Late last month, Electronic Arts heralded the arrival of women's soccer as a big change coming to FIFA 16. But there are also many significant design tweaks and improvements coming to this year's game.
The company announced at E3 today that it has significantly upgraded defensive AI, so that strikers will find it more difficult to game the system. Chief among these is a much smarter system for intercepting through-balls from the midfield.
I played a demo at a recent media event and found the alertness of AI players much enhanced and the overall experience greatly improved as a result. Players are less likely to stand around gawping as balls are played into open spaces, and are more likely to anticipate the sort of passes that we see in professional soccer all the time. They are defending space, rather than just focusing their attention on the opposition.
A no-touch dribble bamboozles defenders.
Defenders have also been given a boost with the sliding tackle, which no longer penalizes the player too much if the tackle is missed. As with the best defenders in real life, players can recover a failed slide, turn and get back into the game meaning that there is a chance of saving a bad situation. A player running with the ball will not run as fast as a chasing player, all things being equal.
But it's not just defense that has been bolstered. Players who like to take off on Messi-like dribbles can now add a new move to their repertoire: a no-touch dance that bamboozles defenses when executed correctly.
I tried this a few times and was mostly punished by alert defenders, but there was one occasion when I pulled off a really tricky move and laid the ball off for a goal-scoring strike. It was one of those satisfying moves that makes FIFA (for me) such a fantastic series. FIFA 16 Senior Producer Nick Channon said many of the changes to this year's game are about creating "more moments of magic."
Defenders are more alert about interceptions.
Perhaps of even more significance is that players are given more control over the pace of their passes. Previously, long passes (hold down the button) were a matter of telling the game to move the ball a long way. Now, they simply say, "Kick it hard." This means that players can ping short, hard passes to one another, a useful antidote to the defense's greater alertness. Or they can drift long passes across the park with a greater degree of control.
FIFA Trainer is also being introduced. This is an optional icon that appears next to the controlled player offering suggestions. I found the low-level suggestions to be fairly obvious (make a ground pass) but the depth of the lessons can be tweaked up to six levels, and at the higher levels, I was making selections that I might not otherwise have chosen, and improving my game.
If you are a super-accomplished FIFA player, then the Trainer module will likely be of only passing curiosity, but for the rest of us, it does have some utility and doesn't get in the way of the game's flow. I was impressed, though I suspect I'll switch it off a few hours into really playing the game.
Along with the greater variety of body types (instigated by the including of women players, but benefiting the game as a whole) it looks like this year's FIFA is a genuine upgrade, with some very smart design choices.