For the uninitiated, FIFA 16 may be the hardest entry in the series to get into. It still relies on familiar mechanics that even novice players would know, but an aggressive focus on defense and accountability make it a harder game to enjoy. It’s a hit and miss philosophy, but maybe that’s the point: FIFA 16 just wants you to try harder.
This shift in focus to defence is most noticeable in how the AI plays. New animations and drastic changes to acceleration and deceleration curves mean the AI has to respond faster to swift changes in movement, which just didn’t happen last year. Don’t get me wrong, there’s still room for improvement when it comes to AI awareness, especially in the defensive end of the pitch, but there’s certainly faster overall responsiveness to a change in direction or turnover. Better space marking and “interception intelligence” mean you can actually trust your AI teammates to respond to an attack if you mistime a tackle, and I like that the balance of power behind the ball is so aggressively reliant on precision passing.
Mostly it’s just far more punishing if you aren’t running a tight defensive ship. AI-controlled teams stream out of defence with more purpose, but then screech to a halt and reevaluate if they hit a brick wall. I appreciate that because I know I’ve achieved something if I beat a tough opponent. The downside is that matches can turn into ping-pong battles. The AI certainly does a better job of knowing when and how to attack, but that often leads into the opposition simply holding onto the ball for long periods of time, which can sometimes make for a pretty dull experience.
The upside is that it’s a level of defensive accountability that hasn’t been present in past FIFA games, and so EA Canada must be applauded for balancing that alongside subtle changes to the game’s attacking mechanics. “Passing with purpose” lets you drive a sharp, direct pass to teammates in space, while crosses have been refined and are a massive improvement on the overpowered offerings in FIFA 14 and FIFA 15. You now pass ahead and into space of attacking players, rather than simply to where the player was. It’s harder to master, but far more satisfying once you do.
FIFA’s popular FIFA Ultimate Team (FUT) mode returns, bringing with it the great Draft mode that, while shockingly overpriced, is still a great mini-game for FUT fanatics. FUT has always been a highly rewarding mode, although I would still like to see its UI cleaned up a bit to simplify a lot of those team and transfer managing elements. Nonetheless, FUT is still a great managerial mode, one that challenges the player with expectations of patience and long-haul commitment. Starting off with a team of spuds is hardly inspiring, but FUT 16, just like those before it, finds ways to keep you engaged.
Draft Mode, for example, is separate from your FUT team, gifting you superstar players to fill a squad, play matches and earn Gold and Platinum player packs to add to your own spud squad. You can play the Draft for free the first time, but it’ll cost you 15,000 FIFA coins every time after that, which is serious coin for those not prepared to play the five or so hours needed to build up that sort of wealth.
The biggest (and certainly most publicised) addition in FIFA 16 is that of women’s national teams. It’s a fantastic addition, if not because it enhances awareness of women’s football, then because the experience itself offers enough differentiation to play and feel like an entirely different football game. The skill level isn’t great but it’s good enough, and I think EA Canada has done a great job with pacing, physicality and just the general way women’s football is played.
FIFA 16 makes an admirable effort to stay relevant after so many years at the top. Changes to defensive awareness and responsiveness make it a more precision-based experience obsessed with structures, although this can often create dull periods in a match. The Draft mode in FUT is a wonderful addition, although its pricing model is a bit of a turnoff. Women’s football is a step in the right direction for a component we should hopefully see more of in future years.
FIFA 16 was reviewed using a promotional code on Xbox One, as provided by the publisher.
Review: FIFA 16