Paul Davies goes hands-on with USA Vs Germany, and discovers subtle changes in control and AI that lay a strong foundation for games to come.
“Women’s football is more than lip service for FIFA 16, as its inclusion signifies advancements in 3D modelling and gameplay subtleties. EA waited until its rendering technology was capable of creating the female physique rather than go ahead and include, pretty much, bloke bodies with female faces.”
The week that we played FIFA 16 timed perfectly awkwardly with corruption news at FIFA HQ. And, in a way, this only emphasised how much EA’s video game fantasy technicians were at odds with those engineering domino-effect disaster in the real world. It is long overdue, but the inclusion of women’s football points to how EA believes in the football ideal with all due respects being paid.
Women’s football is more than lip service for FIFA 16, as its inclusion signifies advancements in 3D modelling and gameplay subtleties. EA waited until its rendering technology was capable of creating the female physique rather than go ahead and include, pretty much, bloke bodies with female faces. Pacing with regards to physicality and finesse also came under the microscope, improving all team contributions across the length of the pitch. So, before moving on, let’s acknowledge the inclusion of women’s football as the milestone achievement it truly is; its limitation to international teams really only reflecting the truth of the marginalised league game in reality.
The evolution within FIFA this season is subtle but, it seems in practice, a very strong foundation for games to come. In blunt terms, the development team has set about plugging gaps in the midfield, ironing out frustrations in defence and adding a little more spectacle in the attack. This is achieved by new AI behaviour and subtle options in the control.
Starting from the back, goalkeepers behave more realistically owing to how their AI reads the game combined with animations that see them tipping the ball over the crossbar or narrowly preventing the ball from crossing the line by catching and holding it at arm’s length. The keepers can now rely on a defence that works more coherently together, providing support if a teammate is beaten so that fleet-footed strikers must work harder to create openings.
Across the midfield, players look for the interception with new animations to trap the ball midflight or stretching to block a speedy pass. To keep things balanced here, the attacking team has the new option to pass along the ground at speed at the risk of the receiver being unable to contain the pace. When the ball reaches the feet of the forwards, they can use the pace of the ball to run off it while dribbling, dropping a shoulder to wrong-foot defenders and continue toward goal.
The moment a player takes a shot on goal there are more variables affecting foot placement and momentum, which can result in absolute screamers or embarrassing howlers. The end result, EA hopes, is that players will be on their feet punching the air more often than they are head in hands and smacking sofa cushions. Will frustration owing to situations beyond control be relegated to the past?
Of course, there’s no predicting exactly what will happen as soon as FIFA 16 reaches the hands of millions worldwide. YouTube clips showing improbable goals, impossible keepers and those hilarious collisions owing to an overzealous physics engine are the stuff of nightmares for EA. However the closed beta program introduced with FIFA 15 helps to safeguard against exploits, giving EA time to address such issues. Hopefully by the time FIFA 16 is available to buy, thousands more players will have had a chance to highlight any flaws. FIFA 16 shows how EA responds actively to criticism, though 12 months is not a long time to put everything right despite best intentions.
“FIFA 16 shows how EA responds actively to criticism, though 12 months is not a long time to put everything right despite best intentions.”
During our hands-on session, we spent a good amount of time playing USA v Germany in women’s football to get a sense of pace. Although EA pointed out that an 84 rated male would not be equal to an 84 rated female in a category such as speed, the ladies at this level performed on par with their male equivalents – as indeed they should. Likenesses are very good, in particular steely midfielder Shannon Boxx and keeper Hope Solo for the USA; Célia Šašić for Germany. One of the new rendering features is flowing ponytails, great not only for the women but for an authentic Andy Carroll and Zlatan Ibrahimović. Hips and shoulders can be modelled separately too, but the example given for men was Peter Crouch whose proportions would not have been possible in-engine before now.
The real standout feature as far as many were concerned during press day was an intelligent in-game tutorial system dubbed FIFA Trainer. This dynamic overlay starts with basic contextual button prompts but moves on to encourage no touch dribbling and bringing defenders out of position to temporarily assist with a tricky opponent. There has been a lot of depth to the gameplay in FIFA for years, but it’s often the case that players reach a comfort zone and play the same way the entire season. This year, EA wants to encourage a higher level of understanding to fully appreciate the “beautiful football experience”. There have been 25 changes made to enhance defence agility alone, including recovery from sliding tackles, there’s a lot to learn if you want to shut out the best teams.
On a more subtle note, yet something that really adds to a particularly venomous strike or perfectly executed header, is that head-tracking now follows the ball on a vertical axis. It just gives players the appearance of focusing more on their game. And to wrap up, EA hopes that we will all appreciate the efforts put into weather conditions and time of day by randomising this feature during tournaments.
It feels safer than ever to have high hopes for FIFA 16 as it feels like a complete package that is well refined. Sadly there’s no Ultimate Team or Career Mode news to bring you at this stage, but EA has promised to talk more about this from July onwards. As soon as anything breaks, rest assured we’ve got this covered.