Tuesday was the first time that us commoners (non-beta elitists) could take a bite out of the FIFA 16 apple with the free three day demo. Thanks to my new hardwired 50 mbps connection I was able to download the demo in just under 20 minutes instead of the typical 2 hours. And with that I was locked into the game for a solid three hours neglecting my family, children and dogs trying to accomplish four main objectives: experience FUT Draft, distinguish what works/doesn’t work on the pitch, identify if they addressed any of my presentation issues from FIFA 15 (and prior) and test drive each of the elite players in the game to see if the ratings are valid.

FUT DRAFT

I immediately went to FUT Draft because I had to see what all the hype was about. I’ve played Draft Champions on Madden 16 and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed that mode despite not really liking Madden all that much in general. Everything that is presented to you in regard to FUT Draft in the demo is fantastic but remember looks can be deceiving. For starters FUT Draft is not free so expect to open your wallet and spend some coin to participate. Secondly every FUT Draft that I’ve been in has had a ridiculous amount of superstar players. I’ve gone through six drafts now and I continue to see the same cycle of players. This is making me think that the pool that was released into the demo is much smaller thus more likelihood to get elite rated players. In other words I haven’t pulled one silver and there are players who are noticeably missing from FUT Draft – no one from Arsenal, Juventus and “common” clubs like Everton, Stoke City or Newcastle for starters. Below is the number of times each player has appeared in my FUT Drafts so far:

  • 5 – Neymar/Vidal
  • 4 – Cavani/Kompany/Boateng
  • 3 – Suarez/Robben/Courtois
  • 2 – Messi/T. Silva/Kroos
  • 1 – Ronaldo/Bale/Hazard/Aguero
  • 0 – Ibrahimovic, Angel Di Maria, Paul Pogba, Wayne Rooney

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One of my biggest learnings in FUT Draft is to not freak out if you don’t get the player you want on the first go around. In my experiences you’ll have plenty of opportunity to get the right fit through your bench if you don’t get the CDM you want at the CDM position round. My best draft (the video below) I got extremely lucky and my entire squad was loaded and I reached 100 chemistry on the first round of the starting XI which included both Ronaldo and Messi. Other times I was stuck with a player who I thought would blow up my chemistry (Gundogan) but then magically the CM I needed (Rakitic) appeared on the bench round and all is right.

Another thing you should think about is what players are more linkable than others. Meaning if you are going to select Edinson Cavani who is on Paris St. Germain of the French Ligue 1 and of Uruguayan decent you’re limiting your chances of a green link because his traits are narrow. Conversely it might be better to choose a more globally accessible striker like Diego Costa who is in the Premier League and from Spain. If you search through the databases there are certain nationalities (Brazil, Spain) that are more common that others, the same with leagues. Sometimes passing on a higher rated player and dropping slightly to get someone more flexible to players around them is the way to go. Building around your captain is always a smart choice as he’s the cornerstone for your squad. I also suggest that you select your team from front to back (striker to goalie) because it’s easier to tailor your defense once your forwards and midfielders are set. It’s much harder working from goalie to defense and up because chances are your captain will be a goal scorer.

WHAT’S CHANGED?

WHAT WORKS

WHAT DOESN'T

+Ground Passing
-Blind Auto Passing
+Headers On Goal
-Connecting on Crosses
+Controlled Pace
-All Game Sprinting
+Defending Corner Kicks
-Scoring on Corner Kicks
+Tactical Shot Placement
-Power Boot Shots
+Computer AI Runs
-Easily Defeating the CPU
+Defenders Aren't Perfect
-Defenders Aren't Perfect

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GAMEPLAY

Passing

Now that I’ve gone through the fluff lets get into the core of FIFA 16, the actual gameplay. There is a lot to love about the new style of FIFA 16 and also some things to be desired which is expected. First and foremost the passing is fantastic. No longer can you wildly and blindly ping the ball around and expect the ball to find a player. You need to pass with purpose and direction or else you’re going to set yourself up for failure on defense. I learned this the hard way when playing a match and gave the ball away deep in my zone and seconds later a Zlatan Ibrahimovic goal. The passing absolutely feels real – the pace, the direction, the physics of the ball all are true.

