EA Sports’ FIFA gaming series has been among the most well-known and successful brands in the video game industry for years now. Taking advantage not only of an adoring international soccer fan base that spans the entire globe, but also an American audience that would seemingly rather play the games than watch the real sport, the franchise has had a run of hits not all that different from that of Madden. It left competition for professional soccer gaming in the dust long ago (despite the resurgence of the PES series), and it’s basically a given that each new edition will be spectacular.
But as with other popular console gaming series in the age of mobile entertainment, the FIFA games have struggled somewhat with app accompaniments. Most popular console games these days at least try in this arena, with developers releasing apps that usually play like minimized versions of the greater experiences. In a way, they’re almost like sample-sized takes on the larger games, rather than true gaming experiences on their own.
EA Sports is attempting to rise above this tendency with the release of the FIFA 16 Ultimate Team app alongside the recently released FIFA 16 game for Playstation and Xbox devices. This Gamespot review, in the process of establishing FIFA 16 for consoles as a very strong game, called the ultimate team mode upon which the app is based “extraordinarily successful.” With as much focus on team building as actual soccer activity, the mode does feel better suited to app play than the average sports arcade. So has the FIFA series finally produced a worthwhile app spinoff?
In a word, yes. FIFA 16 for iOS and Android is a pretty complete and exceptional game. That said, there remain positives and negatives to the experience worth discussing.
One of the main positives is that, despite not having the visual capability of the console game on PS4 and Xbox One, the graphics for the app are pretty solid. Appearances are sharp, player movement is smooth, and it’s just an impressive visual creation for something that’s built for mobile. But that’s been the case for a lot of these app versions of bigger games for years now. Often, graphics are the area in which they excel most (and sometimes, the only area in which they excel at all).
Looking past the visuals, it’s the sheer breadth of content for the Ultimate Team mode that stands out as the chief reason this game works as an app. For those who are unfamiliar with the mode, it’s basically the chance to build a team over time. You start with a modest lineup, and based on your achievements and success across different leagues, you join more difficult competitions and attract more skilled players. As noted here by Gamezebo, the massive extent of EA’s licensing agreements with leagues and teams around the world makes this mode worthwhile. There aren’t many leagues, teams, or major names missing, which means you can enjoy a pretty complete team building experience—and one that’s more or less the same on an app or console system.
The actual gameplay, when you’re competing with the franchise you’re in the midst of building, is a little bit hit-or-miss. On the one hand, movements are smooth and touchscreen controls mimicking a joystick and buttons are mostly intuitive. But there are still a few issues here and there, the most notable of which is that shooting and free kicks still feel a little bit beyond player control – a long-standing issue with FIFA games.
Those familiar with soccer arcade gaming in a broader sense will recognize that this is one area in which FIFA, for all its sophistication, has always trailed some of the most basic point-and-click arcade experiences. Countless app games allow for more enjoyable shooting and kicking techniques, allowing players to bend the ball around defenders and into the corners. This section of Betfair even employs some satisfying free kick and shooting methods in a casino gaming context. Granted, these games are primarily focused on luck and the chance to win prizes, but in a sense their simplistic arcade features almost naturally foster more controlled and enjoyable shooting. In short, basic games that let players face the goal and launch shots are more appealing in this regard, whereas FIFA games, including this app, typically fall short here.
If there’s a primary feature differentiating this game from its predecessors, even on mobile, it’s a new player exchange system by which you can basically surrender players you’re not using and hope for better ones in a blind exchange. That’s nothing huge, but it’s perhaps a nod toward similar tactics used across the mobile gaming genre in general, and thus could attract some gamers who prefer this arena to consoles in the first place.
All in all, this app is just about what avid FIFA fans should expect by now. It’s a little bit annoying at times that certain playing mechanics still feel vague or beyond player control, but this could just be the nature of sophisticated soccer gaming. With a broad, clear view of the whole field and a game speed that mimics real soccer, it’s difficult for shooting and free kicks to be handled any differently. And with the exception of this issue, it’s really a pretty great approximation of the console game, with team building features that are every bit as much fun on mobile.