Football game reviews can be odd things. You never really know where the reviewer is coming from and how what they want might differ from what you want. Sometimes the job is given to whoever least hates sports games and sometimes it’s given to a supposed ‘resident expert’. To let you know where I stand, I’m going to start this off with a little bit of background info.
I’ve played football games for nearly 30 years now. I prefer the more realistic simulations over the old arcade style games and have perhaps had a slight bias towards PES. I do, however, have a fairly open mind when it comes to the modern day PES vs FIFA debate and will simply side with whichever one I feel is best; I have no brand loyalty to speak of. Last year I preferred PES 2015 as I felt FIFA 15 was truly awful and the worst in the series since their 2008 renaissance. That alone should tell you something – if you loved FIFA 15, we might have different ideas about what 16 should be.
When playing football games I look for and appreciate slow build up play with good player movement and an ability to try what I want without feeling that it has no chance to succeed. You should be able to play with a variety of styles and not find yourself falling back into known routines that have proven to be effective time after time. Perhaps the most important thing to mention is that I primarily play offline, either against the CPU in manager mode or in local two-player matches. I have no interest in special gimmick modes like FUT or My Club. With that explained then, this review will focus almost entirely on the actual gameplay on the pitch. There are hundreds of places where you can find out more info about all the extra features should you so desire but, for me, it has to be a good game of football before I’ll even start to care. So is it?
FIFA 16 promises a lot with its cries of ‘innovation across the pitch’ and the adverb-challenged slogan of ‘play beautiful’. The early impressions I heard from those who played it at trade shows were that the game was slower and more balanced with increased focus on midfield play. All of this sounded good to me but could they really overhaul the travesty that was last year’s game that quickly?
Well, first impressions are that the game is definitely slower which, alone, is a huge improvement. It still feels a little too fast for my liking but so does PES this year and I think both games are actually fairly close to real game speed when you compare after watching a match. Not only does this make everything that bit more realistic but it also means you have a little more time to think and plan your play which results in less desperate sprinting around as you try to avoid losing possession. It doesn’t take long to realise that the sprint down the pitch and bang it in tactics aren’t going to be as viable this year. It is still possible, but the various changes mean it’s not always going to be the only effective choice. However, ball movement, whilst incredibly realistic, is still limited in that you can’t move it as incredibly slowly as you can in PES. The lightest of taps will always put just a touch more zip on it than you might want, making passing a less varied affair than it should be. (This is on manual which should in theory offer the widest range of options here).
Another thing that I found to be immediately apparent is that the game looks a little better this year. I’ve been playing on PC and Xbox One and have noticed that the aliasing issues and general muddiness of last year’s game have been addressed; everything is sharper and seems to ‘pop’ a lot more (I hear that’s the trendy term these days). Since moving to the new engine with FIFA 14, the game has always managed to look both fantastic and terrible at various moments and this year is no exception. Generally though, things have been tidied up and given some polish; everything seems to be at 60fps this year, compared to last year where I felt that the frame rate would halve during some cutscenes, and it does make a difference. Player models are better but still nowhere near PES levels, although the hair is nice, with the addition of women’s football having led to much more realistically flowing male locks as well as the veritable ponytail fest the ladies provide. People seem to want different things from how football games look, with some much preferring PES’s chunkiness and great looking player models and others opting for FIFA’s wealth of realistically created stadiums and degrading pitches. I think, on the whole, FIFA looks better during gameplay but both have their high and low points.
This brings us on to the next curiosity of football, and sports, game reviews. Opinions differ wildly! Every year some people will swear blind that it’s exactly the same game whilst others will talk of how drastically different it is. You can’t take anyone’s opinion as valid because there will always be another that contradicts it. I’d include mine in that. The changes I’m talking about with regard to gameplay and graphics might never become apparent to you for whatever strange reason. They’re things I have noticed so they’re definitely there but you might not see them if it’s not what you’re looking for. Football games are weird like that. I will say, though, that I genuinely do not understand how someone who plays a lot of these games wouldn’t notice the changes. A casual player who dips in and out of a football game when they have mates round, sure, I can see how they might not notice, but the guy who plays a few seasons a year and pumps hundreds of hours in is sure to appreciate the changes. Having said that, most of the changes are subtle when taken in context of the overall game and the effect they have isn’t as drastic as it might first appear. After a few hours, it’s easy to forget what’s different.
