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Fifa 16 / 2nd of October 2015

The lead up to the launch of FIFA 16 has felt strangely subdued by comparison to previous years, whilst the PES hype machine has all but kicked into top gear, leaving many wondering if this will be the year that FIFA finally get toppled as the finest football game available on our consoles today. Many have been left wondering if this year’s iteration does in fact offer much of an improvement over its predecessor, yet sports games always take their time to reveal the intricacies of their new or updated systems. Naturally, there are several new additions to this particular release, but perhaps the most fundamental changes are in fact the mere tweaks that make FIFA 16 a much more authentic affair, and likely the very best that the genre has to offer us, at least for this year anyway.

The biggest change shows itself right from the off as EA Canada have finally moved away from the pace driven nonsense of last year, and the horrendous AI that saw both defences and goalkeepers – regardless of their rating or experience – behave like little more than a bunch of unorganised children thoughtlessly running out of position or flapping haplessly at crosses dangled beyond their reach. The result, at least to begin with, is a far more difficult and often frustrating affair that – over time –begins to reveal itself as the more honest appraisal of the beautiful game created to date.

In FIFA 16, midfields are no longer bypassed by speedy wingers, but rather they have been tweaked to become – as they should be –the most integral aspect of a team’s make-up, where precision passing is likely to be the most effective route to goal. To balance out the whole team though, defenders have also been the recipient of a fair bit of time from the developer too, removing the AI mishaps that routinely left goalkeepers exposed last time around, but this was but the first step. Slide tackling is no longer something that should be avoided but rather embraced, with players showing an enormously increased reach when utilising the move, allowing for well timed, last ditch toe pokes to leave a striker claiming little more than a fresh air swipe. This increased reach also allows for defenders to be used solely as a means to channel an opponent’s run into the direction that you wish him or her to go, allowing for some excellent moments of teamwork from co-operative players. Also, a new feature is the ability that EA have added to allow players to cut short the slide tackle animation by simply pressing the button a second time, this sees the selected player spring back up to their feet, meaning that it is now more possible to slide in, take the ball and quickly leap back up to your feet in order to set off a nippy counter-attack, just like the real thing.

Player AI has been beefed up quite a bit, seeing them hungry to regain possession, which leaves them poised to intercept any stray pass or leap upon the myriad deflections that now occur amongst the crowded midfield area. There’s no denying that it’s much trickier to coast past an opposing player now, but that isn’t a negative aspect, it’s realism pure and simple, and it can lead to some particularly scrappy midfield encounters as player’s fail to control the ball or see it poked away by the outstretched foot of an opponent. What this does mean though, is that when things actually do go your way, FIFA 16 becomes an infinitely more satisfying affair, and that, surely is the greatest addition of all.

There are further new additions that will give attackers the opportunity to gain that half-yard or so that they need to fire off a shot or allow a midfielder to thread an inch perfect pass through the outstretched legs of a centre back; the former being the Lionel Messi overseen feature, no touch dribbling. By simply holding the LB button and flicking the left stick, the player can coax an athlete to simply drop their shoulder and feint the defender, though in all honestly, it hasn’t proved to be very effective for me thus far as I seldom have enough time to pull off the technique, however, in the hands of the world’s best, it will likely prove to be a very effective move indeed. The other new move is a more risky pass that sees players ping it with considerably more force, this gives a much greater chance of by-passing the crowded midfield or besting an impatient defender, but with the increased force on the ball, players will find it much more difficult to control, thus maintaining the game’s perfectly poised balance.

