You better not over-hit your through balls‘ – Dara Higgins on FIFA 16

FIFA, the organisation, is rife with corruption. Fat and maggot riddled. A house of Usher, falling, we hope, into a pit of its own effluence. FIFA, the game, continues at pace. Maybe this is as much to do with the fact that the opposition, namely PES, is still stagnated, despite many repeated claims to the contrary. The truth is FIFA, the organisation, rule the roost because there’s no opposition. This is why FIFA, the game, needs to improve year after year, on the off chance that PES might return to its pre-2004 glory. Man, that’s a long time ago. 

FIFA 16, the franchise’s latest iteration, isn’t going to mess with the winning format. The tweaks are minimal and unobtrusive. It’s as slick an experience as you’d expect.
The interface remains the same. If it ain’t broke… In Manager Career mode there’s a new training module, to work on individual player’s attributes. There are actual results to be gleaned from this, and there’s nothing better than faffing about doing everything in the game but actually play the game. Players in your youth academy have terrifying generated faces.
There are now 12 international women’s team added, which is a bit of a breakthrough, in fairness, and one’s that overdue. There are other shiny new elements included in the gameplay. Such as a new passing mechanic which clearly doesn’t work as 50% of passes roll out of touch. Well, 50% of Glen Whelan’s passes at any rate. REALITY. There’s other bells and whistles like the no touch dribble and shit like that, which might interest you if you’re 10 or are one of those adults that hasn’t opened up the curtains since August 2011. Fair play to you, trick stick away. The first version of FIFA I got was 98, and I still haven’t “mastered” a “trick”. I’m one of those who boos at the telly if someone tries a stepover, but this is the beauty of FIFA. To each his own. Unless you want to do the long ball, because the ball doesn’t travel very far, or fast. Gone are the 40 yard howitzers. They’re still there, but not every game. Because reality, one presumes.

Sliding tackles appear to be back. Whereas for a few years they seemed truncated and useless, as if your players was trying to navigate a sea of sandpaper with their arse and only managing to remove themselves from the game, now they fly around, legs akimbo, even occasionally making contact with the ball. In the rain, they skid even further. And speaking of the rain, there are now added moods of weather. Before it was just monsoon that turned the pitch into an unplayable bog. Now there’s showers. Fog. Flurries of snow. I’d still avoid the snow. I’m not yet epileptic, but I don’t want to force the issue, thanks.

Goalies have improved. Yeah, sometimes in the past the AI would just decide that thou shall not pass, and they’d imbue the spirit of Yashin into whatever Ruddy was in front of your strikers, and that can still happen. Corners and crosses are harder, as keepers come out and claim high balls with impunity. Rarely missing, rarely dropping, hardly ever Jamesing. They’re quick off their line too. You better not over-hit your through balls. And you will. Assuming your through balls actually travel forward. It’s not as prevalent as it used to be, or so it seems, but the through ball that goes BACKWARDS is still the most annoying thing on earth. Of course, you’re playing the percentage game in hoping that a through ball goes anywhere near its intended target. That’s just the way it is, even before you add in the defenders, who like to mass around their penalty area and choke the space. Parking the bus has arrived. Gaaaaah!
Because this is a game, right? And to be a game, it has to be challenging. The computer can keep the ball, and it will, and it will pile the pressure on, and if you break that pressure, it won’t matter. Your players will kick it out of play, they’ll pass backwards regardless of what direction you’re pointing in and, rather hilariously, they still run into each other, although, to be fair, less than before. It’s fine, really. It keeps the tension up, but it would be more interesting maybe if the opposition scored more often from these attacks. I’d rather give away a goal and try to get on back than be on the receiving end of five minutes of keep ball from the computer. And penalties as somehow worse than before. 1 in 10 will go in, if you’re lucky. It seems FIFA got Bobby Robson’s memo regarding the “lottery” of the penalty kick, regardless of how plumb in the middle of the green you manage to get it.

This is mere trifle, and it was ever thus. FIFA is, of course, peerless. Attention to detail is everything. The game is closer to ever than the matchday experience you might see on some shitty stream you’ve got going on in the background as you trim the asparagus. Teams exit tunnels, and line up, and shake hands. There’s no computerised animosity, however. Shame. That’s a reality we could have in the game. Marin Tyler wondering if Wayne Bridge is going to kick JT in the knackers. How long before there’s a computerised panel of gonks at half time, a pixelated Merse or Carra repeating themselves into ideologue for all eternity? Let’s face it, you’re already doing press conferences in your head.

Detail extends to the stitching on shirts and boots, individual members of the crowd sitting or standing, the blades of grass. Detail, from Lazar Markovic’s moles, to Toby Aldeweireld’s hair to that particular, how-the-fuck-did-I-get-here lack of gorm on the fizzog of Simon Mingolet.
Ultimately, in its aim to recreate the actual game of association football, FIFA succeeds rather too well. Football, as we know, is the occasional dizzying high, the more frequent sickening lows and a pervasive sense of cruel inevitability. It’s a drag. It’s a perennial optimism deflator. Year after year you go against your better judgement and give into hope, and slowly, and sometimes not so slowly, the morass of soul-sucking sameness consumes you. Home loss to Crystal Palace, anyone? When you sit down, face inches from the screen, back muscles screaming in agony, to play FIFA you are, in essence, trying to escape this, to paint a broad imaginary vista of your own, where things go right, where wrongs can be undone, where you can change the settings to basically cheat your way to the succour of imagined success. The last thing you want is a challenge, or reality. There’s enough of that out there already.

Eventually it’ll get to you. The stream of profanity will reach new, hitherto unexplored heights. The controllers will be tossed across rooms. The light will eventually finger its way through the gap in the curtains and you’ll realise you haven’t seen your kids in days. Yep. FIFA. It’s back.

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