It’s hard to give a review for FIFA 16 without taking emotion into account. The FIFA series is hands down my favorite video game series of all time. I’ve been playing regularly for a decade and religiously the past five years. Because I love the game so much I’m much more critical about FIFA than I am Madden or NBA2K or MLB the Show. If FIFA isn’t great then it’s a disappointment. I have that Yankees win a World Series or bust mentality. With that said FIFA 16 is a huge letdown, in my opinion it’s the worst game EA has put out since FIFA 10.

The biggest improvements they’ve made this year (Passing with Purpose, Defensive Interceptions) have ruined the game. In prior versions many complained that the game was too free flowing and that pace dominated above all else. I wasn’t one of those people because I appreciated the ability to blow by a defender, score multiple goals and have continuous passing despite known headaches in defending. FIFA 16 promotes a game where passing is extremely difficult, the game is locked in the midfield and scoring chances are rare. If you’re okay with watching a ping-pong simulation in the midfield with every pass turned over then you’ll love FIFA 16. If you don’t, which I have to imagine you don’t, then this game will frustrate the life out of you.

For FIFA 16 you really need to isolate the game into two distinct areas: offline gameplay and online gameplay. They play and feel completely different and strategies in one mode don’t translate to the other. In other words you have to play one way to defeat the CPU and a polar opposite way to defeat an above average user online. Versus the computer you must stay in control, don’t over extend, keep your formation’s shape and be patient. If you play that way online you are going to be smashed. Like every other FIFA edition the way to win online is aggression, pressing defenses, speed, skilled dribbling and volume of shot attempts. My logic tells me to only play offline and I’ll be much happier but my competitive nature thirsts for online play and the adrenaline of defeating someone else is too much to pass up.

After five straight days, 20+ offline games and 15 online games on Ultimate Team I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m extremely disappointed with FIFA 16. I waffled back and forth for a few days because I wanted to talk myself into loving the game but I can’t. It doesn’t live up to the hype, it’s not “more sim” than other years and while things are completely different nothing has changed. It’s the same bullshit with a different cover. There are definitely some positives which I’ll get into but the negatives outweigh the positives and a once beautiful game has turned ugly ironically in the year where the slogan is “Play Beautiful”.

Gameplay

FIFA 16 claims to have a more authentic and balanced feel than ever before which I believe is the tagline for every game each and every year. There are a number of revamped gameplay features that have fixed some areas of the game but left more questions than answers in others. So let’s get down to it, I’ll briefly dive into each of the features in FIFA 16 and give you my thoughts and impressions on what EA says versus what I saw in the finished product.

PASSING WITH PURPOSE

A revolution in passing. FIFA 16 lets you play sharp, incisive passes so you can find teammates with precision. Using a new mechanic, ping driven ground passes to find teammates in tight spaces to open up your attacking options. – EA

I can honestly say I don’t know what this new passing technique is supposed to be. I’ve read the promotional pieces, I’ve watched the training video and I still don’t get it. It’s not a simple ground pass, it’s not a through ball it’s more like a rocketed ground pass that never finds its’ intended destination. The only analogy I can give is Brett Favre throwing a 2 yard pass with the velocity and trajectory of a 15 yard post route. The purpose of ‘passing with purpose’ is anyone’s guess. I’d settle for passing with practicality or prudence for starters. This is the worst enhancement ever put into FIFA, it has completely ruined the game and makes for a comprehensively displeasing experience in online play.

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I’m completely fine with FIFA killing off the over the top through ball (even though I was King at that technique) because it is unrealistic and provides an unfair advantage when you mix speed into the equation. My only issue is that the play never works now, not once. Even in the Premier League or Champions League one every now and then sneaks by when expertly done. If you try a lobbed through ball either the defender will head it backwards or the goalie will magically have ESP and sprint with Usain Bolt like abilities to scoop up the ball. More times than not the goalkeeper will be there waiting and you’ll have no shot.

INTERCEPTION INTELLIGENCE

Players anticipate passes and move to shut down options and close passing channels. Smarter teammates will look for space and allow more opportunities to build play through the midfield. – EA

Probably the second worst improvement in the history of FIFA. It was a great idea on paper but this has blown up into a disaster. When passing is exponentially harder the fact that the defense intercepts every pass makes for a very choppy gameplay. The game would be much better if the defense was improved so you couldn’t dribble through or around them but you were able to pass more freely. With the increased interception intelligence the game resembles ping-pong with the ball going back and forth all game long. It’s maddening.

