“FIFA 16,” the highly anticipated latest installment in EA’s best-selling soccer video game series, was released Sept. 22. It’s gameplay is a modest improvement on past iterations of the game. Everything is slower — players sprint more slowly, they take longer to change direction and they take longer to control the ball. This is an improvement, as it emphasizes tactics and patient play. Passing the ball well and keeping possession are important ways to draw your opponents into vulnerable positions in “FIFA 16,” mirroring how real soccer is played. This is a departure from previous versions of “FIFA,” in which the best way to win was often to simply pick the fastest players and out-run your opponent.
From a visual perspective, “FIFA 16” scores. The players’ faces look better than ever, the players hold themselves more naturally and all the menus are clean and easy to navigate.
For a game like “FIFA,” however, improving the gameplay and graphics from year to year is not enough. Each year should bring new ways to play the game and new details to enhance the modes of play that already exist. In this department, “FIFA 16” has upshots such as the addition of women soccer players for the first time, but in other ways the game disappoints.
Perhaps the biggest missed opportunity is the game’s “Career Mode.” In Career Mode, a player can either play as the manager of a team, making trades and running the whole team without Fifa 16 coins, or as just one player, starting from the bottom and working up to being an all-time great. “FIFA 16’s” Career Mode is essentially the exact same thing as “FIFA 15’s” and “FIFA 14’s.” No significant new feature was added to this mode specifically.
This is especially disappointing when compared to the Career Mode features of games like “NBA 2K16.” In the “2K” series, the player can form rivalries with other NBA players, give press conferences, sign shoe deals and select which skills to increase when given the opportunity. “FIFA” Career Mode feels lifeless and stiff by comparison — one plays the games, and that’s about it, just like last year and the year before.
Overall, it feels like “FIFA” is stagnating. That’s disappointing for people who love “FIFA,” but it should also be disappointing for people who love real soccer. Sports games, at their best, augment our enjoyment of the sports they represent. How many people learned the difference between man and zone coverage playing “Madden NFL?” Or what a pick and roll is playing “NBA 2K?” Or what the icing rule is playing “NHL?” Sports games bring new fans into the sport, and they turn casual fans into aficionados.
After its release in 1999, “FIFA 2000” sold about 220,000 copies in North America. “FIFA 15,” last year’s game, sold over 2.5 million copies in the same region. Over 17 years, that’s over 2 million new Americans who can tell you what the Champions League is, 2.5 million new Americans who can name a player on Chelsea FC, 2.5 million new American soccer fans. Because soccer is still developing a fanbase in America, “FIFA’s” ability to bring fans to the game is more important than in any other sport.
“FIFA 16” is a solid game — overall, an improvement on “FIFA 15”. It is still far from perfect, and that is disappointing because a mediocre “FIFA” title represents a missed opportunity for the continued growth of soccer in America.