About this time last year, I was putting the finishing touches on last year's iteration of EA Sports' soccer IP. I spent over a week playing through every game mode, trying to see what worked and what needed fine tuning. At the end of my review, I had some minor problems with what I felt was a truly finished product. Some minor issues with goalkeeping, missing additions in career mode, and lack of official stadiums were at the top of the list. Ultimately, I found an amazing product that I put in over 500 hours in over the course of 12 months. Addiction problems aside, I was looking for specific upgrades for FIFA 16, and I've found that a little fine tuning goes a long way.
Gameplay is still everything, and it's glorious.
Last year, the emphasis was on a refined engine that allowed for all new styles of play, but there was a lot of love given to the men between the pipes. It was noticeable that the general keeper play was much better, but there were still some AI problems with decisions that would be made, allowing for some goals that would leave a player scratching his head or, worse yet, throwing a controller if it cost him or her a match online. FIFA 16 has addressed numerous little issues, especially with defending. Gone are the days where a player could dribble right off the kickoff and weave through a somewhat listless defense that seems more interested in bird watching than defending. Defenses are ready from the get go now, and that's a welcome addition. Defenders have received some love in refinement of fundamentals, including an all new fake tackle that, when utilized properly, is a fantastic tool to take out attackers. Defenders will also have new found agility, allowing the ability to close down on defenders with new styles and animations, including swing-steps that look very natural. Keepers are still part of the defense, of course, and the improvements from last year's game have been refined, eliminating many of those little AI glitches that caused issues. Keepers move in manners that make more sense tactically, such as playing a certain distance off the line, come out to clear balls, and make far more punches on set pieces.
One addition I'm absolutely in love with is the refinement to the passing game. Lob passes are still going to be abused, but to a far lesser degree. This year, incisive passing is the name of the game, primarily in the form of driven passes. Holding RB and hitting A will result in a powerful ground pass that is meant to break an attack almost immediately. This is another addition that will take a bit of time to master, but it will become crucial in any attack and may make the difference between the attack sputtering out or getting that open blast into the back of the net.
Speaking of finding the back of the net, the attack didn't get left out in the cold. No touch dribbling has been added into the game, which means just a simple little feint is no longer a random occurrence that's dictated by the AI, but an actual command with a simple push of the left bumper. This is a situational command, and it may not work very well unless in proper situations, but it can be a lethal addition in a game where some of the hardest skill moves may not be utilized because a player forgets a command. Remember that this is a move that will be determined by the player's skill, so don't try doing this with a defender or it could end in disaster.
When all of the gameplay elements are added up, the overall product feels superior to last year's, but even if these are recognized, probably the best thing I can say is that this game will be dominated by possession players. The gameplay has been slowed down, and it's for the better. Pacey players will still have an advantage on the flanks, but it is nowhere near the speed-fest that last year's title was. This will bode well for those who enjoy playing online, especially in Ultimate Team where pace is absolutely abused. The defense is much smarter at handling pacey players, so learning how to unlock defenses with smart passing will be well rewarded for those patient enough to work at getting that last crucial pass into the box. The game just feels better with it slowed down ever so slightly, and I'm happy that it's the trend for this IP.
Attention to detail is something that I'm quite a stickler for, and FIFA passes the eye test here. The likenesses of far more players have been captured and look more like their real life counterpart. We're not quite to the point where everyone is going to get that treatment, but most of the top leagues are now covered. Even finer than this is that referees will now use the vanishing spray to mark off free kicks for the spot and distance. What's impressive about this is that the spray will actually vanish as time moves on in the game, so after a free kick a player might notice a minute later that the spot and line drawn have faded out but not entirely. It doesn't affect gameplay at all, but this kind of detail shows just what kind of work was put into the finished product.
