‘FIFA 16’: A solid release that flounders creatively

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FIFA 16
Developed by EA Canada
Published by EA Sports
Available on Windows, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One

As someone who hasn’t played EA’s FIFA franchise regularly for nearly a decade, FIFA 16 makes me feel like the series has taken several long strides forward over the last 10 years. From a graphical standpoint the game is a sight to behold, as both players and arenas look fantastic. The game offers a good amount of different ways to play, via its assortment of game modes. Sound and presentation have also taken steps forward, which help in creating a very realistic simulation of the beautiful game, but as a player returning to the franchise after a long hiatus, the most notable and appreciated improvement would have to be the sheer amount of control the player has over the ball.

In the Skill Games mode (which is essentially a tutorial/training mode) the player is given a sizable amount of challenges to complete, which focus on all aspects of the game, from the downright basic, to the more complex aspects of passing, dribbling, defending, and shooting. While the standard challenges are easy to ace, I found myself having a hard time getting above a C grade on some of the more difficult trials. Challenges range from shooting the ball perfectly through several cleverly placed obstacles and hitting an exact area of the net, to passing drills which require you to keep the play alive amongst a swarm of enemy defenders who actively try to steal or intercept the ball. These Skills Games are not only a great introduction to the game play mechanics in FIFA 16, but they also display the level of control the player has over the ball. Successfully being able to put just enough spin on the ball to kick it around an obstacle, while simultaneously putting it in the top right corner of the net is an exhilarating feat to achieve. Each type of pass has its own feel and weight, and it’ll take new players a while to master the power needed to get their lob passes to land where they want them to, or to get their crosses right in the center of the box. When attempting a cross, the difference between holding the X button for half a second or holding it down for a full second is the difference between the ball going several yards or flying clear across the pitch. Timing and power are paramount, but so is selecting the correct type of pass for the situation at hand. The newly added “driven” passes are an excellent addition, and are a great option when trying to get a quick pass directly onto your teammate’s foot in highly contested areas. While seasoned vets can expect to breeze through most of what the Skill Games offer, for newer players just trying to get a handle of what’s possible on the pitch, or for intermediate players looking to refine their timing, the Skill Games are an excellent starting point.

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All 50 licensed stadiums in the game look fantastic, and the sounds which bellow from the massive crowds are spot on. The players themselves look great, with a solid portion of them having their likenesses rendered digitally with almost life-like accuracy. Passes, strikes, and tackles are all animated well. Essentially, everything looks great from a distance, but when the camera zooms in during goal celebrations or interactions with the referee, the game looses some of its visual luster. When zoomed in on a player, it’s clear their arms and hands are not animated too succinctly, as they move in an extremely stiff and unrealistic fashion. During goal celebrations players will often clap, which looks quite bad, as all players seem to have prosthetic hands and a severe lack of wrist joints. Players arms often clip right into their teammates as they embrace each other, and it’s common to see a player’s hair clipping through the back of their head and protruding out of their eye sockets (most noticeable when playing as the women’s teams, as they tend to have long hair). These may seem like minor issues, but when you consider how often the camera zooms in and how often these visual hiccups occur, it ends up being a bit of a nuisance.

Martin Tyler and Alan Smith do a decent job of providing play-by-play commentary. More often than not they keep up with the pace of the match, and they make interesting observations on things such as new player debuts or references to league standings which add a sense of importance to the game in progress. Unfortunately, the commentary falls into the same pit holes it seems to every year. Often the commentators will overreact to a simple play, and then moments later not say a word during a hectic scramble in the box. The repetition of lines seems to be at an all time high, as I had a string of 9 consecutive matches where the commentators opened the game with the exact same speech about my team’s formation. The overall presentation receives a boost from the fantastic highlight packages that play in between halves and after the games. The excellent mix of music, commentary, slow-mo, and sharp camera angles during the highlights makes for a very cinematic experience which excellently emphasizes the high points of the match in a manner that replicates that of a top notch TV broadcast.

