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With FIFA 16, the decades-old franchise feels like it’s finally running out of steam. Electronic Arts’ yearly staple retains the excellent level of presentation that is synonymous with the brand, but a misjudged focus on the off-pitch action leaves the football itself feeling disappointingly lacklustre.

That’s not to say the off-pitch action is bad; as ever, it’s superb.

In terms of presentation and features, FIFA 16 is absolutely at the top of the pile, its competitors struggling to grasp what EA understands so well; football/soccer is about atmosphere as much as it is kicking a ball around. The only other game that really grasps this concept is Rocket League.

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Sadly, the actual act of kicking a ball around leaves a lot to be desired. Football is a game that completely revolves around pace — catching your opponent on the counter-attack, speeding past their last defender and slotting the ball into the net is as viable a tactic as any. This in mind, it came as quite a shock to discover just how sluggish FIFA 16 is to play.

Players will meander around the pitch like zombies, appearing as though they just rolled out of bed and onto the field. Shooting feels absolutely terrible — what should be a powerful, clean strike through the ball instead becomes a feeble, inaccurate attempt on the enemy goal, stripping matches of those 30-yard screamers that have come to define FIFA over the years.

The mediocrity doesn’t end there, with FIFA 16’s defensive game also proving a huge weak link. A single pass would often break open my back-four, letting opposing teams in on a goal far too easily. On top of this, my computer-controlled defenders would always chase after the ball in groups, leaving our box free for attacking players to drift into. The number of games I lost because of my squad-mates was ridiculously high.

The AI, on the whole, isn’t very intelligent.

It’s as though they’re programmed without any logical sensibilities, and they’ll usually act with frustrating predictability. Whenever I attempted to pass to my teammates, they would stand, rooted to the spot, and let the ball come to them — making it easy for other opponents to intercept. In real life, a smart player would go to the ball, eliminating the likelihood of losing possession.

Thankfully, EA absolutely nailed its visuals, and match-day presentation is truly a sight to behold. The crowd will jeer and holler, screaming out jovially and giving convincing reactions to every goal, miss and save. EA even included national anthems — your players will line up in front of the stands, the camera slowly gliding around the stadium as the song of a nation booms out across the pitch.

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Player animations are also stellar. Tackles look bone-crunchingly realistic, your players jostling and jumping with sheer power and ferocity. Goalkeepers will dive majestically for those hard-to-reach shots, their arms outstretched as the tip of their finger parries the ball to safety.

It’s just a shame that for all their attention to atmosphere, EA let the football suffer. Even though FIFA 16 looks stunning and at times could pass for a real-life match, the second you take control of your players this illusion is shattered. It’s far too slow — your passes, shots, and lobs lack any real punch, making it feel like you’re playing with a polystyrene ball.

Though playing matches do eventually become tedious, there’s still some enjoyment to be gleaned from a whole host of other features and modes – a particular standout being training drills. As the name implies, you’re tasked with completing various exercises whilst honing a particular skill – be it defending, shooting or set-pieces.

Some have you dribbling in and around obstacles, practising precision turning at high speed. Others have you volleying a ball into a partially covered net, sliding it neatly into a small corner to score maximum points. They’re all great fun, and the arcadey high-score chasing never gets old.

If you’re already trained like a boss, however, you probably don’t need any practice. If this is the case, Career Mode should probably be your next stop – and FIFA 16 boasts arguably the most impressive version of the mode we’ve seen to date.

It’s a fine example of the community being given exactly what they desired, with two oft-requested features making their debut. FIFA 16 introduces Pre-Season Tournaments and Player Training, and both improve the level of depth and strategy you can employ to your long-term game plan.

Tournaments invite your club to a total of three competitions, played across a variety of countries. You should use these matches as a testing ground – find the weak links in your squad, and eliminate or improve them if necessary. Once the tournament ends, you’ll be allocated prize funds straight into your transfer budget, so you can swiftly act on any changes you need to make.

The other, more self-explanatory addition is Player Training. Here, you’re allowed to increase specific player attributes, meaning you can buff up those aforementioned weak links on the fly. Is Lionel Messi not hitting the target? You can fix that. Is Vincent Kompany chickening out of tackles? Put him through his paces on a defensive course.

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You can only train five players at once, so you really have to be strategic here; do you improve your starting 11, giving you a formidable first-team but weaker reserves? Or do you focus on the substitutes, meaning that you’ll never be out of options come match day? It’s wonderfully RPG-like, and I lost hours and hours wading through menus of stats and figures, desperately trying to get the best out of my squad.

Unfortunately, you can spend days tweaking your team to perfection, but FIFA 16 comes crumbling down when you step into the arena. It’s a damn shame that the football itself is so weak, because literally everywhere else, EA excels. Would it have been better to focus on the gameplay, rather than adding supplemental features? Absolutely. But FIFA is on the right track, and I’m hopeful that next season will yield better results.

FIFA 16 wants you to create “Moments of Magic,” but a number of gameplay flaws make this is a lot harder than it should be. EA’s undying commitment to a bevy of extraneous features means that the beautiful game shines a lot less than it used to. It is a shame and leads to the question of which is more entertaining  FIFA or Rocket League?

rating-fifa16

Pro’s

• Player training + Pre-season Tournaments
• Great career mode
• Stunning visuals
• Realistic animations

Con’s

• Frustrating AI
• Shots lack power
• Zombie-like teammates

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