FIFA 16 Review
Before we get into my review of FIFA 16, let's get the disclaimers out of the way. It's been a few years since I've played a FIFA game and the last one I did play was on a last generation console, so I'm not going to be able to point out all of the additions, removals, and for better or worse tweaks made here and there in FIFA 16 compared to FIFA 15. I'm also going to call the sport soccer and not football, not out of ignorance as to what the rest of the world calls it but because I live in the US and that's simply what the sport is called here. Lastly, I have a casual interest in the sport, enough to know the difference between a fixture and a table, but not enough to tell you who sits atop the Barclay's Premiere League table at the moment. I make these disclaimers to help you determine if this review is right for you. If you're a hardcore soccer (fine, football) fan who spends countless hours playing video game recreations of the sport, then it probably isn't. I'm just not going to be able to point out the nuances in play that have a major impact on your enjoyment of the game. Instead, I'm here to help casual fans and newbies who have never picked up a soccer game before, or who wait several years or more between purchasing soccer games, determine whether or not FIFA 16 is a fun game and worth buying. Now that I've hopefully made it clear as to the focus of the review, let's get into it.
The first time that you launch FIFA 16 it will throw you right into a match. Well, it seems like a match, but it's actually a test. The game will analyze your play and then auto-set its difficulty level to match your skills. You can always just set the game's difficulty level manually later, but the opening match is a good way to just let the game decide for you without wasting time playing through a number of matches in which things are too tough, or too easy, for you. Some of you may be hesitant to play a match that's rating your skills when you don't even know what the controls are yet, but don't worry, FIFA 16 has you covered. A control assist feature can be toggled off and on during play by pressing R3, and when enabled a ring will appear around your currently selected player. An arrow will rotate around the ring to show you the direction that you'll kick the ball with a pass, cross, or shot as an aid to understanding how the right stick is used to aim these ball actions. You'll also be shown two button symbols with text next to them indicating what the buttons will do when pressed. FIFA 16 gives you more than two options when it comes to player control, but this context sensitive help system will just show you the two most common options. So, for example, you might see "Pass" and "Through Pass" while at midfield, but "Shoot" and "Cross" when in the penalty box. This help system is available throughout the game, and not just in the opening match, and is a great way to help new players become acclimated to the game.
The game's assistance for new players and those looking to up their game doesn't end there; the game also has a large number of training drills that will help you to develop your skills. These are divided into groups that focus on one particular skill, passing, shooting, etc., and are all set-up to play like real training drills on a practice field, cones and all. Each has a basic requirement that you'll need to accomplish in order to complete the drill, but you can always retry them to improve on your score for the drill and the letter grade that you're given afterward. Each drill also has a friends leaderboard, so you may have a little additional motivation to improve on your best performance. The training drills are a really good way to learn the nuances of the game and master the full set of controls that it gives you, but I did find one aspect of the drills disappointing. The game leaves it to you to figure out why you may be having difficulty with a particular drill. It gives you a score, so obviously you have to do something to earn points in each drill and do it better to earn more, but the game doesn't give you any feedback as to what that is. If you're having trouble improving on a C grade, it would be a tremendous help if the game gave you an indication as to why, be it that you're late on a button press or what have you. This is particularly true on the last drill in each category which tends to be a lot more challenging than the drills that lead up to it.
As for actually playing the game, as far as playing in actual matches go, FIFA 16 gives you a lot of op-tions. Of course you can just jump into a match against the AI and have some fun that way, but it can take you a while to get started if you take the time to browse through all of the teams available in the game. There are an amazing number of teams available in the game, drawn from the world's top leagues as well as quite a few that I didn't even know existed.
Matches spend a good deal of time playing out in the midfield, as teams pass the ball around looking for an opening to use to press forward. Things can get a little crowded in there at times, and it can often be difficult to tell when the ball has been stolen - here's where the game's player assist feature also comes in handy, if you suddenly see your suggested control options change, then possession has changed. I found that the slide tackles took a little time to develop and as a result can easily be executed after the opportunity for a steal has passed or can take a player out of the action for what seems to be a little longer than a realistic time. I liked the control the game gives you over shots and passes when you're in the vicinity of the goal, and I was able to be fairly consistent at shooting the ball at the part of the goal that I wanted to, although the competent play of the goalkeepers kept me in check. The final scores of the matches that I played were all within the range that you'd expect for most professional matches, so overall it seems to me that the game does a good job of simulating the sport.