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In the squad actions menu and under player instructions you are able to set each player with an interceptions setting. You can either be conservative, normal or aggressive. I have to believe everyone who plays FUT has everyone set on aggressive yet their players are never out of position and they never miss an interception. It’s like having 10 Darrelle Revis out there on the field. Again the gameplay becomes choppy and I get more frustrated with passes not working out than allowing a goal. I would much rather string a series of passes that I know used to work in other FIFA’s and lose than find a way to win an ugly game.

DEFEND AS A UNIT

Defend together, win together. Rely on your teammates to cover gaps when you close down an attacker. New defensive AI gives players better awareness of dangerous space on the pitch relative to the ball and their opponent. Your teammates will track back to stop sophisticated attacking runs, and close down angles of attack. – EA

Finally FIFA might have found the right mix of AI when it comes to computer defending as a team. I’m beginning to see players stay in their area and if they shift over to cover for someone else that person backfills their spot and doesn’t just run to their natural position leaving someone open in the middle of the field or penalty box. For the most part players really do defend as a unit and only the one online “glitch” is yet to be addressed.

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That glitch, which isn’t necessary a glitch more like an exploit, is the diagonal dribbling run across the face of the central defenders. We’ve all see in it, someone makes a run down the side and then cuts inside toward the center of the box. The right back drops off and the next center back steps up, as the player keeps dribbling towards the next defender the other central defender drops back and the player cuts between them both and gets an open shot on goal while you’re trying to manually figure out which one to switch onto. This has become the new norm in FIFA online play. Not exactly defending as a unit but a bunch of individuals who make up a unit. If they fix that aspect I will have zero completes with computer defending.

CONFIDENCE IN DEFENDING

FIFA 16 gives you the tools to stop your opponent with confidence. Move with greater freedom as a defender – rely on your team to defend as a unit, and your back line to track menacing runs to create balance between attacking and defending. – EA

Where I do have complaints on the defensive side is the manual defending in FIFA 16. I feel like tactical defending is dead and no longer can you really contain anyone on defense. Sure the button and controls are still there but nothing happens. The player barely shadows the offensive player and he gives a 3 yard halo which is plenty of room for the offense to do whatever they so choose. Double teams are slow and late to arrive and standing tackles aren’t as automatic as the last few seasons. More times than not my players are doing the hokey-pokey by sticking their right leg in and out but never coming out with the ball.

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Many times online with above average defenders I’ve been beaten because I’ve had to make a lunging standing tackle from too far away and he misses. Thankfully the goalies are ridiculous this year and will save a lot of your mistakes but manual defending is dangerous. It’s a much harder technique to master and one that might make the casual user hate the game even more. I happen to be steady on defense but not great. I take a more conservative approach and limit the situations where I need to defend in uncomfortable situations like a one-on-one at the edge of the penalty area. I’m prone to allowing penalty kicks so I do everything in my power to avoid those situations.

CONTROL IN MIDFIELD

Games are won and lost in the midfield – in FIFA 16, the midfield matters. Stay in possession with patient build-up play or ping clinical passes through space to start an attack. – EA

This goes back to passing with purpose and the interceptions, sure it’s easy to say control the midfield but how do you actually execute that in the game? So far nothing has worked for me. Different formations, mixed tactics and I always seem to be on the short end when it comes to possession and passing rate. Yet my online record is 9 wins, 1 draw and 5 losses. You can still win games even though you aren’t proficient at passing and midfield control.

That being said I’m playing while people are still new to the game and Ultimate Teams are just being built. My squad is only an 80 overall so it’s not like I’m playing with an All-Star lineup. Where I anticipate problems will be going up against the upper echelon of competition and the teams built in the 85/86 rating range. When my central defenders are John Stones (77) and Toby Alderweireld (81) that’s not going to stop an attacking line-up of Lewandowski, Mueller or Robben. I need to upgrade quickly or else I foresee a broken controller in my future.

