.
You can offset some of these problems by adjusting the games sliders to tweak things like pass speed, but these changes won’t apply to online games against human opponents.
What’s less forgivable is what hasn’t been changed. The small frustrations present in FIFA 15, while few, haven’t been addressed.
Slide tackles are still worse than useless. Players don’t lock on to the ball when attempting a slide tackle, so you’ll miss both the man (or woman) and the ball way too often. This is even more common against the AI, which is so good at dodging slide tackles, you’ll swear it knows when you’re going to do one before you do.
The ineffectiveness of slide tackles isn’t helped by the referee AI. Whether a challenge is deemed a foul or not, and what kind of punishment it receives, is so inconsistent it comes across as random at times.
Perfect tackles can be punished with yellow cards and even the occasional red. I’ve also seen the referee wave play on for tackles that got nowhere near the ball. I think all football fans will agree that referee incompetence is a touch of realism we could do without.
Even the AI seems to know that slide tackling is a bad idea. It doesn’t go to ground very often, and when it does, it usually gives away a foul.
The longest running problem has been EA’s lazy approach to difficulty settings. Turning the difficulty up seems to boost the opposition players’ stats and lower your own, essentially handicapping you, not improving the AI’s decision-making.
Boosting the opposition’s technical stats would make sense; every team is entitled to an outstanding game now and then. But the game makes them physically better too, and when you see that Sergio Busquets is suddenly as fast as Gareth Bale, you feel cheated, not outplayed.
There’s been some successful work done off the pitch. Career mode now has a training feature, giving you the option to both practise certain skills and level up your players through a series of drills.
I found it especially useful for addressing players’ weaknesses, like improving the stamina of a player I was sick of having to substitute every game.
Ultimate Team has a new ‘Draft Mode’ in which you pick a team from a semi-random selection of players and compete in a short series of matches using that team. It’s a refreshing change of pace from regular UT, particularly as you get to use players that would otherwise be too pricey.
The catch is that it costs 15,000 coins (about 6-8 hours of play time) for every time you want to play this mode. It’s the same problem that the rest of Ultimate Team has; you earn coins at such a slow rate that you’re forced to use the microtransactions if you want to make reasonable progress.
Ultimate Team, and its new Draft Mode are great fun if you have plenty of time or disposable income. If you have neither, you’ll find it way too much of a grind.
FIFA 16 is a brilliantly presented and very accessible football sim, but it’s slow, scrappy gameplay makes it an exercise in frustration for fans of FIFA 15’s exciting, end-to-end goal-fests. If you’re new to football games, you may still find plenty to love, but for long-time FIFA veterans, it might be time to take a stroll out of your comfort zone and give PES 2016 a try.
Too Long; Didn’t Read
- Defenders are smarter.
- Midfield battle is now just that.
- Slower gameplay can be offset using sliders (offline only)
- Career mode training feature useful for levelling up players.
- Game now matches the pace of real football matches.
- Great presentation.
- Women’s teams offer a different and fun style of play.
- Gameplay feels slow and lethargic, as do the players.
- FUT Draft Mode just another EA microtransaction scheme.
- Slide tackling still useless.
- Referee decisions appear random at times.
- New passing and dribbling features not very useful.
- Cheap and lazy approach to difficulty settings.
- Not nearly enough women’s teams.
Reviewed on PlayStation 4