As the fall season arrives, gamers around the world once again have the pleasure of rejoicing while the annual bundle of sports titles hits shelves across the country. While all of these games boast monstrous followings, the FIFA franchise continues to have an impressively dedicated fanbase. FIFA 16, released on Sept. 22, is the latest installment to the international best-seller, and after FIFA settled into the next-gen consoles last year, the next step was always going to be a magnet for anticipation.
For the first time ever, an unlikely figure graces the front cover of the game: joined by FIFA poster child Lionel Messi is American women’s soccer star Alex Morgan. FIFA 16 becomes the first major title to introduce women’s sports to the mainstream. This is a major and welcome step for sports franchises, and one that should be influential in the coming years. As expected, however, the women’s presence in the game has yet to be perfected. They are absent from quite a few of the key game modes, including the fan-favorite Ultimate Team. It wasn’t expected that they were going to be included, but it would have been impressive to see EA find a creative way for the women to have more significance. Although there is a women-exclusive mode, Women’s International Cup, I can’t help but feel that their presence often is overshadowed due to their lack of usage in online competitive play.
Mechanically and strategically, the game plays noticeably different from FIFA 15. A major change becomes apparent right from the start: there is not nearly as much assist to the passes. In past FIFAs, as long as you point the analog stick in the general direction of your teammates, your pass would usually find one’s feet. This year, for better or for worse, a pass requires almost exact precision to avoid an interception. Although it certainly is good to ask players to be more accurate, this brings consequences to matches that feature a quick, chaotic style of play. It becomes disappointing to see competitive matches be decided by a misplaced pass that led to a goal, when in reality, the “misplaced” pass came from an analog stick pointed only fractions of a centimeter in the opponent’s direction.
A more welcome change is the new focus put on defending. Defenders must be disciplined and time their tackles better for them to be successful. Although this leads to a sometimes overwhelming amount of fouls, it is a refreshing change of pace from the run-and-gun play styles that dominated recent FIFAs. Sending through balls to your fastest player can work, but an experienced defender will stop them. Consequently, creative passes and cohesive team play are rewarded more than ever. Overall, these changes work because they accomplish their purpose of creating a more realistic and well-rounded match experience.
It is important to note that, even with the new improvements, it is still FIFA, and FIFA always comes with a handful of recurring flaws. You will lose games in the 90th minute to people mashing the shoot button on a corner kick. Sometimes you will outplay, out-pass, and outshoot opponents only to lose because their goalkeeper was sent from the heavens to keep you from scoring. Much of it depends on the day. Such is FIFA. But then again, such is soccer.