Annualized franchises, especially in sports, can be tough to innovate on year after year, and iteration after iteration might feel stale or marginally enhanced. FIFA 16 takes the issues of past games and cleans them up, allowing the game to feel like a true representation of a match, while also throwing incredible depth in modes like Ultimate Team, as well as Career. The result is a complete package that doesn’t have the weird physics glitches of years past, and is an overall incredible game that will easily last to next year’s entry, and perhaps beyond.
While it’s not perfect, it does the best we’ve seen in a football game in a long time.
The Beautiful Game
FIFA 16 is of course the most recent entry in EA’s seminal footy franchise, and with a new year we don’t just get new rosters, but a bevy of new features. Additions to this year come in a variety of modes and injections of new life that provide a bit of a shakeup to the traditional formula, while retaining the magic that makes the FIFA franchise so popular year after year. Ultimate Team mode, the real longevity play of FIFA in recent years, gets a brand-new draft feature, allowing players short on time (and thankfully accommodating of review timelines) to get some high caliber talent quickly to make a great team to take either online or keep locally in a single player progression. Ultimate Team remains the long-term star of FIFA, as it provides an endless supply of motivation to increase chemistry and performance.
Ultimate Team, for those not familiar with the mode, grants participants player cards, which represent players on their team. These cards can be earned via packs, which can be unlocked through achievements in the season, or purchasing with the in-game currency, or real-world dollars. This bit of microtransaction is actually fairly well accepted in the gaming world, as prices are decent and the chance of getting a Messi or Ballotelli each pack is pretty low. FIFA 16 also does a good job of mixing up pack content, so that players might get a good manager, a skill boost, or another perk that isn’t a legendary player every time. In addition, some pack players may be on loan, therefore only usable for a few games, so the risk/reward of using Messi on loan for his fourth match is that may be his last, and back to Real he goes.
Ultimate Team has never been a big draw for me personally, as it was always a little abstract, not unlike MOBA’s or the CS:GO community, I always thought of it as Twitch streams of folks opening packs and doing obscure actions while yelling and playing music. Luckily FIFA 16 held my baby hands through the experience of making my Ultimate Team, and played well on my Hearthstone (read: addictive) tendencies. The experience of learning the true rules of the game and how to build the strongest team possible were utterly intuitive, made total sense, and got me planning out the relationships and chemistry throughout each and every swap made on the newly christened FC Denver.
Ultimate Team success hinges on your teammates chemistry together, affected by teammates on your Ultimate Team that hail from the same nation, same club, same league, or have been loyal to your club. Managers share the nationality chemistry boost with players, and players picked up on transfer don’t get the loyalty boost. Players become loyal after ten matches, and can get the loyalty boost either by being attained on the market through a pack or the transfers. If you couldn’t tell, the system is deep, but the tutorial serves as integral education to picking up the nuance. You’ll find yourself making key decisions on if your striker should play over a corner due to their chemistry with a forward. While this might seem like a lot of time spent in a menu, it’s more than I’ve spent with schemes in any other sports game to date.
Ultimate Team isn’t the only showcase here of course, as the mode can be played either online or off, but the other options like custom tournaments, skill games, quick match, and more make their appearance. The other star for FIFA players of years past is back in the form of Career mode. Players can again choose a player or manager, or create their own and guide their team to victory in the league of their choosing. Taking a more direct camera angle of closer to the action and following players much more intimately, Career mode is a nice change of pace from the standard fare, and still offers challenge as you must call for the ball to set up your set pieces to the best of your ability.
Women make their first appearance in a FIFA game, and while it’s indeed great to see, and fun to play, they’re relegated to one mode; Tournament. Contained in their own mode it’s still fun to play with them and see the workings and changes between the different players, but with no chance for a career mode even, it seems tacked on for the sake of the Women’s World Cup. This becomes a bit more apparent when it’s realized that women are barely featured save for on the box and the mode placard. Alex Morgan graces the US cover, but isn’t found on the loading screen alongside box companion Lionel Messi. Perhaps just a small oversight, but it contributes to the feeling that the women’s leagues were a bit of a checkbox. Here’s hoping that FIFA 17 features a bit more robust feature set for female players.
FIFA 16 is the most stressful video game I’ve ever played, and I love it.
The Look and Feel of the Pitch
FIFA 16 has always had a bit more pomp and circumstance to it as trying to accurately portray “the beautiful game” is a wholly different affair from an NHL or NFL game. FIFA 16 takes great care to look incredible at most junctures; individual blades of grass, dimples on the branded balls, and details in the boots of players that would make the biggest of Adidas fans swoon. It’s truly gorgeous to behold on an instant replay when zooming in to truly dissect the visuals. While most games take place at an angle and depth that don’t really convey the detail put into the match, instant replay and some great presentation allow the player to appreciate the flowing of hair, close-to-life faces of favorite players, and even down to the interactions between action. Players mill about when the ball goes out as they do in real matches, sauntering to get the ball and get into position. Setting up for free kicks the ref instructs the players just as a match would be broadcast in the Premier League.
FIFA 16 also does a great job of feeling like a high stakes match when they indeed are. More than a few times the stress of the moment was palpable. With seconds ticking down before the half, scoring a goal in a crowded stadium against a rival to bring the score to 1-0 has never been more thrilling. The camera shakes as though the sound of the stadium was causing trembles in the gimbal, players rush to congratulate the shooter and rejoice in their lead. Few games can capture the stress and joy feeling of finally sinking the ball into the net and scoring successfully, but FIFA 16 nails it.
FIFA 16 is the most stressful video game I’ve ever played, and I love it. The reason for this is simple; the game doesn’t force errors or create them with glitches or AI faults. Most errors can be chalked up to being greedy with the ball, or trying to force a pass. While all errors in the game boil down to math, they feel like true mental errors when they’re made, rarely, if ever feeling like you were cheated out of an interception. Realistic ball physics and player ability to release from the ball make FIFA 16 fell all the more in tune with the real game, allowing players like Messi to master some truly awe inspiring tricks to fool defenders. Not found in FIFA 16 is that “sticky” feeling where your player is married to the ball, instead it’s entirely plausible that your player will let the ball shoot forward in order to dart around a defender. It’s easy to break down some of the more incredible balls I’ve scored to skill, but just as in the real game, it usually boils down to the physics playing the game correctly, and having the right person, in the right place, at the right time.
The Bottom Line
FIFA 16 delivers the beautiful game, in a beautiful way. While it’s not perfect, it does the best we’ve seen in a football game in a long time. The ability for one-time set pieces to pay off, physics to play out in unique ways on every play, and the pure addiction that is Ultimate Team being even better with a Draft feature for those that can’t dump days of time into making their dream team. FIFA 16 takes the good of last year’s entry and makes it better. Small touches and intelligent commentary make the difference, making a great game of footy, the best we’ve seen in a stretch. While women are added, their inclusion leaves a bit to be desired, but is a step in the right direction.
Examiner was provided a digital edition of FIFA 16 for Xbox One for review purposes