FIFA 16 Review…and FIFA 17 Wish List


Every year EA’s FIFA series strives to improve on presentation and gameplay in pursuit of creating the ultimate football experience and for the most part they succeed. However, year upon year certain elements remain either untouched or patched over, leaving a largely polished product stale and botched in certain areas. 

Authenticity

An area the FIFA series prides itself on is authenticity. Boasting an extensive catalogue of official licences from various leagues around the world, allows EA to showcase an authentic football experience that brings you closer to the action than ever before. However, despite their impressive armoury of licensing the FIFA series could still do more to capture a continued realism in the long-serving campaign modes and make a new season and various high profile fixtures different from the previous.

What can be improved? Now, I would rarely coin the phrase ‘take a page from PES’s book’ because Konami’s football series is an inferior product, but one element in the Master League mode which I would like to see FIFA adopt is the ability to change the styling of your teams kit. Although this would bring only a minor aesthetic offering to proceedings it would eradicate having to turn out in the 2015/16 kit when you’re 8 seasons into a career with your favourite club.

Gameplay Mechanics

No game should be easy to master and being presented with acceptable and challenging encounters are what make football gaming experiences so rewarding. However, rarely are games lost in FIFA by simply being outplayed by computer AI. In my experience if you find a difficulty setting that matches your playing ability every victory will be hard earned, but (this could be a case of sour grapes) defeats tend to be so frustrating it is impossible to accept defeat gracefully.

If you are a highly competent FIFA player then perhaps you are immune to such trivial frustrations. but if you – like me – find yourself in one of those encounters that you just can’t win then you’ll know exactly what I mean. Suddenly human controlled players get bullied off the ball and not only are the AI opposition clinical with every attacking flurry they spurn, they become superhuman mind readers that snuff out every pass and the ‘keeper manages to pull of a careers worth of world class saves in a 90 minute stretch.

This needs to stop. I don’t have a solution because I don’t know how to program a football game, but EA need to find a way to differentiate the different skill levels without simply adopting the zombies, slightly more intelligent zombies, demi-gods, gods and every player is Leo Messi on LSD and steroids approach to difficulty settings.

The easiest two settings on FIFA are too easy, surely even for those who are either new to the game or haven’t quite mastered it. On the easiest setting you can simply walk around players and on semi-pro you can easily run beyond the last line of defence and be left one on one with the ‘keeper at will. However, the jump from semi-pro to Professional is where all the finely tuned – and I imagine painstakingly assigned – individual player statistics get thrown out of the window. On Professional skill setting and above there is little point picking a team with quick, strong players because it doesn’t matter how quick or strong their stats suggest they should be, the superhuman AI will bully Akinfenwa off the ball and will outpace Walcott and simply outwit you at every turn. They are programmed to and when playing single player against computer AI on one of the higher difficulty (and this is going to sound like a ridiculously obvious statement) it becomes very apparent that you are pitting your wits against a machine….a machine that can react and counteract every button press you make. Hence why playing against other human players either on-line or in the same room is a far more rewarding experience.

  • How about goalkeepers drop or flap at crosses for once. When you launch a cross into the box near the ‘keeper there are two outcomes – they’ll punch it clear or gobble it up with assured hands. ‘Keepers are not that decisive.
  • Computer AI have become too good at retaining possession (especially in FIFA 16) which can lead to several minutes chasing the ball down in an attempt to win it back. Is it me or are the computer AI especially good at keeping hold of posession from the 80th minute when you’re in need of a goal?
  • Referees in real life get a lot of stick and I imagine a main contributor is the moronic decisions AI referees make on FIFA. I rarely use the slide tackle button but I still mange to concede more freekicks in one game than the AI conceded in half a season. Sometimes fouls are given against me that I don’t even know what they’re for.
  • Have you ever played a perfectly weighted through ball only to realise that the player receiving the ball is off-side….? Why is it that through balls only seem to go where you want them to when
  • Stray passes – passing seems to have taken a step back this season with the general pace of passing slowed considerably and through balls are even less effective than previous. A new quick fire or zipped pass has been added but the success rate of the receiving player controlling the ball is pretty minimal.

Career Mode

  • International management – I understand this feature gives players the chance to mix international management with everyday club management duties without having to have a separate campaign for each role, but how realistic is this feature really. If you’re manager of Manchester United you’re probably not going to want to manage Bolivia or Ecuador and even if you did I doubt you’d ever seriously be approached by those types of nations. It feature may really appeal to some players, but I’d like to see an option to disable this feature when creating a new career. There’s little more tedious than having to reject a job offer from some minnow nation every couple of weeks.
  • Ballon D’Or….how about it?
  • Open up the Women’s section of the game to include as many club teams as possible.
  • Expand player career mode for more leagues.