While ground passing is significantly improved, lobbed through balls and crossing passes are much harder to connect with the target. You need to make the right type of cross (far post or near post) in the right location in order for someone to get a head on it. It’s especially difficult on corner kicks where it used to be a given that you’d score and now it’s a rarity. I’m okay with this because crosses are very difficult to connect in real life so this creates a more sim feel. Sending crosses to smaller players should rarely work and the ones who are aerial threats like Ronaldo and Suarez only score a fraction of the time anyways. With the Cross & Header technique taking time to master it’s only going to promote more users pushing for speed, skilled dribbling and long shots. Thankfully the lobbed through ball success rate seems to have declined as the computer AI has improved and the defender will jump in the air to head the ball away.

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Pace

On the bright side (I hope, I really do pray) that the days of users holding down sprint the entire game are nearly over. Let me clarify, you can use that approach but your players are going to be exhausted and wore down. I’ve tested a few players with high pace (Sterling and Neymar) and ran them like crazy around the field both on and off the ball. They were dead tired by the 70th minute with their energy meter in the dark orange approaching red. This is bad news for Ultimate Teamers who load up their squad with speed only players and go above the legal limit for turbo drunk levels. It’s great for the rest of us. A more realistic stamina meter will hopefully bring more balanced and competitive matches along with a new found importance of who is on your bench. If you want to play Sergio Aguero like a mad man for 75% of the game go ahead but he’s not going to be fresh down the stretch so you better have a bench option ready for the final haul.

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Shooting

The hardest part that I’m getting used to is the shooting. It feels completely different than FIFA 15. The majority of my shots end up being finesse even though I’m going for power. (I guess I shouldn’t be holding down R2?) I’m sure it’s something I’m doing wrong but something has changed and the aiming is even more critical than ever before. The rocket shots from outside the box look to be the exception and not the rule. I think for the first time that shot power rating actually makes a difference. You can’t just rip from beyond the box with Andres Iniesta and expect the same result as Tony Kroos.

The overwhelming majority of the goals scored in my FIFA 16 games have come from more tactical and strategic shots. Lionel Messi putting the ball on his left foot and curling it over the keeper’s outstretched arms into the far post. Don’t worry the near post cheekyness is also alive and well. Chipping the keeper is a bit more difficult than in versions past and don’t even think about using a player’s weak foot from distance if he doesn’t have weak foot ability. I tried that with Cesc Fabregas and the shot was a wounded duck.

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Defense

The biggest complaint about the FIFA series has been the defensive gameplay. In some editions the defenders are world class and make every single play. They never commit fouls, they deflect every pass and they body players off the ball with a Thor like strength. Other versions have had defenders standing around picking their nose in the outfield like a Little Leaguer only playing because his parents made him. This version of FIFA has a delicate balance between the two and I’m not sure I’m in love with it. (Shocker I know…)

The good news is that defenders are human and they make mistakes, the bad news is that defenders are human and they make mistakes. It’s a double edged sword, you’ll love it when it goes in your favor and you’ll curse the game when it doesn’t. At first I was thrilled that defenders weren’t able to deflect every pass that was until Dani Alves whiffed on a pass that lead straight to a computer goal. One area that has improved immensely is the defenders ability to block shots. More than ever the defender will throw their body in front of a shot to keep it from going on goal. This eliminates the probability for goals and long shots but increases the corner kick count giving you more possession. I’d also assume hand ball calls might go up but I’ve yet to see one.

The other piece that has appeared to change is the tactical defending action when holding down X or O. It’s very hard to chase down the ball and create pressure. The advantage is with the passer and a lot of times the defender is running around ragged like he’s playing “monkey in the middle”. Even playing the computer on beginner as a test was much harder on defense than ever before. It’s going to take many games and many hours of game-play to hone my skills on defense. There is no way in hell I’m ready to step into Ultimate Team or an online setting right now. For what it’s worth it’s also very hard to rage slide tackle an opponent so those of you that enjoy that aspect of the game you better choose your spots strategically.

