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FIFA16

“Fifa 16” has been the subject of a lot of criticism since its release last month, with many reviewers citing a lack of meaningful improvements over the previous iteration as its main issue. I agree that this game will be extremely familiar to players of “Fifa 15”, and if you take a look at my review of that game you’ll see that I thought it was significantly flawed… however, I feel that this familiarity is more the result of consistent presentation than the same dodgy gameplay. I actually think that the changes EA have made to their core game this year have been very beneficial to the overall experience, and I am enjoying “Fifa 16” a lot as a result.

I do think that Konami is catching up – “PES 2016” is much more rounded than “PES” games we’ve seen in previous years – but that doesn’t mean that this game is ‘bad’. The two are distinct for me, and although comparisons are easily made, I think that “Fifa” and “PES” try to do completely different things with the same starting point. I like both, and I think they are almost on a level playing field, which is largely down to the fact that they have both improved on last year’s games.

Reviewers who have highlighted the fact that EA only make small changes to “Fifa” each year are correct, and if they don’t like the framework that EA has put in place I can see why this game would annoy them. However, it’s important to realise that EA aren’t going to make fundamental changes to a winning formula – they don’t want to change what isn’t broken, and I think that’s a sensible approach. EA tweak the game each year, adjusting little things in order to create what they hope will be a balanced and fun experience. They don’t need to win anyone over, that’s Konami’s problem, so what they do is alter whatever they feel is necessary to keep existing fans happy, depending on the feedback they have received from the previous game. In my opinion, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that; it’s just smart business.

I think that EA would like to call “Fifa 16” a football simulator, as their alterations from previous years seem to focus largely on making the game more realistic as opposed to more enjoyable to play. I’m not sure that I like that approach, but I do believe that the changes that have been made to create a sense of authenticity are quite endearing. I like that I can run to a cameraman to celebrate after rifling in a thirty yard free-kick – it’s really cool! Seeing Bale make a love heart with his fingers in front of the camera is entertaining, and these kinds of features really capture the fact that football is incredibly theatrical and dramatic.

Nevertheless, I would like to see EA try to improve some of the game’s most glaring faults by the time “Fifa 17” rolls around. Let’s be honest, no matter how true-to-life “Fifa 16” tries to be, it will never be a football simulator. If it were then there’d have to be a lot of negative components introduced to the game; an option to backchat, a button for spitting while the ball is out of play, off-the-ball elbows – the list goes on. We can’t lie to ourselves and say that “Fifa 16” is completely realistic, no matter how many superficial additions EA puts into the game each year. What really matters is the gameplay.

The major positive change that I see in the gameplay this year is improved AI. This time around it’s harder not only to score, but also to retrieve and retain possession, which forces you to get better at the game and think about everything you’re doing. If you’re playing against the computer you will find that their preferred approach is to play out from the back – they keep the ball at all costs and often they prefer to pass around the back rather than push forward.

This alteration reflects the way that the beautiful game is changing, with the emphasis on possession and passing football rather than kicking and rushing. You’ll have to set up your team in the right way and press as a team rather than running around aimlessly with one player, which makes the whole experience a lot less passive. Nevertheless, it can be quite frustrating when you’re playing with Manchester City against a team like Accrington Stanley in the FA Cup and yet they still pass rings around you. I’m not saying that that couldn’t happen, but I don’t think it would be Accrington Stanley’s preferred approach at The Etihad.

The new passing style of the computer can be quite ridiculous at times, with the opposition playing short passes across the defence no matter what the situation happens to be. If you’re winning 3-0 with 20 minutes left to play you will find that your opposition is still more than happy to keep the ball rather than press forward, which takes away from any sense of realism.

Another issue I have with “Fifa 16” this year is that shooting is inconsistent, with volleys being a big bugbear for me. They feel very underpowered compared to other shots, and the techniques used are often comical, which from my perspective is really frustrating. I want to be able to score great goals, because the players I’m controlling are capable of amazing things in real life, and volleys should be an opportunity to do just that. I want there to be a level of difficulty, but if I hit a volley with a lot of power I at least want that volley to fly off the player’s boot. In “Fifa 16” I don’t feel that taking a volley on from 25 yards is a smart thing to do, because if I miss I’ll probably have to wait for a while before I get the ball back, which stifles creativity and takes the opportunity for a memorable moment away from me as the player.

Moreover, in “Fifa 16” the player is constantly required to use extra inputs in order to execute their skills, rather than the game simply knowing what the player wants. To hit a powerful pass into the forward you don’t just have to hold the pass button for longer, instead you must press the RB button (on Xbox One) in addition to the pass button. For me this is a bit of a pain, because if the gameplay was tweaked properly then an extra input wouldn’t be necessary. In “PES 2016” everything is contextual; the type of pass that your player performs will depend on his positioning and the type of pass you’re trying to perform, rather than how hard you press a certain button. You might under-hit that pass and look silly, but the pass played will be what you wanted, and it will be your fault if you didn’t get it right – in “Fifa 16” this sadly isn’t always the case.

Furthermore, I feel that the bullet passes are an annoying new feature in “Fifa 16”, because the normal passes are now underpowered. Instead of the bullet passes being used for their intended purpose, you end up having to use them all the time because they’re simply more effective than using a standard pass.

Another new feature in “Fifa” this year is off-the-ball dribbling. This is a hard thing to analyse because against the computer it is completely useless; you can’t trick the computer because they know exactly what you’re going to do, which means that there’s no reason to use skill when dribbling. However, against another human player off-the-ball dribbling can be quite effective, and using it successfully is really satisfying. You can jink inside, perform a skill, and then turn the other way, setting up a shot opportunity – this looks great, and it makes every dribble more exciting. As someone who plays with others on this game almost always I really like this feature, but I can see how someone who only plays solo would find it a bit redundant.

The addition of female teams is a great idea, and it’s something that should’ve been done a long time ago, but it isn’t really worth talking about in its current form. The game is slightly different when you play as women, because it’s a slower pace and animations differ, but right now there’s no compelling reason to play the game with a female team. The best thing about “Fifa” as a franchise is its abundance of entertaining modes, but the female teams aren’t available in any of them, so I don’t think that they are a meaningful addition to this year’s game. There’s a lack of teams, and there’s no way to use the ones that are there in fun ways, so for now their addition is a nice feature but doesn’t warrant a heap of praise.

Ultimate Team returns again, and as usual it’s very moreish. However, I don’t really see the Ultimate Team Draft as a fantastic new feature. I can see how it might be nice for people who don’t want to pay-to-play or put multiple hours in, because these people don’t get the chance to play with the very best players on Ultimate Team, but I think that if you really want to have a great Ultimate Team you should just play it more.

All in all, “Fifa 16” is a great game, and it’s much better than most people are saying. This year EA have taken criticisms of “Fifa 15” on board, balancing the game by making the AI more intelligent and altering gameplay features like crossing and defensive positioning in order to make it harder to score cheap goals. They’ve gone overboard in a couple of areas, as the new passing game often leads to frustration when the opposition is holding the ball in a situation that calls for the complete opposite, but that doesn’t ruin the experience for me. This is a fun and polished attempt at making a realistic football game, and for my money it’s the best “Fifa” in years.

8/10

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