Every year millions of football fans splash out £40 or more on release day and online players cough up obscene amounts of money to unlock players in Ultimate Team and other online modes over the course of the season and although I would never suggest that EA are not trying to improve on the high standards they have already set, it does feel like some years there is little evolution from the previous FIFA instalment.

This year with FIFA 16, we were treated to gameplay ‘improvements’ that have made the game less exciting to play and more even more tedious. A new ‘revolutionary’ touch-less dribble system (does anyone actually use it?), pre-season friendly competitions and womens football were billed as the big changes on the much improved FIFA 15 instalment. The latter is probably the most welcome and revolutionary of the additions, but the rest fall rightfully under the meh category.

Are these adjustments, slight tweaks enough to justify having to put our hands in our pocket and pay full price for a new game when FIFA titles are essentially becoming version .5 of the previous instalment.

Progress is not always in small measures with FIFA. In fact, the jump from FIFA 14 to FIFA 15 was astounding. The inclusion of Sky Sports-esque presentation combined with the first true next gen (or current gen – I can never understand the difference) visuals lifted the FIFA series to new heights and delivered the closest football experience to date. Playing the demo for the first time and indulging in the authentic Premier League presentation and incredibly photo-realistic cast literally tearing up the turf filled me with an excitement that has been missing for several years. With every new FIFA title purchased I simply accepted that it wasn’t much different to its predecessor but an improvement nonetheless. FIFA 15 raised the bar considerably and perhaps wrongly, this level or improvement is what I have come to expect. Subtle changes are no longer enough and aren’t going to cut it when I now know what EA can achieve when they put their minds to it…and now that the PES series is finally being recognised as a serious FIFA competitor.

As FIFA 16 arrived I felt a pang of disappointment on my first play and even now after a month of exposure I can’t help but see FIFA 16 as inferior to its predecessor. Not only does it look and feel the same as FIFA 15 (which can in some way be seen as a positive), the new gameplay mechanics and improved AI have actually made it a more frustrating experience. Computer AI are more robotic than ever, whereby they intercept even more passes than before, making it increasingly difficult to play a killer pass in the final third. At times the AI are borderline mind-readers, snuffing out and predicting the trajection of passes far quicker than a human ever could.

Possession is easily kept by AI too. In FIFA 16 you will spend long periods being passed around like Barcelona, only Stoke and the less attractive footballing sides will be capable of high tempo ball retention for long periods. This means that when you have possession you have to make the most of it and deters from trying any play that could end up with you losing possession. Careful and calculated build up play is now essential as you try and engineer an opening by drawing a rigid defensive line that holds formation how an AI controlled defensive unit only could. Lack of discipline and lapses in positional awareness is almost non-existent so carving an opening in FIFA 16 is incredibly difficult and begins to feel like a tense game of Chess, every time you mount an attack.

Defences are much improved because of this and scoring has become more difficult as a consequence, but its a detriment to the free-flowing and exciting playing experience that FIFA has previously delivered with such gusto.

FIFA in recent years has become something of a marmite gaming series and anyone who has played FIFA for long periods will no doubt understand my meaning. When all is going well and you’re playing with confidence there are few gaming experiences that can match FIFAs enjoyability and longevity. Considering gamers tend to talk about huge RPG and adventure titles that amass 100-200 hours gameplay, FIFA can easily absorb well over those measly figures. However – going back to my marmite analogy – whilst FIFA can be incredibly rewarding it can also be frustrating, border-lining on the cusp of torture, during those sittings that defy all logic where defeats mount up and you fall out of love with football for a brief moment, only to thrust yourself back into your next fixture.

The Verdict

When twelve months pass in gaming improvements are expected to be made and perhaps EA’s efforts for FIFA16 are misunderstood and improving on last years instalment was going to be a big ask.

Pros

Inclusion of womens football is a first for the series and a welcome addition
Pre Season Tournaments add minor depth to a stale career mode
Official licencing for the Bungesliga brings even more authenticity

 

Cons

Improved player AI restricts spontinuity and results in tedious build-up play and careful ball retention
Referees still seem biased and inconsistent when giving free-kicks
Underwhelming career campaigns need fresh ideas

Decent – 8

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