FOLLOWING the release of EA Sports’ latest version of the football computer game that always generates excitement at this time of year, Quays News reporter Daniel Wright reviews FIFA 16…

The ball sails magnificently through the air before altering direction towards the goal via a deflection off Luka Modric’s head. It’s a cracking header straight from a corner, with various replays showcasing the angles to witness the almost picture-perfect effort from the digital incarnation of Real Madrid’s Croatian midfielder.

From the commentary overlaying the footage, however, onlookers would believe it was none other than the Spanish club’s poster boy Cristiano Ronaldo who had sealed the finish, boosting his ego with various compliments and past statistics regarding the winger, who had just fired the ball into a crowd of players spread amongst the box.

Fifa 16 Lionel Messi
Ratings: Fifa 16 has Barcelona’s Lionel Messi (94) slightly higher than Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo (93)

It’s moments like these where it feels like the FIFA franchise is losing its real touch with football, but is instead focusing on living up to marketing the most recognisable players. The likes of Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Sergio Aguero all feel like the sturdy pillars holding up the franchise, and FIFA 16 couldn’t make it any more blatantly obvious unless a rebrand of the franchise came along in the form of “Barcelona 16, featuring some other famous footballers”.

Mechanically, it’s not too difficult to see where the improvements have come in FIFA 16. Defenders have received one of the most noticeable upgrades, no longer feeling like a series of bowling skittles to knock down, but rather a force that needs to be approached with tactics and considerate planning on the offense (unless you’re playing on beginner’s difficult of course, in which case the gaming experience is similar to playing against a clueless squadron of sheep).

The pace of passing is also far more rapid than previous embodiments of the franchise, but this is countered by the inability, in the majority of circumstances, where the receiver is not always able to receive.

Fifa 16 Borussia Dortmund celebrate goal
Leading the pack: Marcos Reus and Mats Hummels (86) are again the highest-rated Borussia Dortmund players on Fifa 16

Another development in the game is how goalkeepers have now gained the ability to magically draw the ball towards them, regardless of how extreme the situation is. The various stretches and positions to contort their bodies to stop shots are very fluid and on form, but it can be frustrating at how unrealistic some of the saves can be, particularly on the higher difficulties. It’s this point where stats and rankings become pointless when Norwich’s John Ruddy can block screaming shots from Neymar when even Manuel Neuer would struggle to get his fingertips to the ball.

The identities of the individual players do pay off elsewhere on the pitch, however. Borussia Dortmund’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is able to rocket up the pitch at lightning fast speeds courtesy of his considerably towering height and slim figure, yet his shorter and stockier winging companion in the form of Jakub Błaszczykowski feels more weighted and dramatically more careful on the ball, far less erratic. The individuality of the vast majority of players shows that developers EA have studied almost every single player in reality and applied their traits to their pixel powered counterparts.

Fifa 16 Germany Women's national team
Historic: It’s the first time that women’s football has been included on a Fifa game (Picture from Electronic Arts)

Arguably, the largest addition to the game, which is notorious for only small technical improvements, is the ability to play using women’s national teams. After a 22-year history, the franchise’s venture into women’s football is a bold start but struggles to really fire the ball into the back of the net. The possibilities and actual use for their addition in the game feels severely limited and novel, and the period of time gamers can spend dedicated to the additional gender’s side of the beautiful game feels swift and short.

Then there’s the undoubtedly largest hook for many gamers to FIFA which is Ultimate Team, a feature which has undergone several tweaks and additions for its 2016 appearance. First and foremost is FUT Draft, an ideal platform for users too impatient to build their team player by player individually.

After watching a brief clip of Gary Neville rejecting Jamie Carragher’s input into a virtual team (and resulting in a major overreaction from the duo after scoring with their star strung digital team), players are able to select from a series of stars as to whom will reside on their team. This team can be used to generate a pot of coins which can ultimately be ploughed into building up the perfect dream team in the original form of FUT.

Fifa 16 Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher
Talking tactics: The Sky Sports duo joined forces to create the perfect ‘Ultimate Team’ in an EA Sports advert prior to the game’s release

With the seemingly largest introduction of new features in recent years, FIFA 16 in itself is having an identity crisis. With the evolution of rival franchise, Pro Evolution Soccer (PES), EA appear to be attempting to level the playing field. Reviews for PES 2016 are glistening more than ever with many rating this year’s Konami-produced title better than EA’s tried and tested formula.

By having a broader scope of access to individual leagues and clubs, it’s clear that EA have commenced marketing the franchise through the poster boys of the beautiful game – even though FIFA 16 has a greater depth of additions and innovations than many of its predecessors.

By chasing this method, it seems realistic that in a few years when the innovations are tweaks aren’t so heavy-handed, they really will be relying on a new title of ‘The Lionel Messi Show’.

By Daniel Wright
@SirDamnWright

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