NO TOUCH DRIBBLING

The best touch can be the one you don’t take. Free yourself from the ball to buy time, create separation, feint, and blow by your defender just as Messi does when he is at his best – it’s near limitless creativity on the ball. – EA

I haven’t used no touch dribbling once nor do I plan to. I’m not about that skilled dribbling lifestyle, the And 1 streetball mix tape mentality of playing FIFA. I’m a traditional player who likes traditional passing, crosses and shots. I don’t try and buy 5 star skill players just for the hell of it. I don’t utilize short corners just to try and just a defender into get a penalty kick. I don’t sprint to the penalty area and try step overs and chop dribbles time and time again. I hate those people that play this game it’s FIFA street but you know what EA Sports allows it to happen. The clowns up in Vancouver continue to foster this style of play and there is no penalty for playing in that fashion. If it were me skilled dribbling would be limited to a specific number of attempts per game, once you use them they’re burned until next time. Take your no touch dribbling and stick it.

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DYNAMIC CROSSING

Send that cross in! Authentic crosses let you find teammates with greater accuracy. Attacking players run onto and attack the ball with intent, making defenses scramble as crosses are played behind the back line with vicious intent. – EA

This is the most enjoyable part of FIFA 16, the crossing and headers. FIFA has done a great job of adding dynamic and realistic pace and whip to crosses. The near post and far post crosses are effective and with the right target man in the center of the field you’ll have many opportunities to score. I’ve yet to score off a corner kick in the air so I need to improve at my set pieces. The headers are much more realistic too, if you connect squarely it’s a rocket and if you miss you’ll be way off target. Headers are difficult in real life and they’re difficult in the game but once you master the cross it adds a new arsenal to offensive repertoire.

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CLINICAL FINISHING

Strike the ball right and finish like a pro. Better placement of the foot and ankle gives players variety in shooting and goals scored. You’ll be able to feel where the ball is struck and adjust your approach for improved accuracy and power. – EA

I put clinical finishing last because goals are few and far between in FIFA 16. Of course if you’re playing on Amateur or Semi Pro you can rack up goals against the CPU but all other difficulties are extremely difficult to break through on. I mentioned I’ve played 15 online games and the most goals I’ve scored has been five but that was in a game where a guy was a baby and stopped trying. In real games the majority of scores have been 1-0 or 2-1. You rarely see shootouts because the build up to get a shot on goal is so difficult now. If you don’t fuck up your passing then the computer will intercept it. If you didn’t get your pass intercepted, the computer will run you down and actually defend logically. And if you happen to get by him you’re dealing with a highly improved goalie who positions himself and anticipates shots better than ever with cat like reflexes.

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The shooting that I have been able to test has been very positive. I like the realistic feel of shooting and the shots don’t have a laser targeting system to the back of the net anymore. Meaning that you actually have to aim and use technique to score from distance. The master blaster shots from the outside that are line drives at the goal are now gone too. Shots have a more arched and finesse feel and only those players with high power shot rating will launch rockets. To me shooting is not the issue in FIFA 16 the rest of the game impeding us from getting more shots is the issue. Free kicks have also been improved where it’s much easier to get them on target and score. In prior editions free kick goals were like a unicorn I was convinced they never existed.

FUT Draft

I couldn’t agree more with @Pastapadre when he called FUT Draft “sleazy”. FUT Draft is terrible for one reason and one reason only, it costs you money to enter. Unlike their Madden counterpart Draft Champions which is free, FUT Draft is either 300 FIFA points or 15,000 coin to enter, roughly $3 if you go the points route. The game starts you off with a free entry so you can test it out but boy was that shady.

I drafted my team which was pretty darn good and consisted of Ronaldo, Messi, Ramos and Vidal. The FUT Draft is a four game tournament and if you win you advance, lose you go home and lose everything. I started playing offline so I could get used to the game before playing against other users. My first game was an easy win over the CPU on Semi-Pro. Instead of the games increasing by one difficulty (like Madden) from Semi Pro then Professional then World Class then Legendary, it skipped me right to World Class in my second match. I ended up losing 1-0 to the computer on a penalty kick awarded to him in the 88th minute on a suspect shoulder to shoulder call in the box. My reward? 2 gold packs and 1 jumbo silver pack. I received absolutely nothing. My best player was an 81 non-rare Bojan which is barely worth above his drop price.

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Just to test online and see if the rewards were any better I threw $3 at an entry fee. I actually drafted In-Form Ronaldo on my team so I thought I was about to wreck people and take the crown. I won my first game 1-0 on an Ivan Rakitic left footed prayer outside the box. My second game I lost 3-0 and was blitzed buy a user who exploited speed, skilled dribbling and ultra aggressive defensive tactics. My reward for that was 2 gold packs and 1 jumbo gold pack which also yielded nothing of value. The miscellaneous players and consumables I dropped to recovered less than 4,000 worth in coins.