The game can be played in a number of modes beyond simple matches. There are two career options available, one for managers and one for players. The manager mode puts you in charge of signing players, keeping them trained, managing team chemistry, and setting the lineups. To be honest I didn't spend a lot of time with that mode because it's not really my style. I prefer the career mode in which you create your own player, sign with a team, and try to play your way to super stardom. You'll be able to spend a fair amount of time customizing your player's look if you'd like, or use the game face feature to snap a picture of your face and slap it on your in-game player. From there you are taken to the mode's hub center, which gives you a number of things to do between games. The team calendar will tell you how many free days you have until the next match, and you can use the intervening days to run through practice drills. These drills are similar in style to the skill training drills that I noted earlier, but in this case your performance has the potential to increase your player's ratings in a number of key skill areas. If you prefer not to run through the drills yourself, you can have them run automatically and still benefit from any stat point increases that they yield. You can also check your email account for messages from the people in your soccer life like your manager and agent. There are also goals for you to meet that will help to advance your career and keep you on the team, and you can check in on your career stats and scores from around the league. Before each season begins you'll partake in pre-season friendly matches, and although these do not contribute to your career goals and stats, they do give you the chance to train up your skills before the actual season begins.
When in a game, you have the option of controlling your team as in other modes or taking control of your player only. I always chose the latter option, because it feels more like a career mode if you're actually playing a player's career and because it offered a different way to play the game than in the other modes. It is a little different not being in the center of the action all of the time, but I found it interesting to be controlling other aspects of the game such as jockeying for position on a corner kick or trying to get open for a pass. It could be a little difficult to figure out where you should be when the camera was focused on the ball on the opposite side of the field, though, and as a striker this made it occasionally difficult for me to judge whether or not I was offside in these situations. All in all, though, I found this an enjoyable way to play the game and spent more time in this mode than in the others.
Another major mode of play is the game's Ultimate Team mode. If you've played other EA Sports games before, than you'll be familiar with the basics of this mode which has you assembling a team of players that you obtain from "card packs". You begin this mode by picking a team captain from a lineup of real-world stars of the game, which basically lets you start with at least one good player on your team because those that the game gives you to start out with aren't the best in the world at their game. Putting your lineup together in Football Ultimate Team mode involves more than putting all of your highest rated players on the field, though. Each team also includes a chemistry rating, and teams with a high chemistry will simply play at a higher level than those at a low level of chemistry - when you get down to it, you can think of the chemistry rating as a multiplier used on your team's skill rating. There a couple of factors that go into chemistry. The first is whether or not your players are in their preferred positions. Place a player on the left side of the lineup who prefers to be on the right, and your team chemistry will suffer as a result. Also, players prefer to be surrounded by other players from the same country, so you'll need to take that into account when setting your lines as well. You can then take your team into matches against either the computer AI or other players online. Additional trading card packs can be purchased using either real-world money or the coins that you earn in-game while playing, although it will take you a while to earn enough coins to buy the premium card packs going the free route. There's also an active trading market in the game, so you can put your cards up for sale or browse the market looking for that missing piece for your team. This mode is certainly fun, but I think that I would have gotten more out of it if I was more familiar with the players of the sport; the vast majority of them were simply a rating number and a nationality to me. Still, I have a lot of fun with the equivalent mode in the Madden NFL games, so I imagine that those with a greater familiarity with the sport on the international level would enjoy it.
In a first for soccer video games, FIFA 16 gives you the option to play with women's teams as well. This mode is a separate one in and of itself, and gives you 12 national teams to choose from. This mode is played tournament style, in a tournament that is set-up a little bit like the World Cup but not quite, since FIFA 16 didn't acquire the World Cup license just for this mode. And while the 12 teams included encompass some of the best teams in the world, Japan is conspicuously absent despite their appearance in the 2015 Women's World Cup final. The players on the teams are taken from their World Cup rosters, and if you followed the last World Cup you'll recognize a lot of the names and faces. The women's games feel like they play a little differently than the men's in FIFA 16. It's hard to put together a list of those differences because they feel subtle, and I'm not sure if it's because the game is modeling the women players with lower stats than the men or if it's trying to simulate playing the game on artificial turf. In any case, you'll find that passes tend to be short, the play a bit slower, and aggressive moves such as slide tackles have been removed when you play in this mode.
Overall, I had a good time with FIFA 16. For a casual fan of the sport like me, it provides an enjoyable level of challenge and never feels like it is punishing me because I don't know all of the subtle nuances of the sport. The slide tackles and steals feel a bit off, but for the most part the gameplay looks and feels good. My lack of familiarity with the lower talent tiers of professional soccer players made Ulti-mate Team a bit less interesting than the similar modes in Madden NFL and NHL games, and the chemistry factor felt a bit tedious - as if the game was forcing me to complete card sets more than it was trying to model an aspect of the sport. I loved playing in the player career mode, though, and spent most of my time in the game with that mode. Lastly, I applaud the inclusion of the women's game, although it should have been a full World Cup mode instead of a mini tournament side mode.
Final Rating: 84% - A good way for casual fans to get their kicks.