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Players looking to play offline can choose between playing as their favorite club and following their league schedule, tournament play, career mode (as either a player or a manager), or FIFA’s most popular mode, FUT (FIFA Ultimate Team). For those who have been living under a rock for the last few years, Ultimate Team is a mode that’s become the craze in all of EA’s sports titles. When starting a new Ultimate Team, players are given a random assortment of footballers from across the globe, and they play games to earn coins which can be exchanged for card packs which hopefully contain better players, contracts, and stat boosting cards. The dream is to create a team with the best players from all across the world, while also maintaining strong chemistry between players resulting in crisp play on the field. As a huge fan of EA’s NHL series, it became quickly apparent to me how much better FIFA’s Ultimate Team mode is. From the introductory video explaining the mode (which NHL 16 doesn’t even have!), to the more user friendly menus, FUT is clearly a mode that EA paid a lot of attention to. Since FUT is a card based mode, players will naturally want to buy and sell certain cards. Thankfully the marketplace is extremely easy to navigate, and includes all the searching filters that fans could ask for, including the option to simply enter a specific player’s name and search for them, which is an option that is inexcusably missing from NHL 16. While the overall experience in FUT is pretty equal to the Ultimate Team modes in EA’s other franchises (NHL, NFL, NBA), it just has a bunch of little details that make the experience more enjoyable. For example: upon completing a game of HUT in NHL 16, you are awarded a seemingly random amount of coins, where as with FIFA 16’s FUT, you are given a detailed breakdown of exactly how many coins you got and why you got them, thus giving you a great idea of how to earn more. The biggest downside to FUT, as with all of EA’s Ultimate Team modes, is that card packs can be bought with real money. While this won’t have any effect on people keen on sticking to single player, those who wish to take their FUT team online will have to deal with pay-to-win players who will have teams stacked to the brim with talent. If you’ve played the Ultimate Team modes in any of EA’s other sports titles, then expect more of the same but with slightly better attention to detail. If your new, and you enjoy the addicting tendencies of any trading card game, then give FUT a try.

Those looking to take their skills online can compete in season play, co-op seasons, take their FUT team online, or try out Pro Club, which involves 11 vs. 11 player matches. Each mode works as advertised, but the online infrastructure backing them up is pretty shaky at the moment. Search times for online matches is unreasonably long, many times simply timing out and prompting the player to restart the search. When I finally managed to find a game, despite the latency meter being full green, 1 out of every 3 matches simply dropped connections for seemingly no reason. Thankfully the lag was minimal in the matches that I actually got to play to completion. Given the extremely disappointing network related troubles of many recent EA sports games, it’s a shame to see FIFA 16 getting off to a rocky start, but hopefully these issues can be hammered out.

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As stated in the opening for this review, I haven’t played FIFA games regularly for the last 10 years or so. I probably invested only 2 or 3 hours into FIFA 15. With that said, FIFA 16 seems to be virtually the same game. While obviously trying to ride the wave of hype from the recent Women’s World Cup , EA’s advertising campaign this year focused mostly on FIFA 16 featuring women’s national teams in the game. It’s not a good sign when the game’s primary “innovation” provides virtually nothing to change it. Don’t get me wrong, the women’s teams should absolutely be in the game, but playing as them provides no unique alterations to game play, it’s simply a minor change to the character models.

While EA has no competition when it comes to NHL and NFL games, they do face a major threat when it comes to soccer games, in the form of the widely successful and popular Pro Evolution Soccer series. Considering that they face heated competition, and the fact that this franchise is an extremely important one to EA (FIFA 15 was the best selling game in many European countries last year, including the UK), its rather disappointing that they’re willing to put out “just another yearly sports game”, rather than pushing the envelope in terms of innovation.

For players who haven’t touched a soccer game in ages, FIFA 16 will feel great. It’s solid from a presentation stand point, provides a good variety of games modes, and most importantly the game play is great all around. Rabid fans of the series will enjoy all the tiny tweaks and additions, but anyone looking for a truly new experience or innovation will be left disappointed.

-Matt De Azevedo

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