PREVIEW: FIFA 16 – Welcome back, old friend.

We’ve been playing FIFA 16. Here are our initial impressions.

I’m gonna go out on a limb and proclaim that I’m the biggest FIFA fan on the PSGamer team. Now, I don’t know this for sure, but I’m certainly the one that gets the most excited when a new video, screenshot or even an announcement of an announcement gets dropped from EA Sports like sweet leading to the gingerbread house that is the next FIFA installment. After spending another solid year playing through FIFA 15 and thoroughly enjoying it, it’s always almost perfect timing when the new FIFA comes around – you’re sick to death of the previous iteration and how everything seems so dated even though it’s less than a year old. And so, like a phoenix from the flames – or a new season Leicester City, if you will – FIFA 16 is finally here and I’m the one jumping up and down at the most, chomping at the bit to get my hands on EA Sports’ latest iteration of the beautiful game, it’s here I will lay down my hat for the next year every time my club loses in real life and I have to storm home from the pub and knock 15 past my opponent on amateur just to let out some unnecessarily overdramatic anger I still have towards MK Dons. FIFA is always there for you when you just need to kill some time or when you want to delve deep into its careers or the Ultimate Team. FIFA is your mate you see once a year then doesn’t leave your house for fear of serious abandonment issues.

I know exactly what I’m getting with FIFA. Every year it’s a birthday present as it always seems to drop either on or before my celebratory day, even then I’m pre-ordering just in case someone in my family pipes up and finally says ‘you’re too old for us to buy you videogames for your birthday anymore’ – I’m pretty sure it’s gonna be this year, we’ll see. FIFA is so ingrained into me as a gamer I couldn’t possibly ignore the latest release. I’m THAT guy, and I’ve been THAT guy since FIFA 94. What’s depressing is that I’m pretty sure you reading this may have probably been born in or after 1993. I’ve literally been playing FIFA before you were born and it’s still going and well, it’ll simply never end. Until football as a sport/business finally crawls up its own ass far enough that it can’t get back out again and overinflates itself with its misguided smug self importance – a sport I’m a huge fan of, annoyingly – then we can guarantee that FIFA is about as likely as Gary Lineker selling Walkers crisps.

“For the first time in the series history, I didn’t feel invincible”.

FIFA’s philosophy has always been about bringing you closer to the beautiful game. For fans of football it’s a goldmine, no other simulation comes close to FIFA for realism. When we talk about massively popular games, the list will always include FIFA somewhere between Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed. It’s an annual franchise that seemingly is bought alongside CoD at Christmas, it’s the two games that work seamlessly together to make the industry billions at Christmas. You’ve already made up your mind whether or not you want to buy this years version of FIFA before you even opened this, we know this. It’s just about seeing the scores and what it’s doing differently. For many, the idea of updated teams and new kits/signings are enough to deem a purchase worthy. For others, it’s about new additions to the gameplay and what can be offered to the player in these terms.

So then, FIFA 16. In a similar set up to the previous iteraction, it’s designed to have individual players respond like they would in real life scenarios. You’ll see players get angry, frustrated and effectively make more mistakes. On paper, it’s an effective idea. It seems like a natural progression for the series as the visuals become more and more realistic. In practise? It’s kind of annoying. It’s absurdly irrational, and seems to have very little control over itself. In this sense, AI becomes either a genuine help or a pitiful hindrance. EA continues to make great strides in what we want from FIFA, but appear to be adding in extras nobody asked for and as such brings down the realism somewhat, especially odd as the feature was added to do the exact opposite.

Something that was very apparent was the fact that the minute I kicked a ball for the first time in FIFA 16, I didn’t feel invincible. The demo began and immediately you’re thrown into a game between Real Madrid and Barcelona, you begin as Real. ‘Great’, I thought, ‘I’m gonna learn how to play this game as Benzema, Ronaldo, Bale. Beats last years demo when I had to play as bloody Liverpool’. As kick off played out, I suddenly had a vulnerability about me and the ball was snatched off me almost immediately. I find myself running after the ball, calling my team mates to help me reclaim it only to be running around like a headless chicken going absolutely nowhere and feeling like I’ve got a huge target on my back. I’m chasing and chasing and as I finally break the team down I’ve got so little space to outmaneuver my opponents they simply take it off me. Under my breath I’m whispering ‘what the fuck’, FIFA has gone in a direction I would never expect it to. It’s not making me feel like Christiano Ronaldo anymore, now I feel like 2015 Old Ronaldo. The control felt lethargic, almost lazy. Was it me? Am I just getting used to the new FIFA? Soon enough it’ll kick in and I’ll secure victory. Sure enough, it did. My game is all about through balls pretty much across the entirety of the pitch with very little straight passing which always seems too weak to not go unpunished. I watched with unrivalled passion and glee as my through ball passing was tearing the midfield apart. Messi and co had no idea what to do as I weaved in and out with Christiano as the fancy new 5* Skiller was put into action that I wasn’t entirely sure how to use at first but eventually started to feel as natural as doing the ‘sit down pep talk’ celebration that I also seemed to accidently master in last years FIFA – incidently, there are some superb celebrations this time around -.