Back to the gameplay then. I feel most things have been improved rather than just altered for the sake of it, with the possible exception of shooting. It seems that almost every shot now has dip on it and has to leave the ground. Getting a hard, straight driven shot feels impossible at times and attempting to neatly slot home along the ground results in either a weedy pea-roller or the ball leaving the ground. My understanding is that they’ve made it all even more contextual than before, but these players seem to always have their foot under the ball. It’s not really worse than last year but it’s not better either. I would maybe say that there is a little more variety in the types of goal that you can score with various finishing animations to go with them, but the trajectory of the ball seems to be an up and down dip far too often.
The new ‘passing with purpose’ modifier works as you’d expect, adding a little pace to help power the ball through tight gaps, but it’s not much different to just holding the button longer and its effectiveness isn’t so great as to make you remember it’s an option until you’ve played for quite some time and start experimenting for the sake of it. Similarly forgettable is the new ‘no touch dribble’ mechanic which feels more like a trick on a button than anything else. It can be handy when running onto through balls that you don’t want to touch straight away but it’s also a little inconsistent in that sometimes players will touch the ball anyway. I can see some people finding great uses for it but it doesn’t feel necessary or game changing in any way, perhaps I just need more time with it, at the moment it seems to just confuse those of us that used to use the close control button it replaces and, at worst, is another indication of FIFA’s annoying fascination with skill moves.
Overall then, FIFA plays a better game of football than last year. I’m fairly pleased with what they’ve done but my mixed feelings remain in some areas. General control and ball movement still feels slightly beyond you, by which I mean it feels like you’re constantly fighting the ball and never quite getting it to do what you want. I don’t really mean that as a criticism because I think part of it is down to the game’s realism; playing football can be quite hard and accurately directing a ball under pressure is a tricky thing to do. I also play with fully manual controls which probably doesn’t help. By comparison, PES always feel like you have real complete control and if you see a pass you can make it. You might make the odd mistake but it feels like your mistake. I would say that in PES, misplaced passes and shots are down to the pressure that you, the player, might be feeling whereas in FIFA there is the additional element of player character error and physics which can result in misses whether you yourself are feeling pressure or not. It’s a hard thing to make a judgement on and is perhaps one of the dividing factors that makes some people prefer PES and some prefer FIFA. On paper, FIFA’s physics and player attribute factors make it sound like the more in-depth game but in practise it can make for some frustrating moments. PES somehow manages to convey the player identities without having to highlight their foibles quite so much. Players still feel too ‘light’ as well; it’s hard to feel that you’re controlling a footballer as they glide effortlessly across the pitch. I don’t know quite what it is but there’s a disconnect somewhere, it might even be that the ball, as realistic as its movement is, is too light in general. I don’t really know but there’s something intangible that’s still slightly off about the overall feel.
One of the arguments I see every year is that one game is ‘sim’ whilst the other is ‘arcade’. Again, there’s no real consensus on this with just as many people arguing the case one way as the other. For me, I think they have different approaches to football and it depends where your focus is as to what your opinion will be. FIFA has the realistic ball movement and physics (though sometimes exaggerated it seems, with shots pinging the woodwork a little too often) and can give you the scrappy goal mouth incidents and excitement of the Premier League, whereas PES will give you more of a considered Serie A type affair where players have time and space to display their unique abilities. If it’s the tactical side of the game you’re after, PES has the far better player movement and overall intelligence to create beautiful set pieces. If it’s the core fundamentals of kicking a football around (with all the realistic difficulties that can entail and well as the pleasures) then perhaps FIFA has a slight edge. I think these conflicting arguments often come from how the games look in motion as well as how they play. FIFA looks a lot more like football at first glance but doesn’t stand up to close scrutiny as well as PES which feels more like real football, perhaps more through trickery than the science EA employs, but there you go.
