Arts

Fantasy FIFA impresses as much as real thing doesn't

Neil McGreevy

FIFA 16 (Multi)

By: EA

WHILE the real-world FIFA has become a symbol for all that's wrong with the beautiful game – a stinking cistern of corruption so foul, Sepp Blatter's bloated head may well be the match ball in the next World Cup – for gamers, at least, the name FIFA still means a good night in front of the telly.

The warhorse of digital football dominates the world of sports videogames, where its tousled kickabouts have been entertaining armchair pitch-botherers for 22 years. The franchise's third effort on the latest console generation sees EA hit their rhythm.

With a complete overhaul in the gameplay department, precision passing and possession is more important than ever. No-touch dribbling offers limitless creativity on the ball, though an emphasis on midfield build-up play means those looking for goalfests may be turned off.

Given it's EA's biggest cash cow, Ultimate Team remains the focus here, with the gaming equivalent of fantasy football bolstered by Draft mode. Simple, addictive and not as time-devouring as before, Draft lets players choose their 23-man squad from a choice of five within each position before taking on their opponent.

Vital tweaks now include the ability to sign free agents outside the transfer window, budgets are carried over from one season to the next while player values match the real world.

Being FIFA, there's a welcome blast of high-end features to adorn its back-to-basics career mode. The series' strong bond with the Premier League means every single stadium is recreated seat-by-seat, while its 50 licensed venues include additions from the Bundesliga, MLS and Ligue 1. Even Fratton Park gets the treatment in tribute to late FIFA creative director and Pompey fan, Simon Humber.

Authentic on-screen overlays from the Bundesliga and Premier League give a slick broadcast-quality veneer, there are nine (count 'em) weather conditions and 900 new fan chants. Vanishing spray even makes its debut, while the Xbox One's exclusive Legends mode welcomes Ryan Giggs and ethanol-fuelled local legend George Best into its Hall of Fame.

And making a Pankhurst-like stand, 12 women's national teams are available for the first time.

While its real-world counterpart boasts some of the most objectionable human beings on the planet, small-screen FIFA continues to impress. Much more than a re-skin, 16 does enough to justify splurging another 40 sheets, even if the ability to control women reinforces just how much of a fantasy it all is.

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