FIFA 16 PS4 Review: Sing when you’re winning

You oftentimes don’t reap what you sow. You can meticulously build towards the sort of all-inclusive team goal, the likes of which would make Ajax legend Rinus Michels blush with glee all to be undone by a moment of measured brilliance out of nowhere — à la Zinedine Zidane’s left-footed volley against Bayer Leverkusen to seal a Champions League triumph back in 2002.

It may feel unfair, and at times downright unjust, but that’s what makes the sport the most beloved throughout the world; that level of fervor and unpredictability Fifa 16 coins. Until now, EA Sports Canada’s attempts at replicating The Beautiful Game have ranged between incredibly competent realizations all the way down to inconsequential in the face of Pro Evolution Soccer’s past dominance. It’s been an up and down ride, but make no mistake, this year’s iteration brings with it one of the most pronounced gameplay upheavals in recent memory.

With the potential to construct a play like that of the Egyptian pyramids only to have it crumble in disarray like a game of Jenga, the FIFA 16 experience now better encapsulates the moment-to-moment susceptibility housed within football; the risk/reward mantra that’s so ingrained in the very fundamentals of the sport. For once, it finally feels as though there are separate phases of attack and everything just feels a lot more reactionary and purposeful. The passing, for instance, has been revamped and doesn’t feel nearly as choreographed as previous years where it sometimes felt as though the game had devolved into a bout of pinball.

This time around passing can regularly be too short with the propensity to be miscontrolled, which can subsequently drag players out of their respective positions leading to more avenues to explore enroute to that elusive goal. It’s a far more dynamic, and frankly realistic, way of depicting the sport and treads the line much closer to Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer than ever before.

FIFA 16

Despite the evident admittance of its influence, it’s also particularly commendable that EA Sports has sought to rectify the midfield shortcomings of yonder. As noted extensively in our review of FIFA 15, the middle area of the pitch was always void of any real contestation, never the place where games could be taken by the scruff of the neck or seemed to have any real effect on the overall procession of play.

Now, however, the general gameplay manages to mostly capture that balance of allowing you the sort of malleable room to really work towards a pattern of play and not be let down by a flimsy mechanic or one of those tried-and-tested balls over the top. It’s a refreshing change, and while not perfect – EA Sports’ post-demo tinkering being one of the culprits – it means that every match plays out in a more distinct and individual way. And unlike years before, playing the computer never feels too formulaic or monotonous either – a testament to the effort leveled towards arguably the most important aspect of the game.

The level of unpredictability brought about by the aforementioned variety in passing responses is an example of a much-needed injection of dynamism into proceedings and is in stark contrast to the days where matches of FIFA – be it on Ultimate Team or Online Seasons – would devolve into a series of preconceived tropes and repetitive actions of abuse. It’s taken far too long but gone are the days where pace-afflicted speedsters would induce tremors within the legs of defenders with a mere sleight of foot or turn in any general direction.

You’ve now got to rely on a lot more cunning and anticipation to outgun a defender and the experience is all the better for it. Though still not perfect by any means – with collision detection, input lag, and the odd passing placement still suspect to a point – players now have to rely on diminutive movement rather than full-speed-ahead pace to get the better of an opposite number. It also makes you more appreciative of being able to read situations and react to certain stimuli as patterns emerge and it feels far more fulfilling to succeed as a result.