From year to year the FIFA series has been a long-serving staple to the genre of soccer/fútbol sims. And with every turning year, EA typically solidifies itself alone, at the top of the mountain, looking down at all other challengers. It almost feels expected; sometimes we may even forget there are other titles to choose from. For the last few years there virtually hasn’t been much of a selection, leaving FIFA the sole owners of the keys to the castle.
Cometh 2016. Could we possibly say it’s the changing of the guard? Has the mighty become mighty no more, their walls finally succumbing to the slow tappings of intruders? Maybe, but before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s delve into what has been second nature to this franchise. Electronic Arts recognizes that the US interest in "soccer" has remained rather even, so perhaps they feel they have found a formula that works and has stuck with it. Why change things drastically if folks are satisfied with the current product?
FIFA 16, by and large, is the same FIFA game as the last couple of years. By no means is this to say it is a negative. In its entirety, the look and feel of the game is crafted beautifully and gives the audience that true-to-life experience, starting with play on the field. Dribbling with the ball hasn’t felt this good before. With the new ability to dribble off of the ball, attackers have added a skill to their bevy of moves. This means you will be able to use a fake by holding left bumper or L1 and throw defenders off balance. Guys like Eden Hazard will greatly benefit when using such a technique, especially when you couple it with quick one-touch passes, which also feels like it has been tuned for a faster paced style.
Interactions between players still is a bright spot when it comes to authentic exchanges while fighting for the ball. When a bigger and stronger attacker is faced against a shorter defender, maybe built for speed, mechanics will illustrate the smaller man having trouble moving or getting around his opponent. In reverse, if the smaller player is using his lower center of gravity, it will work to his benefit to stay low and take the taller stronger challenger off-balance. The realistic motions to these physics help keep each football player in the match, enabling them to utilizing their strengths, even when they may be outmatched in other categories.
That is, if you can get the ball back. In many cases, some attacks feel like they last for an eternity. Winning tackles can occasionally be a nightmare when facing opposition who have mastered the art of the one-touch pass. Unlike Pro Evolution Soccer, where hockey-like tackles are almost encouraged, FIFA sticks to the traditional “if you get near me, I’m going down, and faking an injury” tactic and referees will make sure any marginal contact is awarded with a free kick and/or colored card.
All isn’t lost when defending or attacking, though; teammates are as dynamic as ever and will aid in any offensive or defensive attack you are leading. Regardless of your style of play, the intelligence of AI is there, sometimes making up the experience gap, experience that can be learned and sharpened in a handful of familiar game modes. Returning essentially untouched are career, tournament, skills, and online session modes, while a mode like ProClubs, where you can create a team with friends and play up to 11v11, keeps online competition exciting.
Also back again, drawing in enthusiasts of the mode, FIFA Ultimate team returns with a partial new look. This dream team-building exercise has made its yearly debut with a twist to keep things fresh. The FUT draft hasn’t come at a better time. Those familiar with Ultimate Yeam know it can be a drag playing for a ridiculous amount hours in order to construct your desired squad. Instead, you will select from a number of noteworthy players at each position and then take them into four online matches, earning rewards the further you go and the better you perform. And there’s of course still the option to spend real money to quicken your earning pace. This mode is definitely for those who love fantasy-type sports games and enjoying piecing random players together to see how they’d perform together.
Completely new to the series and a rarity in sports sims in general, EA has added 12 women's international teams to the mix. This has come as a delight especially for US fans. Who doesn’t want to play as the reigning World Cup champions and attempt to relive some of those magical moments from this year’s tournament? The theatrics of presentation surrounding the women’s game is there, but the same can't be said for the on-field action.
The handling of the ladies game has a slower unpolished kink to it, almost as if their model build was taken from a men’s practice scrimmage. Player likeness also lacks some of the fine detail we see with their gender counterparts. Currently, you are only able to play with the women’s squads in either tournament or free play. Hopefully in future installments, all available game modes will be playable with both genders.
I wanted to avoid making a direct comparison between this year’s PES and FIFA, but the one area to comment on is their approach to what they respectively offer. PES is about more, modes galore, while strengthening gameplay. FIFA focuses on fewer aspects, only adding a few new things and sticking with their already solid gameplay. Both make tough cases, and it is obvious this has been the closest race to date. As a whole, FIFA 16 plays well and fantastic visual cues. It will be interesting to see how EA will be pushed to produce a winning title if PES continues to keep the pressure.