Now that I’ve used my free entry and tested the online just to see for research purposes I will not be playing FUT Draft ever again. There is no reason that a mode inside of a $70+ game should be pay to play. Madden did it right and FIFA shot themselves in the FUT (pun intended). If I want to play FUT Draft I will fire up the demo and play for free to my heart’s content.

Ultimate Team

Please do yourselves a favor and never spend a dime on FIFA Ultimate Team. You’re giving away money to a disgusting corporation who already prints money off this digital mode without giving anything back to you. If you spend $100 on packs to build up a first rate team does that transfer over to the next edition? No. When you went and bought a Rooney last season at 100,000 because that is what the market rate was and FIFA introduced the ceiling pricing dropping it to 40,000 did you get anything from that? No.

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Everything about Ultimate Team is truly just the worst. The concept of the mode is fantastic and I’ve been a supporter for a long time but let’s face it the game is stacked in the favor of those who spend their hard earned money or cheat and buy coins. You cannot have a truly competitive and legitimate team in FUT unless you buy packs. You can’t possibly grind out enough solo games to earn that much coin. It would take you until January to build a respectable team and by that time we’re putting the game away most likely.

Prices in the beginning are a joke. Any decent player I have been able to get in pack I’ve sold right away. I’m capitalizing on selling high and playing with a lower level. I’ve sold Rooney (100K), Vidal (65K), Sturridge (70K) and Falcao for (20K) without playing a single game with them. The coins last and hold their value, the players do not. Sell now and re-buy them later when they’re half price. Half of the fun is playing with fringe players who aren’t world class but are good enough to compete. I’ve found a few hidden gems like Mame Diouf and Kevin Mirallas who I like more than some of the top rated guys. Just please don’t spent money on FUT the packs don’t justify the price and you’re just feeding a beast that doesn’t need it.

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Presentation

The one thing FIFA nails on the head every year is their presentation. The graphics and menus are stunning. The in-game commentary is the best of any sports game on the market. The authentic stadiums, jerseys and balls all make for a tremendous presentation. They added the spray to the referees this year and they will spray the field for the ball marker and the defensive wall line. The spray imprint remains on the field for a while then it disappears. All of these little details add up and gamers should take notice and commend EA for paying attention to the details. Other games would completely ignore the intricate details. The inclusion of the Bundesliga broadcast is a nice little bonus as well as the incorporation of the Women’s National Teams. Also welcome back Brazilian teams you’ve been missed.

My only gripe with FIFA 16 from a presentation aspect has to do with the celebrations. The marketing folks promote the celebrations like they are the be all end all to the gameplay. You get celebrations in pre-orders and there are videos on how to execute them, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. They’re great and I really love them but there is one major issue. After you score a goal and execute your celebration in the live cut scene, if you press pause and go to instant replay to try and grab a screenshot or video the replay cuts off before the celebration. This just started happening a few years ago and I demand to know why. Before we could get great screenshots of players mid celebration and now there is about a two second window after the ball crosses the goal line before it cuts off. It defeats the purpose of having celebrations if you can’t go back and share them with anyone.

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Of course I have an issue with their instant replay system too but I’ve beat this topic to death each and every year. Go read my write-up on the FIFA 16 demo to see what I said about the replay system. In summary I don’t understand why FIFA doesn’t utilize a free-form replay system like Madden, MLB the Show or NBA Live/2K, basically every other sports game in the world. In those games you can zoom anywhere you want from almost any angle. In FIFA you’re locked onto a player or the ball and you can’t grab a custom screenshot which would make this game more marketable. Think about all the people who share Madden screenshots and how unique and distinct they are because of the angles and zoom they can incorporate. Madden 15 allowed users to tweet their photos and the best ones would be included in the actual game in loading menus.  FIFA kills that and for no reason whatsoever, it’s a missed marketing opportunity.

FIFA 16 Final Thoughts
Dynamic CrossesOverall PresentationComputer Defensive AIPro ClubsClinical FinishingImproved Free Kicks
Passing with PurposeSame Online ExploitsInterception IntelligenceManual DefendingFUT DraftNo Connected FranchiseCelebrations Presentation
6.5Overall Score