The women have finally arrived after an insanely popular summer of Women's World Cup action. 12 of the best women's national teams have been included in this year's title, though we haven't reached full crossover just yet as the women will only be able to play against one another and not against men's clubs. It isn't just limited to friendlies as there is a mode to play the women's tournament for silverware. Your national teams included are as follows:
Sadly, thirteen players had to be removed from the roster just a week before launch because the National Collegiate Athletic Association in the United States was apparently looking into whether or not the players involved were violating eligibility rules that would make them ineligible at the collegiate level. For those of you in Europe who are reading this, a quick explanation is that collegiate players cannot have their likenesses used in any way, shape, or form. While the players did not receive any compensation for this, EA Sports had no choice but to remove them from the game.
The women's gameplay style doesn't differ much at all from the men's game, and the ratings are fairly consistent with what I would expect from the men's side, though I will say it now: The United States team is quite overpowered and is almost unfair to use in this game. Try it out when you pick up the game and see for yourself, though they are fun as can be to use.
Commentating completes the in-game product with the familiar voices of Martin Tyler and Alan Smith for club matches while Clive Tyldesley and Andy Townsend cover the international fixtures. Alan McInally and Geoff Shreeves are back as well to handle the injury updates and reports from other matches. New lines have been added in, including live updates in the transfer market for deals that have been locked down. They will not happen as if they're being announced during the match, but it's easy to miss these transfers in the news update box in career mode so getting that live cut-in is a wonderful addition to the commentating.
Career mode is deeper than ever
The meat and potatoes of the offline experience comes in the form of a revitalized career mode. Remember all those skill games that were fun to play while a match was loading up? Sure, they're fun to take on but they didn't really serve any kind of a purpose other than to get a few practice swings in before a match started up. Well, now they mean something. Week-to-week training and development might be the most exciting addition to career mode. Each week, a player can assign up to five training sessions for any player that is on the squad. There are some limitations in that only certain levels and certain types of training can be used once or twice in a week, but there's no real limit on who to utilize them with. For example: In my manager save with Tottenham Hotspur, I decided to see just how strong I could build up 19-year-old midfielder Dele Alli, who starts out the game at a 69 overall but with very high potential. While potential only seems to go off of in-game performance and standard year-by-year growth, the training is a way to supplement that. That being said, I spent the first six months of season doing nothing but pumping every last bit of training into Dele Alli. A player has the option to simulate sessions or play them out. Growth occurs at a rate based upon the grade earned in each training. Find the right mixture of skills to master and a bunch of "A" ratings every week mean for exceptional growth. Because Alli started off below a 70, each one of those key stats would grow the player faster. Before long, I had a mid-70s midfielder who had joined the starting XI and was only getting stronger. If there's one issue with the training is that it is very easy to forget to stop a simulation to do the sessions, which can only be done on non-match days. Plan on stopping your simulation on every Monday and you'll never forget.
Transfer budgets are more realistic this time around, though this is more for those smaller clubs than it is for the big boys. The highest transfer budget for any club belongs to four clubs in the world: £72m for Barcelona, Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain, and Manchester City. Going into the Premier League, however, and all clubs will crack the £10m mark for their season budget. This is a far cry from last season where lowest club, such as Burnley, only had a couple of million to play with and still felt like a challenge even being in the highest division. Dropping down a division doesn't mean playing with a tiny budget anymore, as clubs in the second tier of most leagues will find a few million at their disposal. The absolute best part of this is that it is no longer going to cost a player close to £10m to buy just one top notch scout. I managed to purchase a 5-star scout that was under the £3m mark, which means that it will be easier to run those third and fourth division teams and bring in youth to build up clubs.
While the budgets have improved and scouting makes more sense, transfer costs are still out of control. Here are a few examples of some of the transfers that happened in the first window of my manager save. None of this will really surprise veterans, but it should hammer home the point that not everything was improved upon with transfers:
Those are just a few that I experienced, so the out of control transferring that seems to happen hasn't been curbed much. I would definitely suggest turning off that opening transfer window for as clean of a start as possible, especially with the transfer budgets being higher right out of the gate.
