Review: FIFA 16 (PS4)

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Title: FIFA 16
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PlayStation Network Download (17.1GB)
Release Date: September 22, 2015
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA Canada
Original MSRP: $59.99 / $69.99 (Deluxe Edition)
ESRB Rating: E
FIFA 16 is also available on PlayStation 3, Xbox One, and Xbox 360.
The PlayStation 4 disc version was used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

My very first match on FIFA 16 summed up what EA’s behemoth has become. Coming off the back of playing Pro Evolution Soccer – a game which Konami has revolutionised for the current generation of consoles – FIFA’s gameplay was a mess.

It was a disjointed, stodgy, frustrating experience (and not just because my brother’s Liverpool was dismantling my Arsenal in a manner eerily similar to Suarez et al. in 2013/14). Certainly in comparison to PES, the passing was off, the controls needed modifying and the flow was non-existent.

Then, I had a free-kick, with the referee putting down the vanishing spray to mark the wall. Meanwhile, Martin Tyler was chatting away about the taker’s recent real-life form. I also noticed the perimeter boards; EA has implemented the correct advertisers zipping around each ground in the Premier League.

It’s a ridiculously deep level of detail. That authenticity – the likes of Standard Chartered and Garuda Indonesia appearing around Anfield – is unrivalled in the genre. Yes it’s completely superficial, but so is the sport in the 21st century.

FIFA 16 Kick Off (In Menus)

Gameplay:
As already mentioned, my initial reaction to FIFA’s on-field characteristics was not a positive one. The gameplay felt like the development team was a little lost. The core of FIFA feels very familiar but there have been changes made either to try to manufacture some selling points or as a genuine response to feedback.

Whichever category it falls into, it simply doesn’t work. Pace has been nerfed to a sizable degree, though many matches have an unrealistically quick tempo. On the face of it, a reduction in speed can only be a good thing. However, it doesn’t quite mesh with the rest of FIFA’s gameplay and thus feels disjointed.

For instance, the passing remains a huge annoyance – especially when stacked up against PES which perfects the art. You know that age-old adage about football, ‘the ball is faster than the man’? Of course you do. Everybody in the world apart from EA Canada knows it. In FIFA though, quick passing moves are off-limits due to the ball apparently weighing a metric tonne. Plus, the touch of players on FIFA is awful, with the ball control (or lack thereof) of top players often baffling.

… FIFA finds itself in a striker’s goal drought …

This lack of ball speed can be alleviated through altering the sliders, though that’s a lame excuse from any FIFA fan. Firstly, the adjustment to sliders becomes useless when you enter an online mode – the best part of FIFA. Secondly, a developer’s vision and ideal play style should be evident on default settings, as Konami has demonstrated so well.

The physical elements of football are still not reflected too well, though PES has managed to nail that aspect at the first time of asking. Defending also seems a tad unnatural, with tackling underpowered against any dribble and interceptions overpowered in a psychic fashion. Attacks can be joyous at times but the defensive element of FIFA is never satisfying. Goalkeepers have been improved a lot since last year, though are poorer than PES (who ever thought we’d be saying that, eh).

FIFA 16 (In Menus)

Of course, this still plays a decent game of football. It’s no NBA Live 14, where the entire gameplay experience is completely broken. The fact is though – like in the highest level of actual football – the margins are extremely fine, with minute differences defining the great (FIFA 16) and the extraordinary (PES 2016).

FIFA finds itself in a rut, a striker’s goal drought as it were. The franchise has become so phenomenally popular that the game reeks of complacency and a distinct lack of improvement since FIFA 14. EA struck gold annually on the PS3 and Xbox 360 in a way only Activision matched with Call of Duty. Now though, gamers are suffering as the game struggles (or possibly refuses to) progress.

… a crucial moment in the history of sports games …

At its core though, despite the deficiencies in comparison to its great rival, FIFA is fairly comfortable to slip back into. The excellent modes provide enough motivation to stick with the gameplay.

It’s also important to note, the complaints above are coming from somebody who owns every single football game (not just PES and FIFA) released in the past fifteen years. For any casual player, FIFA 16 is a very good recreation of the sport. So if you’re somebody who purchases a soccer sim every few years rather than every year, I’d wholeheartedly recommend FIFA 16’s gameplay.

Those gamers who picked up FIFA 15 will struggle to find many major enhancements though. No-touch dribbling was the most hyped of the gameplay tweaks and has been somewhat well received by the community. I struggle to see it as a groundbreaking improvement though and would utilise it extremely infrequently.

FIFA 16 Practicing

EA’s Visual Trainer (also present in NHL 16) has been implemented, but doesn’t work too well. I’ve used a couple of FIFA beginners as guinea pigs to test this and both said it was more distracting than helpful. There’s also a distinct lack of advancement in the control suggestions offered (for example, ‘ground pass: X’ will be on screen for a very long time).

Elsewhere, FIFA 16 does see two very good additions, one of which presents a crucial moment in the history of sports games. Women’s football has been covered for the first time, rounding off what has been a breakthrough year for the female version of the world’s favourite sport.

Cynics would say this inclusion is purely a move for those US dollars, capturing the sizable female soccer audience within the States. However the decision was reached by EA, it’s an important step. The gameplay differs a little from the standard men’s matches and ultimately offers a greater level of enjoyment. Predictably, the ladies game is less reliant on pace and power, with a more technical emphasis. Because of that, weaving attacking moves is much more fun.

There are only twelve international sides to choose from, with a Cup mode available alongside exhibition matches. It’s a good start and I’m sure as the years go by we’ll begin to see club competitions, such as the Women’s Super League in England.

