EA Sports’ flagship football franchise has been the go-to football sim for quite some time now, with every iteration focusing on the fine-tuning of mechanics rather than major innovation. FIFA 16 continues with this trend, adding in a handful of new changes and improvements that make this year’s FIFA the best and most realistic one yet. However, niggling issues continue to keep it from completely overthrowing its direct competition.

While previous iterations of FIFA saw defense and midfield-splitting passes become a norm, this year’s iteration has sought to cull that completely. Defenders will now track runs made by attackers and wingers, and midfielders will more-than-often predict where you’re going to ping a pass to, intercept it, and instigate an attack of their own.

FIFA 16 review

On higher difficulty levels, you might not be even able to have a touch of the ball anymore thanks to these improvements and player awareness being as solid as ever, yet these changes add to the realism and notion that you’re participating in a game of football against players who know what they’re doing, as opposed to those who watch the ball float over their heads without a care in the world.

Add to this some new, minute gameplay additions such as no-touch dribbling, which dummies defenders into making silly challenges, and the drilled pass, which has passes played at a much faster pace across the pitch, and the representation of the real game of football is becoming more and more evident. Annoyingly, crossing this year is incredibly difficult to pull off, as defenders aren’t as easily lured away anymore, although the occasional lobbed through ball can still breach what is otherwise an astute and formidable defensive line.

The AI can still misread passes and make bad decisions though, but it seems to be much less apparent this year because of the improvements made across the pitch. For the most part, the gameplay tweaks make for a formidable opponent almost every time you start up a game, and playing on the higher difficulty levels certainly poses a greater challenge than in previous iterations.

FIFA 16 review

While gameplay tweaks bring FIFA yet closer to a realistic depiction of football, it’s the addition of 12 women’s national teams that is the most progressive change to the game this year. This marks the first time women have been represented in a football sim, and while it’s certainly a step in the right direction, the modes available for the selection of women’s teams are unfortunately limited to Kick Off/Exhibition and the Women’s World Cup. This slightly constrains what is otherwise a great step forward for the series – it feels more like basic groundwork for future iterations, rather than a fully-fledged new addition.

This year doesn’t really bring a plethora of improvements

There’s quite a difference in how the women’s game plays out though, and it’s evident that EA has spent a lot of time refining and taking into consideration the differences between the two. The men’s game remains very fast-paced, with counter attacks and interceptions remaining at the forefront of scoring goals. In the women’s game, the whole pace feels ultimately slower, making for a more calculative and precise game of football. It feels unique and genuinely independent, which is a major positive in the grand scheme of things.

FUT Draft, a mode that’s been implemented in a selection of other EA Sports titles this year, is the biggest change in Ultimate Team in quite some time. FUT Draft has you craft a team and take them through a handful of matches to earn coins and rewards to use on your own personal team in FUT. At the beginning of FUT Draft, you’re given a set of five randomised cards and options to choose from. These ranging from your team’s formation, the players, the coach, and the subs and reserves bench.

It’s important to pay attention to the team’s chemistry – which is defined by matching up players who either play in the same league or who are from the same country – throughout the selection process, as a team with bad chemistry will play with no conviction or precision at all.

While it can become frustrating when things don’t quite match up during the selection process, FUT Draft is still an excellent addition to Ultimate Team, as it diversifies what is quite evidently the most time-consuming mode FIFA has to offer. Working all the way through the four matches on FUT Draft will garner you a couple of packs and a good amount of coins to use on your own team, the only negative being the fact you have to pay a set amount of coins or FIFA Points to buy a token to enter the mode. Some of the rewards are worth the admission price, whereas some aren’t – it entirely depends on the difficulty you play, and whether or not you make it all the way through.

FIFA 16 review
FIFA 16 review
There’s quite a difference in how the women’s game plays out

Career Mode has overseen a couple of notable improvements, of which the most significant is the inclusion of pre-season tournaments, which give you the chance to earn some additional funds during the off-season and experiment with players and formations.

Having the ability to use all seven substitutes during pre-season games makes analysis of which players stay in your side much easier, and thus this change the most useful of all the minor tweaks that have been made.

As a Manager in Career Mode, you’re given the ability to work through various training routines with up to five players each week, increasing their stats and improving their overall rating. This is an entirely optional thing to use, and from what I’ve noticed has no real bearing on how a player’s potential and overall will pan out years down the track, but it’s nonetheless an interesting change to Career Mode’s fairly static formula.

FIFA 16 review

The official presentation of the Bundesliga has also been added to the game, which is reminiscent of how the Barclay’s Premier League was replicated in FIFA 15. This adds a greater feeling of realism and authenticity for those that follow the Bundesliga or use a German team in their career, but otherwise it’s more of just a minor cosmetic change.

New recorded lines and reactions from Martin Tyler and Alan Smith make FIFA’s commentary even more seamless and realistic this year, with the team now calling out formations, player transfer fees, and players to watch throughout career and surrounding modes. After a few hours, the lines still get repetitive fast, and FIFA veterans will notice lines recorded all the way back in FIFA 12 and 13 are still heard quite regularly here. Nonetheless, it’s still the most realistic commentary in a football sim to date.

FIFA 16 is, fundamentally, an excellent football game. However, this year doesn’t really bring a plethora of improvements. The introduction of women’s national teams is certainly a positive step for the series, but the limited scope of this inclusion stagnates what is otherwise something that should be praised. The tweaks to Career Mode and the addition of FUT Draft make FIFA 16 the best and most complete FIFA package available, but considering its direct competition has seen a rampant rise through major innovation and gameplay improvements, the pressure of competition is certainly starting to take a toll.