Video guide: FIFA 16's online modes reviewed

Professional games guru James Price has been putting the latest game through the grinder, to really test out how the online modes work. Here's his no-pulled-punches review...

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After hours upon hours of epic head-to-heads with friends, but entirely variable experiences against random, single-serving adversaries in Ultimate Team, Seasons (both co-op and solo) and Pro Clubs, I’m starting to think that the real problem with FIFA 16, the one bug that EA will not and cannot fix, is the other 99.9% of people who play it.

Although EA Sports score a fair number of own goals with bugs, poorly-implemented features and assorted oversights, FIFA 16’s most frustrating issues only surface once you leave the happy bubble of friendly competition against familiar opponents. 

Gamers gonna game

Every time a new video game with an online component is released, irrespective of genre, there’s a brief period where everyone enjoys a relatively even playing field. Within anything from hours to a few days, though, certain staple playstyles and techniques emerge, and are analysed, shared and emulated.

Players will also find exploits of all shapes and forms, from outright cheating to techniques that exist in a moral grey area – facilitated by the game engine, but not entirely in keeping with the spirit of fair play.

With successful online titles that have wide, active and well-informed player communities, wise developers issue updates that remove exploits and fine-tune the balance of play to make their game more interesting and competitive – and, of course, to keep it relevant to an audience who might otherwise jump ship.

Strangely, FIFA is only accorded with that degree of TLC within its first month or two on sale, despite the fact that it’s a year-round going concern for a large and vocal fanbase. After an initial wave of bug fixes and (usually minor) refinements, EA Sports are generally happy to leave FIFA’s match engine untouched.

Emergency bug fixes notwithstanding, the FIFA you play in November or December is functionally identical to the FIFA you play the following summer. No matter how the developers might feel about the match engine and how players use it, and irrespective of how many times players vent their frustrations with everything from well-reasoned arguments to spittle-flecked invective on forums, EA Sports hold all adjustments, refinements and innovations back for the following instalment. There are evolving elements such as player updates and Ultimate Team promotions, sure, but the core match experience is set in stone.

A longstanding idiosyncrasy of the FIFA engine that returns for FIFA 16: players assigned to the CDM role, even those who specialise in that position with specific instructions to stay back, have a tendency to go wandering. In this instance, Ramires is further forward than Costa when a modicum of good fortune leads to a goal...