… there may not be much room for growth with Ignite …
The other notable offline enhancements are in the Career mode. Pre-season tournaments have been added for a potential boost to your transfer kitty. Career also now offers a way to manually progress player attributes, though not in the traditional ‘spend XP’ fashion some may remember (and cherish) from FIFA 08. Instead, the ever-excellent Skill Games have been integrated as training.

Now, players can be assigned to specific Skill Games which will then improve their ability (and eventually their rating) in that category. It’s a very smart and welcome move, expanding on the already polished mode. Of course the next step is to veer away from this ‘classic’ Career style and into a story-orientated NBA 2K-esque experience, which FIFA still doesn’t come close to.

One area I must commend EA Canada on is the ability to play FIFA immediately. There is no long wait time and you are not forced to play a match between two teams you dislike whilst the game installs. Furthermore, it does not leave a 50GB yearly footprint on the PS4’s HDD. All other sports games take note. On the contrary, the stutters and pauses in Skill Games (whilst the match is loading) are very frustrating.

FIFA 16 Kick Off (In Menus)

Visuals:
During the transition from PS3 to PS4, EA’s use of the Ignite engine seemed a wise one. The move to ‘next-gen’ was seamless and unlike some other franchises, meant FIFA hit the ground running. FIFA 14 arrived on PS4 launch day in excellent shape.

However, as the years pass by it seems there may not be much room for growth with Ignite. The visuals have not taken any sort of leap forward. Like much of the game, the graphics are still good but perhaps the limitations of the engine are showing, as other games have surpassed FIFA in both aesthetics and gameplay.

As alluded to in the opening to this review however, the commercial attention to detail is brilliant, especially with the Premier League. Germany’s Bundesliga has now signed a similar partnership with EA, though not quite to the same awe-inspiring extent (for instance there are only a handful of German stadiums, whereas all stadiums in the English top flight are present).

The licensing elsewhere of course brilliant too. There are countless leagues and teams, as well as fifty stadiums. Most of the top player faces look good, though there are quite a few laughable efforts below the elite level. Also, the general fidelity is pretty low. Fog is probably EA’s most touted visual addition for FIFA 16, but it obviously doesn’t affect gameplay too much, other than it can occasionally be somewhat annoying.

FIFA 16 Kick Off (In Menus)

Audio:
There’s nothing to say in this department, other than FIFA 16 remains fantastic. The commentary is as outstanding as last year; a brilliant feat in terms of contextual and fluid lines. The menu music meanwhile is a catchy pop mix as per usual.

Online/Multiplayer:
The online infrastructure on PS4 needs some work. Disconnects in Ultimate Team Divisions are commonplace, though in my experience on the Xbox One version (via EA Access), this did not occur. However, the transfer market seems to be much more stable on Sony’s platform, with players registering to one’s team immediately (whereas on Xbox it takes a long while).

Aside from the Divisions connectivity issues, Ultimate Team is superb. The major addition is Draft, which works very nicely indeed (and for some reason, doesn’t seem to be suffering from the problem in Divisions). The 15,000 coin entry price is somewhat steep, but if you like opening packs, the rewards make it worth the cost of admission.

… an unnecessary layer to a cake which is already toppling over …

Draft works by giving you a random selection of the world’s top footballers, giving most gamers a rare opportunity to control the likes of Lionel Messi in Ultimate Team. After a formation is selected, a captain is chosen (normally a superstar attacker – Alexis Sanchez and Neymar commonly popped up for me). The rest of the team then slots into place with a choice of five players in each position.

It levels the playing field immensely. 99% of players will have a 5-star rated team, which makes encounters much more enjoyable and ‘fair’ (i.e. not dependant on your ability to sink real-life money into Ultimate Team). Of course, Chemistry is a vital factor in your selections and thus performance.

On the transfer market, prices seem abnormally high this year though I’m sure fees will tumble as the volume of cards being sold naturally increases. Overall, Ultimate Team is the main selling point for a FIFA 16 purchase. It’s a polished, addictive mode that continues to draw me in like no other sports game. Buying and selling players, whether in-game or on the app, is always strategic and fun, whilst the gameplay structure is sound.

FIFA 16 FUT Hub (In Menus)

Conclusion:
There’s no doubt FIFA 16 is still a very good game. The depth of leagues and teams is unrivalled as is much of the presentation. Ultimate Team continues to go from strength to strength too. Overall, it’s a polished package.

However, the gameplay remains a nagging doubt looming over FIFA’s renewed title bout with PES. It’s messy rather than Messi. Flimsy alterations such as no-touch dribbling are an unnecessary layer to a cake which is already toppling over. If EA’s modes and attention to detail off the field could be coupled with Konami’s excellence on it, football fans would be treated to the perfect game.

Alas, we’re stuck with two imperfect options. There is an air of complacency surrounding FIFA; the publisher has struck the jackpot by gaining popularity during a ‘boom’ for gaming, the internet, and the Premier League. That money-making ability has only been amplified by Ultimate Team. Because the Canadian devs are seemingly resting on their laurels, the difference in quality between FIFA 14 and FIFA 16 is negligible.

If you have a passing interest in soccer or need to experience the women’s version of the sport, buy FIFA. Equally, if you love Ultimate Team and have to immerse yourself in a wealth of game modes, FIFA is a great game. If you’re a footballing purist though, who craves beautifully fluid play alongside a set of animations and tendencies which captures the nuances of top players, FIFA is now a long way behind Pro Evo.

Score:
8.0

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

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