Authentic stadiums have been expanded slightly, but the game is still a bit wanting in this aspect. I brought this up in a news posting at the beginning of August that only nine stadiums were being added in. I'm still having trouble understanding why more grounds haven't been added in. While I do not expect every last stadium in every country to be added in because there is a limitation on disc space, what I have been expecting for some time now has been all the top leagues in Europe, meaning England, Spain, France, Italy, and Germany: These leagues should have all authentic stadiums. Also, with this game being incredibly popular now in North America and has been for quite some time, why do we only have two MLS stadiums? BC Place and CenturyLink Field are fine stadiums, but there are plenty of fantastic parks in MLS that are being ignored and having the generic stadiums used that are nowhere close to resembling what they should be. This needs to be a priority for next season, though with the pace we're on, it could be a few more versions before all of those stadiums are added in.
Career mode hasn't changed too much outside of these updates. The scouting network for current players has had no changes made to it, which isn't a bad thing. Contract negotiations and such has also received no real change, which I'm disappointed in, especially in player career mode. If contract length is a huge sticking point in manager mode, why isn't it included on the player side? Especially if a player decides to start his career with his favorite club and never wants to leave. Wages and length should absolutely be used, especially since there are certain clubs who may basically say "This is all we can offer." and a player could enjoy something of a one-club bonus if he takes less wages. Development team: Please make this a thing for next year.
Somehow, online play has improved
Online mode dominates the bulk of FIFA play, which is no surprise, and Ultimate Team is still the mode that reigns supreme. When information started to leak out about a new addition to FUT, it was hard to imagine any major changes were necessary. Funny enough, the main FUT mode hasn't really been touched. FUT Draft, however, is a brilliant addition to a game mode that already gets the bulk of attention. The mode will cost a player 15,000 in-game coins, 300 FIFA points, or 1 draft token that can be found inside of FIFA packs. Instead of piecing together a squad from packs that are purchased, a player will go position by position and attempt to build the best possible team based upon the same criteria that makes a squad strong in standard FUT mode. The trick to this, though, is that each position is completely random. Taking a higher ranking player at CB may mean getting a weaker CM or ST, so one must choose wisely, especially since there are only five players in each position. The mode is extremely fun, though, as it allows a player to get a taste of having a top level squad even if their regular squad isn't great. The difference, however, is that the drafted team is stuck to one game mode where four wins gets the absolute best reward. The opening match starts off easy, but working off a progression system means that the final match could be against a European giant such as Real Madrid or Bayern Munich. The further the team goes, the better the rewards.
For those who want to stick with not having the allure of spending money to improve a squad, Pro Clubs, Seasons, and Co-Op Seasons are just as fun as they were last season, especially with the new gameplay that prevents some of the 'cheesing' that got tiresome, such as the over abusing of pacey players. Two players who link up well with possession are going to be far more formidable than the players who sole purpose is to play long balls to fast players and pray for the best. Skill is being rewarded across every single game mode this year, and any of these modes show just that. Pro Clubs hasn't had to deal with much of a change since it has peaked out, but it's nice to report that it seems the servers are a bit more reliable this time around. I only experienced lag in one match, and that was my first Pro Clubs match. Turns out it ended up being my modem causing the issue. A simple reset and I didn't have a single problem with connection after that. Here's hoping that when the full title gets released, it stays that way as server connection has been a major complaint from players across the last two versions of FIFA.
A polished, final product
No game is ever going to be perfect. This is simply a fact and every game is going to have some minor flaws. What separates a great game from that elite status is minimizing those minor little issues and making sure that the overall product feels as though it was worked on with the same great effort from top to bottom. Most of my gripes with FIFA 15 were addressed in this title, and that makes me quite pleased. While there are still just a few minor hiccups that should be addressed in the next version such as getting more official stadiums into the mix and getting more out of player career mode, there is very little to complain about. Online is as fun as ever with a brand new addition to Ultimate Team while adding in the training sessions to actually mean something in career mode is a wonderful and very welcomed addition. I say it just about every single year with sports titles in that the key is to avoid being called a "roster update" and nothing more. FIFA, year in and year out, has avoided getting slapped with this moniker, and this IP has separated itself from the pack. There is no reason you shouldn't be picking this game up at launch.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
Sean is a 15 year veteran of gaming and technology writing with an unhealthy obsession for Final Fantasy, soccer, and chocolate.View Profile