Once it clicked, all of your FIFA knowledge comes flooding back and you have to admire how EA Sports go about this. They throw in dramatic changes to the gameplay almost every year and yet when you’re playing, it feels very subtle. On the harder difficulties then yes, you’ll notice a much more aware defence who will eye ball you until you cry over your sponsored million dollar boots that you don’t want to get dirty, but it’s an effective change. The lack of ‘touch dribbling’ also forces you to think long runs and although you can still tear it down the wings like Andrei Kanchelskis (ask your parents, kids) you haven’t got the ball magnetically attached to your feet the whole time and as such, allows you to play with the skill precision a little more and run rings around defenders whilst the ball pretty much waits for you to tell it what to do. If you can feint it around a couple of defenders (easy if you’re Messi, not so if you’re, say, Troy Deeney) and get yourself in front of goal then the new finishing dynamics will make you very happy – provided you haven’t been closed down by the new and improved defensive line AI that’s all about filling up those giant spaces that your opponent has created. No longer is it a simple press of shoot to get your ball in the net of the pitiful opposition. This time around it’s all about placement and improve your accuracy the more you play. Again, on the easier difficulties you won’t see a huge jump from previous versions but for the Pro’s, shooting has become a new skill you need to learn all over again. That’s pretty much the modern FIFA way though, isn’t it? You spend a year perfecting your way of playing and you’ve utilised it to take down your Galactico opponents without breaking a sweat, until the new one comes out and you’re down at the bottom again. Well, we just wouldn’t have it any other way now, would we?

Playing FIFA for the first time? Welcome to the club, friend. Stick on the brand new FIFA Trainer to guide you as you play. A non-intrusive graphic overlay will follow your players around the pitch with gameplay choices and control tips. If you’re a veteran of the series, FIFA Trainer will still benefit you if you want to know more complex moves on the fly.

One of the most applauded aspects added to the series in recent memory is the introduction of Women’s teams in FIFA 16, something that has been long overdue in this sausage-fest of a game series – seriously, past iterations of FIFA have made Gears of War look like a slightly edgier version of Loose Women – and introduced they are. In the demo you get to play as Germany or World Cup winners the USA, who I chose to play as on my first playthrough. It’s worth mentioning that the female players aren’t reskinned male characters. As with the men, each player is individually ranked and possess very particular sets of skills that individualise each player. USA striker and all around All-American-Hero Alex Morgan can run rings around most players, for example. Whist goalkeeper Hope Solo is better rated in goal than most of her male counterparts. There is no patronising here, no signs of ‘giving into demand’. This is a plan that’s been thoroughly thought out and treated with care and an enormous amount of respect. Throwing Alex Morgan on the cover of the game in the US is evidence of this.

In terms of gameplay, I certainly felt the women’s teams were more nimble, quicker and had slightly faster response times. I still struggled in the first couple of minutes keeping up with the relentless pace of the Germany team, but once again you just have to break their formula with your own and I ended up winning the game 4-1, including this beauty from Alex Morgan:

Boom and such, right? It’s very cool to be able to play as these heroines, I want my nieces to look up these women as honourable role models who kick ass every single day. The fact they’ve now invaded the most private of mens clubs in the FIFA video game series should be enough of a wake up call that Women’s Football is just as badass as the boys, if not a metric ton more so.

What of Ultimate Team? I haven’t seen an awful lot of it just yet but we did get a chance to play with the new Draft mode, which allows you to select from five players for each position to build up your squad and it works rather well. You can compare each player to the players in your team to check for chemistry along with what they will add to your rating, and you can do this until you get it absolutely right. FUT has always been about piecing the correct puzzles together to get the best result and Draft is no different, it’s just expanding upon that idea. I’m not the biggest supporter of FUT but the strides EA Sports are taking with the mode is certainly intriguing. So much so that I had a go on the Draft and come up with a pretty good team and that had an 87% chemistry score and won their first game 3-0. Who knows? Maybe FIFA 16 is the first time I get in on this FUT malarkey. Pack opening videos coming soon folks. There’s nothing funnier than watching teenage boys fall of a chair at the mere site of another man staring back at them, is there?

FIFA can stir passion like no other game and it’s a testament to EA Sports that the franchise can still achieve that. Sitting with your mates playing two player together is still one of the best aspects of FIFA. Call me old-school, but it simply doesn’t get any better as a gaming experience for me. Even getting together, picking a team and playing with two players on the same side to see how far you can take them in a tournament is an experience we love doing, and it worries me that EA Sports may abandon local multiplayer in the future. Perhaps we need to interview them to settle my worries. With their intense focus on Ultimate Team, future FIFA titles may head in this direction. That is when FIFA and I will break up. You just to have worry that this is where they’re going to end up.

Upon this evidence, though, FIFA 16 can’t be anything else than another solid entry in the franchise. Until the full game appears we won’t get a chance to try out the new Career modes which I’m very excited about, but before then this will whet the appetite just fine. Visually it’s staggeringly good and the presentation as ever is pristine. The commentary is still stupid but it seems there is nothing that can be done by anyone to improve there.

Otherwise it would have been fixed by now, right?

FIFA 16 is released on September 25th (EU) on PS4 (previewed), PS3
The demo is available now, coming in at 4.6gb (PS4) and 1.5gb (PS3)

Ross Keniston

A writer born and raised on the green grass of Somerset, now living the dream in Cardiff. Been a part of the team since the days of Thumb Culture, HeyUGuys Gaming, the-site-which-will-not-be-named and now Games Editor for PSGamer.

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