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PRESENTATION

GOOD

BAD

+Fouls/Referee Spray
-Instant Replay System
+Additional Celebrations
-Celebrations Cut Off In Replays
+Uniform Details
-MLS Stadiums

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THE INSTANT REPLAY DEBACLE

The jury is out on the full presentation until the game is released but from what I see in the demo my two biggest issues have not been addressed. The first being they have not changed the same antiquated and archaic instant replay system since FIFA 09. There is no reason that when you switch to the “orbit” camera mode that you cannot free form the focus anywhere on the pitch. Madden has it, NBA 2K has it, NBA Live has it, MLB the Show has it. Yet FIFA continues to make us lock onto a player, ball or referee and only zoom losing focus on the majority of the image.

The screenshots you’d be able to take and share to promote the game would be astronomically better if they used the free form instant replay system to let you navigate anywhere. You just can’t get a solid screenshot with the focus points unbalanced. Take the image below for Iniesta on the ground why can’t you center him in the middle of the screen? Or the Ronaldo dribbling image from earlier where you can’t really get a close up view because you have to be far enough back to get the entire body in the frame. It’s silly and I refuse to let this point go.

The second issue I have is once again with the instant replay system. When you are playing the game one of the most fun aspects of the game is goal celebrations. Hell FIFA even promotes them and adds new celebrations each year. You can see the replay during the actual game but 9 times out of 10 when you pause and go to instant replay the celebration is cut out of the reel. After the ball hits the net you have about 2 seconds of footage before it cuts out which eliminates any celebration. Now I’ve had times where I have been able to capture some celebrations but again it’s not a guarantee and it seems to be very random. This should be an easy fix because everything was fine up until FIFA 14 or FIFA 15. Just change it back please.

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PLAYER RATINGS

After Day 1 I was convinced that Ronaldo being rated a 92 and Messi rated a 94 was a travesty. It felt like Ronaldo was so much more superior on the field than Messi because of his size and strength. What I realized was that we shouldn’t be caught up on ratings all that much. There are just some players you play better with than others. We see it in Madden and MLB the Show, you have a comfort level with some guys and clunkiness with others. I happen to love Ronaldo’s style and I find it difficult to consistently maximize Messi’s skills. Others would absolutely disagree.

Below are some screenshots from the demo on the detailed player ratings of both Ronaldo and Messi. At the end of the day you can’t go wrong with either player. It’s like choosing steak or lobster you’re going to win regardless of who you take. Other players that feel over-rated or not deserving of their rating to me: Andres Iniesta, Tony Kroos and Cesc Fabregas. A few players that I think play above their rating are James Rodriguez, Arturo Vidal and Arjen Robben who is already a 90.

Gameplay Videos

FUT Draft Videos

Screenshots

RONALDO – REAL MADRID

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SERGIO RAMOS – REAL MADRID

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GARETH BALE – REAL MADRID

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LUKA MODRIC – REAL MADRID

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MARCELO – REAL MADRID

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LIONEL MESSI – BARCELONA

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NEYMAR – BARCELONA

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LUIS SUAREZ – BARCELONA

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PIQUE – BARCELONA

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EDEN HAZARD – CHELSEA

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JOHN TERRY – CHELSEA

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DIEGO COSTA – CHELSEA

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CESC FABREGAS – CHELSEA

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ZLATAN IBRAHIMOVIC – PSG

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EDINSON CAVANI – PSG

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THIAGO SILVA – PSG

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DAVID LUIZ – PSG

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SERGIO AGUERO – MAN CITY

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VINCENT KOMPANY – MAN CITY

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DAVID SILVA – MAN CITY

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JOE HART – MAN CITY

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PIERRE-EMERICK AUBAMEYANG – BVB DORTMUND

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MATS HUMMELS – BVB DORTMUND

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SHINJI KAGAWA – BVB DORTMUND

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CLINT DEMPSEY – SEATTLE SOUNDERS

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STEFAN JOVETIC – INTER MILAN

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ALEX MORGAN – USWNT

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HOPE SOLO – USWNT

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ALEXANDRA POPP – GERMANY

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