The first thing you’ll notice about FIFA 16 is that it’s harder to score goals. Messi may be on the box art again, but the latest edition of this best-selling football sim focuses on defence.
In previous games it was fairly easy to draw out opposition players, creating space in behind for an attacker to occupy and a pass to be played into. FIFA 16’s teams, however, have been watching Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid and now hold their shape much more stubbornly.
The result is a game that’s more realistic and tactics-driven than ever before. Especially if you fancy yourself as an armchair Mourinho.
Precision play is required
Striking the back of the net in FIFA 16 often requires some neat, one-touch passing and smart running to break through the lines. Thankfully, EA has provided a new weapon to aid this: a driven ground pass, executed by holding R1/RB when you press the standard pass button. This plays the ball with much more force, making it harder for the opposition to intercept but also harder for the receiver to control, particularly on the turn or under pressure.
This added risk means it’s a tool that you’ll have to learn when and when not to deploy, but it can be incredibly effective in and around the box (© Andy Townsend). Fire a low pass into a strong centre-forward with his back to goal and you can attempt to turn and shoot, or lay it off to a supporting player as he breaks into the box.
And it’s useful down the other end of the pitch, too. It allows you to up the urgency when passing the ball between your back four, or play out quickly from the back in an attempt to catch the opposition off guard.
Defenders of the turf
And you’ll need it, because teams in FIFA 16 don’t give you long on the ball. During testing we played on World Class difficulty and found that opposition defenders did a good job of closing down the man in possession and cutting off passing lanes. That means intelligent movement and passes into space are key. Attempt to play the ball over the top and unless you’ve managed to get the defenders running towards their own goal the ball will often be headed back where it came from.
Even if you do skirmish through towards the enemy’s sticks there’s still work to be done. FIFA 16’s goalies all seem to have spent the summer training with Manuel Neuer – they’re often off their lines quicker than you can say ‘sweeper keeper’. These begloved folk have also been given a touch more life; they’ll bounce the ball before kicking it out, or thrust the ball out in front of them if a particularly powerful shot forces them to step back across their goal line.
That said, this isn’t a bus-parking simulator; it works the other way too. Opposition teams move the ball quickly, so you’ll have to be smart with your pressing if you want to force them into making an error that could lead to turning over possession. No wonder EA has added a Guardiola-style Rondo drill to the pre-match mini-games – those are the piggy-in-the-middle warm-ups you see Bayern and Barca doing at breathtaking speed on the pitch before kick-off.
And it’s one worth practicing, because the computer-controlled players do seem a little more prone to making errors under pressure than they used to, misplacing passes or letting the ball get away from them if it’s delivered with a little too much zeal. Being braver with slide tackles is certainly rewarded but sloppiness is easily punished.
Off the pace
All of this moves the focus away from pace, which, over the course of the year, FIFA 15 did reveal itself to be a little obsessed with. The game disproportionately rewarded nippier players and punished, well, pretty much everyone else.
Pace and power are still as important as they are at the top of the real game – you only have to look at the physique Gareth Bale has developed since moving to Real Madrid for evidence of that – but it’s now a lot harder for players to get away from their markers in a one-on-one foot race.
Faster, more skillful players can now use no-touch dribbling to get past their markers instead, which involves holding L1/LB to literally stop touching the ball, tempting the defender into trying to take it off them before bursting away into space. At least, that’s the theory. To begin with you’ll often just surrender possession but when you get it right it works brilliantly, allowing you to get half a yard on a man without resorting to extravagant tricks or flicks.
The female of the species
Arguably the biggest addition to FIFA 16 is the women’s teams, although they’ve been added in such a fashion that you’d almost miss them if you didn’t know they were there. Only 12 national sides are included and you can only take charge of them in three game modes: online friendlies, offline tournaments and standard exhibition matches. That’s pretty stingy in comparison to what the men get.