For those, like me, the career mode is the be all and end all of the football game experience, and whilst it still pains me to see EA allow Konami to retain the Champions League and Europa League licenses, EA Canada still manage to offer a game mode worth playing here, even if it has been left to suffer with the emphasis clearly focused upon the micro-transaction driven, Ultimate Team. This year, at least, the developer has managed to implement a couple of new additions, one’s a major change whilst the other, well, it’s just nice to have, I suppose. The innocuous addition is the arrival of pre-season friendly tournaments, when playing as a manager, these can lead to a slight boost to the transfer market funds that are available, but as a player, they offer very little. The addition of training is a much more than welcome feature however, allowing the player to select up to five different training routines per week, which can – as a manager - be attributed to up five different players. These simply allow for FIFA’s myriad skill games to be played out (or simulated) as a means of further enhancing one’s abilities, resulting in player growth feeling much more organic than it has done in the past. Beyond these though, career mode appears to be unchanged, which, whilst a tad disappointing, shows at least EA Canada haven’t completely forgotten about it, thankfully.

Personally, I can’t say that I have particularly positive things to say about Ultimate Team, it’s emphasis on micro-transactions is rather sickening to me, particularly when its core user base are little more than children with little grasp over the value of money, seeing many of them quite literally piss away hundreds of pounds in cash each and every year on absolutely nothing. Sadly, I have to admit that as a game mode, Ultimate Team is actually pretty good, so perhaps this year’s new addition of a Draft mode, will help to stem the tide of rampant over spending to at least some degree. In this mode, players put together a temporary team that they then take out to face a group of seemingly randomly selected AI opponents, rewarding players with a higher quantity of coins, and further boosting this with multipliers based on a win streak (the highest streak is four). With any luck this new addition will help the more patient of players develop their main Ultimate Team without the need to steal their parents’ credit cards, and that, as I’m sure you’ll agree, is an overwhelmingly positive addition to the game.

I must admit that I was a little bit dubious about the inclusion of women’s international teams in FIFA 16, I didn’t think that it was worth it when the developer had not even managed to incorporate the full roster of teams from this year’s World Cup in Canada, and to top it off, the selection of teams seems a tad baffling as well, I mean how on earth could EA Canada snub Japan? After all, they are the team that have finished winners and runners-up in the last two tournaments. Still, I must admit that my worries were soon forgotten as playing with the women’s teams here is simply sublime, they’re animated superbly, the blending between animation cycles appears to be an improvement over their male counterparts and they just seem to play with a smidgen of extra pace. Whilst I have already complained about the fact that this addition simply makes me hanker for the male teams to be animated entirely from scratch again, there’s definitely enough about the women’s game here to leave me looking forward to next year’s effort when a larger roster of squads will surely be made available to play with.

Sadly, I think it pertinent to reiterate some more of my complaints from our recent Head to Head article, for, as a Scotsman and a follower of Juventus, I find FIFA 16 doubly offensive in the way that EA Canada have chosen to ignore Scotland’s importance in the development of the sport, refusing to include any Scottish legends in Ultimate Team Legends, and failing to properly model any of our existing players properly. As if this wasn’t enough, the Juventus team are also shamelessly ignored, with the likes of Lichsteiner – one of the best wing-backs in the world and a Swiss international – along with last year’s top performer (in the Champions League anyway), Alvaro Morata, also being left out of the facial capture process. Konami, on the other hand, had the sense to place the Spanish striker on the front cover of their game – though this may have just been to tempt me across. In EA’s defence though, they have at least addressed some of the rating issues that have plagued recent efforts, though not entirely, but still there has at least been progress. Nevertheless, balancing the final end product is unquestionably a rather demanding task for EA Canada, and they have certainly made headway both on and off the pitch, so some plaudits must go their way for this.

Even as a fan of the FIFA series, it’s heartening to me to see Konami making genuine strides with their Pro Evolution games, EA have had no competition over the last few years and this has allowed FIFA to stagnate somewhat, but this latest iteration feels almost wholly new when played enough. Sure, there’s still some way to go, but FIFA 16 is undoubtedly the best game that EA Canada have produced thus far, and if Konami continue to evolve their own game, then EA will need to ensure that they follow suit which can only be good for football fans everywhere.

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