FIFA 16 Preview - A much needed balancing act
A 6-0 defeat - that was the score in my first ever match in FIFA 16. More a refinement than a reinvention, the latest FIFA instalment comes with a much needed rebalancing of the core game.
Visually more of the same, this year's offering does a lot to change how the 'beautiful game' is played.
No longer does attack dominate play, nor will the clod-hoppers invariably found in defence have you tossing your controller across the room.
Speaking to Independent.ie at a press event ahead of FIFA 16's release next month, Senior Producer Nick Channon said this year's “gameplay mantra was innovation across the entire pitch”.
“We've gone into every sub-system to make the game as clean as we can, as balanced as we can, so the sophistication of the engine can shine through.
“Based on the feedback we've gotten, this year we wanted to bring back confidence in defending, have the midfield matter and come to life the way it should in a football game.”
Pace, as some FIFA 15 players will know, was perhaps the most influential offensive attribute in last year's game.
This has now been fixed - defenders have gained new turning abilities, increased agility, and do a much better job of tracking fast-paced players and getting into positions based on the build up of play.
“We had a lot of feedback about the difficulty of defenders sticking with skilled strikers like Ronaldo... and so we've done a lot of work around agility and movement of the players,” said Nick Channon.
“Also we’ve improved how teams defend as a unit and interception logic. What this does is re-introduce the midfield part of the game.”
As always, it took a few matches to get to grips with the slightly altered pace and tempo of play but the new additions did not hinder the series' already slick and easy to pick up control system.
It was not necessarily harder to score but doing so felt much more natural.
Through balls, for example, did not cut out the defence each and every time as before, and goal-line clearances were much more common.
Sliding tackles have been improved, now allowing players to pull out of the animation in order to stand and turn much more quickly.
When playing defensively, it felt I no longer had to wait for my opponent to make a mistake.
Instead, I could go in for a tackle knowing that if I failed I had a good chance of continuing the pressure with the same player.
Moving further up the pitch, and it is here where returning FIFA players will really feel the changes.
“If you go back and play FIFA 15 I think the first thing you will notice with this year's game is how different the players around you are in terms of winning back possession and interceptions,” said Nick Channon.
“We wanted to create a system that made players think a little more about football and how they played.
“Last year was very much about using fast, speedy players – by solidifying the midfield a little more, it opens up the game to different styles of attack and approach.”
While in midfield, holding onto the ball and trying to carve out an opportunity is a realistic tactic, thanks in part to the new 'driven pass' mechanic, which makes it much easier to get out of sticky situations by using a powerful pass forward that is not always guarantee to reach its intended target.
Responding to criticism that it was too easy to drive through midfield, the developers have ensured that you now get less time on the ball as players in the middle of the park press and snap into tackles much more.
It is a more aggressive and combative approach that really makes a big impression.
But it is not just the defence and midfield that has received attention, attacking play has also undergone some revision.
When crossing, you now have the ability to add curve to take defenders out of the equation and give the strikers additional attacking scenarios.
And there are other small features, such as the ability to dribble without the ball to feint players into going the wrong way.
“It sounds like a minor thing but being able to make a touch past a defender and then wait for the ball to slow down before crossing instead of having to keep up the pace to move forward is a major improvement,” said senior producer Nick Channon.
Amongst the raft of enhancements this year, the new FIFA Trainer is a welcome surprise.
Aimed at newcomers to the series, the system, which can be switched off from the pause menu, pops button prompts on top of the controlled player, suggesting actions that can be take.
“We found that new users wanted to learned how to play the game eleven versus eleven, not just by completely the skill games,” said Nick Channon.
“The issue we found was that once they got into a full game, it was easy to forget what they'd learned in isolation.
“The [trainer] is there to teach you to get better at the game – everyone can get something from it but for new players its a great way to learn and compete at a higher level.”
A big headline feature announced this year is the inclusion of the women’s game.
Fifa 16 will feature 12 women’s national teams, USA, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, England, Spain, Germany, Italy, France, Sweden, China and Australia, though there are significant restrictions.
Women can not play against men, nor are they playable in any league modes, or in Ultimate Team.
Also female players are ranked on a separate system from the existing one for men.
“You can still have a 90 rated female but she’s not going to play like a 90 rated man,” said Nick Channon.
The women's game has a slightly different pace than that of traditional FIFA, with a slower tempo but much more methodical approach.
It certainly proves to be a worthwhile addition to the series though, and it is clear that the developers spent a considerable amount of time capturing the “authenticity” of women's soccer.
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Other improvements included in FIFA 16 is a new draft system for the FIFA Ultimate Teams.
Players will now be able to pick their starting eleven from a number of randomly selected players and play through a short four-match tournament of increasing difficultly.
“We think this is the biggest game changer in how to play FUT we've ever had – it's about giving people the chance to play with players they've never gotten before,” said Adam Shaikh, Creative Director of FIFA Ultimate Team.
Career mode has seen some tweaks with the main additions being the introduction of player training and a meaningful pre-season.
“Previously it was something you could ignore,” said Nick Channon. “But now, each pre-season comes with a new tournament.
“Players will get to pick from three based in Europe, North America, Latin America, and Asian.
“And whatever money they win can be used in the transfer market.”
On player training, he said: “It's something we've been looking at adding for awhile. Now players will be able to assign up to five slots each week and train either one player or five different ones and increase their stats based on the various skill games.
“There's quite a lot of depth to it and we hope it takes away from that feeling that you're just playing game after game after game when you're midway through career mode.
“Of course there are limits to it, you're not going to make John Terry a striker.”
There will be 50 licensed and 28 generic stadiums in FIFA 16, and EA Sports has revealed the nine new stadiums to feature in this year's release.
The grounds of each of the three newly promoted Premier League sides will make an appearance, with Norwich's Carrow Road, Watford's Vicarage Road and Bournemouth's Vitality Stadium all included.
In addition, FIFA 16 also welcomes Marseille's Stade Vélodrome, Club Atlético River Plate's El Monumental stadium and Seattle Sounders' CenturyLink Field.
Borussia Mönchengladbach's Borussia Park makes an appearance, alongside the King Abdullah Sports City, home of Saudi Arabia teams Al-Ittihad and Al-Ahli.
In a touching tribute, League Two side Portsmouth's Fratton Park will also be included.
Simon Humber, creative director of the Fifa series and a massive Pompey fan, passed away earlier this year following a long battle with cancer.
His former colleagues decided to include the 2008 FA Cup winners' stadium in the game as a way of honouring him.
The Fratton Park pitch features a subtle tribute to the former creative director in the form of a wreath of flowers laid by the side of one of the goals.
FIFA 16 will be available in Ireland on September 25, three days after its North American release.