EA Sports’ biggest franchise is making its annual return in September next month, and with the new iteration of FIFA comes a slew of new improvements. Having had the chance to check the game out last week, I was pleasantly surprised by how much this year’s iteration has improved — heralding an experience much closer to the real game and including new changes that make for an experience that truly feels like a step up from FIFA 15.

One of the biggest new features in FIFA 16 is, of course, the inclusion of twelve women’s national teams in the game. It wasn’t particularly clear how the individual players would be rated and compared to their male counterparts and how they’d play a part in the game overall (i.e the inclusion of the players in Ultimate Team and so on), but what was evident from the get-go is that there’s a certain feel that pertains itself to the women’s game in comparison the men’s. The momentum of play while I played as Germany and faced the United States felt slower than that of the game I played with the men’s clubs, but that wasn’t necessarily a problem. In fact, I enjoyed the fact that there’s a differentiating factor between the women’s game and the men’s, as it crafts a different tone to both styles of play. The emphasis on build up play and momentum was paramount within the women’s game, and your chance of scoring from afar was fairly limited. It was all about creating those moments to play the perfect pass or to take the extra touch to give yourself time to take the shot, and that was really quite exciting and fascinating to experience for the first time.

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The women’s ratings were what I’d expected to see as well, with players having ratings ranging anywhere from 92 to 75, just like the vast majority of the men’s selection of top players. I didn’t get to see how our Matilda’s were rated, given their exclusion from the demo, but I’d safely assume we could expect to see some low to mid 80’s scattered throughout the team. It seems as though the women’s teams will only be available in kick off/exhibition for this year’s iteration too, and while that’ll be disappointing for some, it makes sense given the fact that next year will hopefully see the possible integration of women’s clubs and new modes. This is the first time in a football game we’ll be seeing women’s teams included, and that’s a huge and vastly positive step in the right direction.

After experimenting with the women’s teams, it was time to get back into something I was very familiar with: the men’s game. The game had a considerable change in pace and momentum as compared to the women’s match, and while it took a little while for me to grasp the new player movements and the improved collision system (which is by far the most noticeable improvement), it was very much akin to that of FIFA 15 in the way that pace and momentum play key roles in the winning and losing of matches. After playing as Borussia Dortmund, who are armed with players such as Aubemeyang, Reus, and Mkhitaryan who have a considerable amount of pace, and contrastingly players like Hummels, Subotic, and Gundogan who lack pace, it was interesting to see how important it became for players without pace to work on hold up play instead of running at defenders, as more often than not that ended up in the loss of possession. Pinging the ball out to the wide players and utilising those with pace to get past defenders became key in creating opportunities for the team, and it’ll be interesting to see how the gameplay improvements and changes impact the way matches go online. As compared to FIFA 15, the game feels quite slower, but that doesn’t deter or deviate from the core of what FIFA is about: scoring beautiful goals and using pace and trickery to fool your opponent.

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Having played FIFA for many, many hours throughout the vast majority of the 2010 releases, it’s been highly intriguing to watch how the game’s changed throughout just five years of new iterations. The collision system, player intelligence, Ultimate Team’s major improvements, and now the inclusion of women’s teams have showcased how much EA Sports’ flagship series has changed to truly realise the world of the beautiful game. The changes in FIFA 16 initially didn’t sound like big improvements at all, but it becomes apparent very early on that the changes have made FIFA 16 the most realistic version of digital football yet, and that’s really exciting for a football fan. Midfielders control the midfield and make key interceptions more frequently throughout a match and dictate the play like true midfielders do, attackers make intelligent runs, and most importantly defenders are not easily fooled anymore — they track the run of players and it takes creativity and a keen eye to pick out that perfect pass, unlike last year when a lobbed through ball or a low cross would have a high chance of ending in a goal scoring opportunity.

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FIFA Trainer was also included in the demo build of FIFA 16, and it looks as though it will be a great starting point for those who haven’t had much experience with the game to get to grips with what it’s all about. The game intelligently reads the play and suggests options to take throughout, giving a helpful and non-intrusive experience that will no doubt teach new players the ropes without having to worry too much about the more advanced options. FIFA Trainer does cater for those with experience, too, and will suggest the aforementioned advanced techniques to tamper with if you’d like. The fact you can toggle the trainer on and off by clicking the right thumb-stick in-game is an added and welcomed bonus as well.

Given that there are no problems post-launch, it looks as though this will be the best FIFA yet, providing an experience that fully encompasses all of the things that make the beautiful game what it is while alleviating the cheap tactics utilised throughout the vast majority of FIFA titles before it. The inclusion of FIFA Trainer should help those new to the series jump in with relative ease and join one of the biggest and most passionate communities in the world of gaming, and having more players join the ranks is never a negative. FIFA 16 has really impressed me, and considering the competition over on Konami’s side is starting to ramp up just like the old days it seems as though this year is going to be a great one for football fans.

This preview was conducted on an Xbox One console and is indicative of the next-gen version of the game. Some features mentioned may not be included in last-gen versions. 

FIFA 16 launches on September 24 on Xbox 360, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4 and PC.