Speaking bluntly, FIFA 15 was a disappointment, and in many respects. EA Sports introduced many changes after FIFA 14, and the transition was harder than expected, hampering crucial gameplay elements, and ultimately forming an inconsistent football experience. It was a game that quickly swung between being very good and then really bad, mostly due to a selection of bugs and some hastily implemented mechanics.
FIFA 16 promises to be better. In fact, if EA wants to keep competing with the much improved PES 2016, it has no choice but to up its game. Early on EA Sports made it clear that this year's goal was to improve the game that they created last year, and the new playable demo has made that even clearer. A few games were enough to realise that all gaming areas have evolved, and that the football experience it provides is much more solid and cohesive than last year - even if we're still not sure how this will feel after extended play.
The big news regarding FIFA 16, at least in terms of marketing, is the introduction of the long demanded (especially in the USA) women's game. Only twelve women's football national teams will be present in the final version, and they can only play each other, but the playable demo already includes two teams - Germany and USA - allowing us to get an idea of how it will be to play with female athletes. We liked what we played. EA Sports made a decent effort to represent this side of football, with individual modelling for the players and a mountain of specific new animations. In terms of actual gameplay, the flow seems a bit slower then the male counterpart, but it largely plays the same, albeit with different animations.
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If you have a decent internet connection then the demo also allows you to try out another of FIFA 16's novelties - the FUT Draft mode. This variant of Ultimate Team Mode allows players to create a team with randomly chosen options for each position on the field. Then you will have to participate in several matches to earn rewards that can be used in the traditional Ultimate Team. The demo itself allows you to create a team and participate in a match, and it seems like it could be a fun idea, although we will reserve judgement for the final version.
EA is implementing many other changes outside of the gameplay experience, like the improved career mode, instructions during the game to educate newcomers about what to do in various situations, new Skill Games, and several other minor details. The demo itself didn't allow us to properly explore these and other elements, but we already have a good idea of what we can expect in the most important area.
The most obvious improvement lies in the immediate perception that the game is more solid and refined. It is better balanced in all areas of the pitch, offering an extremely realistic football experience. FIFA 16 actually looks to have the potential to become the most faithful representation of modern European football we ever seen in a game. All this balance and solidity arises through multiple changes.
The overall pass system works better than last year, and it seems easier to deliver the ball to the desired player, but the big news is what EA calls "passing with purpose." This is an entirely new function which can be triggered with the R1 and X (PS4), and it basically allows you to execute stronger passes. It's a good way to try and pass through unwary opponents, or to change flanks with less chance of the ball being intercepted. You need to be careful though, as theses passes can be hard to control properly if they are done in close proximity.
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One of the major complaints about FIFA in recent years, and specifically FIFA 15, is related to the defensive system. Defending in last year's edition was a nightmare, and many plays ended with cuts inside the box, wide shots, or actual goals, because it was just too difficult to take the ball. All the defensive systems have been refurbished in FIFA 16, and defending is again a satisfactory and effective task. Players position themselves better, have greater reach when tackling, anticipate more effectively, and can even simulate a tackle. Defensive actions have improved a lot, not only in terms of controls, but also due to team behaviour.
The AI, particularly in the higher difficulties, is a hard nut to crack. The teams close up well, there is great mutual assistance between the midfield, and they effectively pressure the ball carrier. You will need a lot of patience, to pay close attention, and have a dash of luck if you're going to overcome a good defence in FIFA 16. This was also one of the main problems we found in the demo. It's just too difficult. Not in the sense that you will be thrashed by your opponents, or even lose games. What's difficult in FIFA 16 is actually playing good football.
The game offers a vast array of options, more then ever, and it even changes some of the button's actions since last year. This can be quite complicated to manage during a match, even more so if you're not a big FIFA player. This, coupled with the relentless defensive AI, makes it very difficult to practice the beautiful game. It is a more realistic offering, especially considering the European style of play, where teams usually defend well, and where there is great pressure in the midfield. In this sense, players will need to clearly significantly improve their overall game if they want to play decent football in FIFA 16. The question is whether they will have the ability or the patience for it.
FIFA 16 is a very realistic football game, perhaps too realistic for its own good. There are several changes that players will have to get used to (like the new dribbling without the ball and the strong passes), and if you don't master all of these gameplay elements, you will have trouble with the game. The worry is that players who struggle to adapt might find FIFA 16 to be a tedious and even frustrating experience.
Now all that remains is to wait for the final version of the game, not only to see the final alterations that EA Sports has implemented (the demo is always an older version of game), but also see how the game will grow on us over time. This would not be the first FIFA to require a lengthy period of adjustment to before becoming a high-quality experience, so let's see if that's the case with FIFA 16.