In many ways this is a difficult review to write. After over 20 years of evolution, what can you really say about a FIFA game that people don't already know?
by William Bonaddio
Therein lies the problem with FIFA 16. There's no denying that this is a great football game, but anyone who's played the series over the last few years is going to know exactly what to expect.
Rather than build the game from the ground up for the new season, EA have finessed the already strong base they've been building since moving to the Ignite engine in 2013. All the latest squads are here and starting lineups will update for each gaming session based on realworld team sheets. Some player likenesses have been tweaked since to look more realistic than ever and game modes including Friendlies, Seasons (still no Champions League), Career and the ever-addictive FIFA Ultimate Team all return. EA's unique Panini stickerstyle team builder now also includes a new 'FUT Draft' option, which lets you build a dream team of superstars from the off rather than the regular mode's challenge of evolving a squad of nobodies into world beaters.
The other headline addition is the first ever inclusion of Womens squads delivering on EA Sports' promise of "If it's in the game, it's in the game" (well, so long as we're talking about 12 of the Women's World Cup international teams). Given the lack of club squads this mode does feel a little gimmicky, not helped by the slightly patronising "We're in the game!" trophy you're awarded just for playing your first women's match. Fixtures are played in the same way as men's, however the players abilities are noticeably weaker, resulting in some rather cringe inducing post-match highlight reels which scrape the barrel of game incidents to include multiple replays of shots blazing well above the crossbar shown from various angles.
On the pitch, tweaks in gameplay mean this year's incremental changes, while subtle, make the game more realistic than ever. Chipped through-balls no longer rip apart the defence as they did in FIFA 15 and much of the play takes place in midfield where interceptions are far more common. Players can now 'pass with purpose' resulting in bullet-like balls speeding up play, however this often results in a loss of control upon the receiving player's first touch. The introduction of 'no touch dribbling' provides an effective way to keep possession while waiting for teammates to run into better positions before making a telling pass, or even invite a wayward tackle from a defender that, once floor bound, is rendered useless.
Standing tackles are more important than ever in FIFA 16, with slide tackles often missing their target or resulting in a foul and card. It makes successfully winning the ball with a slide all the more satisfying, but the fact that in FUT mode you're rewarded for doing so with coins (the in game currency you can top up with real-world money) shows just how rare and difficult they are to pull off.
This is offset by the keepers who've shown a marked improvement since FIFA 15. Crosses are much harder to convert into goalscoring chances as they're quicker to come off their line, and a selection of new punch and parry moves make even a bronze level goalie play like Casillas in his prime. Even so, it's still possible to score some fantastic goals and the bicycle kick by Sneijder in my first hour of play is easily up there amongst one of my greatest FIFA goals (and I've been playing this series since FIFA 95 on the Mega Drive). Complimenting this, the crowd reactions are better than ever with more club and playerspecific chants and a louder roar for equalising or last-minute winning goals. Match commentary from Martin Tyler and Alan Smith has also improved, with more variety and less repetition than the already strong script heard in FIFA 15.
Despite these changes, in many ways you don't need to read this review. If you've played a FIFA game in the last couple of years you'll know exactly what to expect and this latest release builds on the successes of past games with minor tweaks along with the updated squads. On first play it feels more like a patch than a whole new game and if you've been waiting for EA Sports to make fundamental changes to FIFA's gameplay and presentation you're going to be disappointed. Instead, this is an incremental improvement on the series as realistic, addictive and detailed as ever, updated for 2016.