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FIFA 16: a better sports video game than any other

While many had already made the jump to next-gen with FIFA 16, even more soccer fans – having previously been burned by the first sports title on a new generation – decided to bide their time until FIFA 15 came around. They hoped that, much like Madden NFL 15, this year’s FIFA iteration would be a significant leap forward for the franchise, and proof that its legacy would continue on new platforms. We are happy to report that FIFA 16 is that leap forward and is easily one of the best playing soccer experiences EA Sports has ever delivered. Even so, FIFA 16 is enough of an all around improvement to be worth the $60 purchase. It truly is impressive how great the game looks, and it plays even better. If the goal was to prove that FIFA is only pushing forward in the next-gen then mission accomplished. Players' emotions and reactions will be mostly visible in the replays, though. Big misses will finish with a shot of a player patting the goalkeeper on the back, and cheap goals will often see a frustrated goalie (especially one who has been taking a lot of shots) lashing out, presumably at his defenders. On its own, player emotion would need to be a lot more demonstrative to be counted as an improvement worth mentioning. But combined with the raucous crowd atmosphere (which got a huge boost in last year's FIFA 16) and a better broadcast package to showcase it all, FIFA 16 is better than any other sports video game at communicating the feeling of everyone in the moment, where its peers offer only pure crowd volume and expository dialogue from the commentators.
Perhaps, then, EA has reached the same realisation: that, in their own way, the enthusiastic blobs of Sensi and the eight-way running of PES 3 captured something integral about the idea of football that modern FIFA, with its momentum modelling and exquisite skills system, can’t improve upon. Honestly, that seems unlikely - it’s more feasible that EA doesn’t feel an urgent need to improve its interpretation of football, because of a lack of competition from old rival Pro Evo, and because of the dominance of and financial success of its Ultimate Team mode. This would explain why the bulk of FIFA 16’s improvements are concerned with presentation and atmosphere. Feel the game - through crowd chants, commentaries, vast stadiums, a range of emotional expressions unknowable to the blank miniatures of Sensible Soccer. It is binding us to an idea. It is selling us something.

As such, it's rather difficult to really pin down what FIFA improves upon this time around, especially since it looks just about the same as last year's entry, despite sporting a few smoother animations and a number of slightly better looking player models. Perhaps the only somewhat obvious change from the previous installment is that matches seem to have a quicker pace about them. The ball travels faster, general play seems a touch smoother, and there's a more noticeable sense of back and forth as both teams scuffle for possession. Where FIFA 16 attempted to emphasis slower offensive build ups and blistering counter attacks, FIFA 16 almost feels like you're always racing up and down the pitch. Whether this is a good or bad thing will likely come down to personal preference, but overall, the faster pace suits shorter matches a little better.
You do get to set more complex tactics or, at least, create different team systems to suit different opponents through refreshed Team Management options though. Plus, you can assign different commands to each player, ensuring that defenders stick where they are during attacks or make sure just one of your chosen strikers presses opponent defenders, for example. But this change is applicable to all game modes and any match you play, so is not just restricted to career. Instead, you definitely get a feeling of déjà vu when playing through seasons as your favourite or other chosen team. Player growth has been modified to be more realistic, but we haven't managed to play numerous seasons yet to see how much that might alter things.
The ability to customize team sheets in advance streamlines the FIFA experience. In previous games, hardcore players had to adjust their teams before games kicked off to exploit the opposing team’s weaknesses. While that's not necessarily anything major to complain about, the time it took to cover all of your bases before kickoff could be a bit excessive. So much so, that I got often got into arguments with friends over how much time they took to set up. Now you can customize team sheets with up to 6 different playing styles, making it easy to apply game plans based on the strengths and shortcomings of opponents. I tried my best to uncover some weaknesses with the game, but outside of some minor ghosting when player close-ups are shown, and a glitch with AI controlled defenders clearing the ball out of bounds (they tend to panic when chased and kick the ball out of play), there's not a lot complain about.