The big addition this year is, of course, the women’s game and it’s actually been done very well. It’s not a hugely different experience but there are enough subtleties to make it a worthwhile mode for when you fancy something a little different. Some people may prefer the slightly ‘lighter’ feel to the gameplay and the effect it has on various aspects of the sport. I’ve enjoyed it but there’s not really much to the mode beyond novelty at the moment. I think credit should go to EA for doing a much better job at representing the women’s game than many were expecting though.
Unfortunately, for all the improvements, many issues still remain. For me, player switching logic and movement is the most frustrating. Last year, and no doubt previously too, when the ball was in the air and that little yellow crosshair thing would be on the pitch, marking where it was going to land, I’d often have a player stood right underneath the ball waiting for it only for him to start running away just as it arrived. WHY? Not only that, but should I spot this likelihood and attempt to switch to him, the game wouldn’t let me until I was already 10 yards away from the crosshair. This might sound very specific and niche but it’s one of my biggest issues with the game and is disappointingly still present this year. Player movement when going forward is still far too static and uninventive and laying through balls or passes onto any onrushing attackers you might be lucky enough to have still often leads to you being given control of the wrong one and not being allowed to change until it’s too late. Similarly, if you’re running into the box, your own players will often continue running forward and get in your way or block your shot as if they have no awareness of where they are on the pitch. It’s all very frustrating but thankfully fairly rare with maybe one or two incidences of one of these things each match. It’s a shame as with all the improvements in other areas these small issues stand out even more. Having issues like this in a shitty game like FIFA 15 almost doesn’t matter as it’s fundamentally flawed anyway, but in FIFA 16 you have something with real potential to be great, just let down by these silly moments.
Football games will always have their issues as if they didn’t there’d be no need to buy next year’s; that’s the cynical market we find ourselves in. Fortunately though, the quality of PES 2015 seems to have been the kick up the arse EA needed, and just in time too. FIFA 16 is an improved game and, odd legacy issues aside (‘cancel’ still doesn’t work as it should either), it should provide any football fan many hours of entertainment, offering as it does, the more balanced gameplay it promised to. A big improvement over last year, with just few little niggles still to iron out.
I’ve not found a suitable space to include some other key observations so offer them here as a list of positives and negatives.
+ Crossing is better, now a viable option with headed goals more realistically prevalent than last year.
+ Graphics are slightly better with some key issues addressed.
+ Slower, allowing for more considered play.
+ Game delivers on promise of more balanced play more often than not.
– Still a feeling of no real immediate control over anything leaving you feeling uninvolved at times.
– Same legacy issues persist.
– AI still able to put moves together superhumanly quickly using a toolset that you have no access to, giving you the impression that the game has decided you will have no say in what happens for the next few moments.
At the end of the day (Trevor), you know what you want. You came here with a slight bias to either FIFA or PES. I’ve tried to be honest and tell you my bias is historically for PES and, in doing so, hope that you’ll appreciate that honesty and understand that I’ve been as open minded as possible when reviewing both games. In a way, I wish I preferred FIFA, that it was the better game, as then I’d have all the lovely licences as well as the best game. However, if you want to sit and play a football game all year and get loads out of it then PES is the one to go for in my opinion. If you’re a more casual football gamer then you might prefer FIFA for its prettier graphics and presentation. Likewise, if you’re a football fan first and a gamer second, FIFA is the game that will give you what you see on Sky with all the Premier League kits and stadiums and annoying commentary from Martin Tyler. All of that stuff counts for a lot too, it does for me anyway. I love all those stadiums and all that shit FIFA has. The only problem is, I don’t see it if I don’t want to play the game and there’s still too many issues for me to keep going for a whole season. I still feel that FIFA’s focus is in the wrong place; EA are all about FUT and tweeting Youtube videos where young offenders are made to show you how to perform this year’s new skill moves. It just doesn’t sit right with me, I hate all that bullshit. I say that specifically so you know to ignore me if you like it. That’s the important thing really, get the game you know you want, both are good this year but, to borrow some idiotic punditry parlance again, for me Brian, on the pitch, one is definitely gooder than the other and this time the other lad’s got the better of him (or her in this case, I suppose).