The FIFA series has fallen victim to what I like to call "crabbing" over the last few years. This is where an obvious exploit—such as the over-emphasis on pace or through balls—is fixed, but in the transition, an old annoyance is carved open like the Sunderland defence.
Sideways "progression," also known as the Tom Cleverley effect, hasn’t been helped by the re-emergence of the Pro Evolution Soccer series, which has benefited massively from Konami opening London-based studio PES Productions in 2012.
On-pitch authenticity—despite the lack of official team licenses—has become Pro Evo’s main selling point over the last two years, underlined by PES 2016 releasing to rave reviews earlier this month.
The FIFA property is a commercial juggernaut, one that will always sell vast quantities until the day a cheesy-grinned Sepp Blatter is placed with the Cheap FUT 16 Coins. However, with PES enjoying the kind of rapid development that makes Harry Kane look a slow burner, it’s fair to say FIFA hasn’t had to look over its shoulder so anxiously for years.
Putting it bluntly, FIFA 16 doesn’t play a better game of football than PES 2016, nor does it come close. The sport’s intricacies aren’t intelligently replicated, tactical battles are simplistic and game-winning patterns are easily forged.
Yet, most players know this and have been enjoying the game for years (myself included). EA’s series doesn’t need to be the most technically gifted or realistic to dominate the two-horse race currently being waged in the video game world (let’s all forget Pure Football happened).
Proceedings are interestingly pitched when the action begins. The effectiveness of pace has once again been quashed, with physical contests and 50-50 challenges taking on greater prominence. Both the opposition and your AI-controlled team-mates are quick to cover obvious gaps, meaning a pinpoint through ball towards speedsters such as Loic Remy and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang isn’t going to result with the net bulging as often as it did last time out.
Each player now possesses a physical presence, too, with movement and decisions off the ball making a real impact on how matches progress.
Sergio Aguero vs. Winston Reid was only going one way in FIFA 15. Now, the game is better equipped to allow the powerful defender to utilise his body in the same manner as his real-world counterpart. As we saw during this one-on-one contest in Manchester City’s recent 2-1 loss to West Ham United, being able to outmuscle and outwork one of the world’s best strikers takes complete concentration. FIFA 16's defending is much the same in this regard.