If Alan Smith says left corner when it’s actually right corner, or vice versa, just one more time…

FIFA16 Season 1 after 32

I’ve spent so much quality time playing FIFA16 this week that I don’t have time for a very long post today.

Up there is the very latest table. With 42 of 46 league matches played in a very long season, I’m just outside the automatic promotion spaces. A playoff place is all but certain.

My plan was to get promotion in Season 1 and then switch to World Class difficulty for Season 2 in the Championship. This looks like it’s going to happen.

Here’s a highlights reel of my last few sessions. In this video you may see that the game has started to come together for me.

Quite a variety of moments on show there. My pick of them is the ‘pass with purpose’ straight into Rashford’s feet at around 1:20. His first touch is poor and the ball bobbles up, and of course with my shooting predilections I went straight for the volley…

I’m really loving FIFA16’s long aerial through-balls, or Hail Marys as I think of them. Great when they come off, as two of them do in the above compilation.

The game on Professional has clicked to the extent that I’m not trying (so much) to play it as if it’s PES.

For one thing, the slide tackles. Slide-tackles are a hideously overpowered monstrosity in PES2016.

In PES2016, the slide tackle makes your defensive strategy simple: sprint your players until they’re in position to slide, and then slide, slide, slide, slide, slide, until you get the ball back. After hundreds of matches of PES2016, slide-tackling is baked so deeply into my muscle memory that I wonder if I’ll ever get rid of it now.

Hopefully I will re-educate myself to defend properly. Slide-tackling is barely anything at all in FIFA16. Sliding’s range is short and its effectiveness very low. Maybe one slide-tackle per match will come off, and then that’s usually a toe-ender by a defender that concedes a corner.

On the negative side I’ve noticed some very obvious scripting shenanigans.

It’s very noticeable that when I’m winning, it becomes incredibly difficult to keep possession. There are blatant instances of my players passing the ball out of play for no reason at all, and that sort of thing.

I’m familiar enough with this football game by now to know when I’ve blundered and when the invisible hand of scripting is in play.

Scripting is a necessary evil in footy gaming. It’s what makes football games great. But some degree of subtlety is advised. FIFA16’s scripting is surprisingly unsubtle.

By Tuesday I’ll have played the last few matches of the season, and hopefully won promotion.

I was toying with the idea of live-streaming the decisive match(es), but doing so would affect my style of play too much and ruin the experience for me. This is why the players in the imminent Gamescom vids are almost universally terrible. Everybody tries to play the way they think other people will approve of.

Football gaming is entirely a private pastime for me and always will be. Everything great in football gaming is based around a single player sitting alone in a room.

Identity politics

FIFA16 Season 1 after 30

I’ve played another session since the above screenshot was taken, a session in which I had several ruinous draws and a defeat and slipped down to the bottom end of the playoff places.

Seasons in Career Mode are incredibly long, so there’s some way to go.

My target for FIFA16 is promotion at the first time of asking – hence keeping it on Professional. Which I would be doing anyway, as I’m not finding Professional easy at all. The low-quality players really ‘shine’ through. I’m having an old-school ML Default-type experience here in FIFA16 in Career Mode, and loving it.

Gameplay is sometimes rather stodgy, in a way that negatively reminds me of FIFA14, but that accounts for perhaps 5% of the overall experience. The remaining 95% is composed of really deep, really satisfying, really engrossing football gameplay.

Going 1-0 down in FIFA16 with a team of knackered League 1 players on the pitch, and then going down to 10 men, really poses a problem. ‘How on Earth am I going to get back into this match?’

In many other recent football games, that wouldn’t be a problem at all. Getting back into the match would just happen. It would happen so routinely that you’d barely even notice.

The watchwords of recent football games are ‘fun’ and ‘flowing’. Which simply isn’t what football games should be all about, but I’ve already flogged that horse to death repeatedly.

FIFA16 is also surprisingly deep tactically. Moving the ATT/DEF levels (to use PES-style nomenclature) up and down using the d-pad is, in FIFA16, the most effective I’ve ever seen in any football game,

Keeping it on Defensive, or lower, pins your full-backs in their own half, seeing them rarely stray beyond the halfway line.

Increase it just a notch towards the Attacking side and your full-backs go haring down the wings. If you then concede possession, the AI will seek to exploit the space left by the marauding full-backs. Football 101.

All-out Attack sees every player camped out in and around the opposition penalty box – which invites devastating counter-attacks from the AI.

I’ve been having tight, tense matches, usually decided by the odd goal, or no goals at all. It’s a high quality football gaming experience. FIFA15 was a superb game, and so is FIFA16, so much so that I believe anybody who thinks differently must have an agenda other than football gaming itself.

As late as the 1970s there were still Japanese soldiers in the wild who refused to acknowledge wartime surrender. Today there are still self-styled hardcore PES fans living in the depths of the jungle who refuse to acknowledge any value in FIFA. It’s all about identity, in my opinion. They want to express the kind of individual and group identity that ‘we’ used to have, way back in the day. Sadly, that identity pretty much died on the day PES2008 came out.

Mabbutt’s head

The above video shows the latest in a long line of memorable moments that I’m enjoying in FIFA16. Every session brings something that makes me go ‘wow’ and sit up and take notice.

Tudgay – strangely ineffective in recent matches (more on that below) – pops up at the end of a high, looping cross to bury a diving header into the net.

I’ve got a strangely stubborn memory of Gary Mabbutt specialising in scoring goals like this in the same way that Stuart Pearce was noted for his free kicks and Matt Le Tissier was adored for his bending, swerving, dipping volleys and half-volleys.

There’s plenty of video evidence on YouTube of messrs Pearce and Le Tissier scoring their signature goals, but none that I can find of Mabbutt scoring his diving headers. I must have imagined it, along with everything else in the world.

In the league I’m floating between top spot and 6th spot. I’m past the mid-season window, where I didn’t buy anyone. I did get Rashford on loan from Man Utd, but in FIFA16 he’s just a very average, before-he-was-famous Youth player who’s no better than my existing League 1 strikers.

Incidentally, how bloody irritating is Deadline Day when you’re not interested in buying anyone? Very irritating indeed. Impatiently pressing again and again to get through the day hour by hour is just pointless. It needs a ‘skip to end of day’ option. Maybe there’s one there that I’ve missed.

I think I’ll definitely finish somewhere in the promotion slots at the season’s end – but it’s not straightforward. The game has taken note of my greyhound-style start to the season and is starting to muck me around now.

I’ve been playing career modes in football games for a lot of years and I have come to be very familiar with how they work. How they work is that they must artificially handicap the human player from time to time.

I’m not just talking about in-match scripting here. I’m talking about the wider, macro-scripting of a league season. The designers of these modes don’t want the human player either to run away with the league or fall so far behind that the remainder of the season is meaningless. And so they put in an auto-balancing thing that I call macro-scripting. I’d do exactly the same thing, in their shoes.

So if the game registers the fact that you’re scoring too many goals or winning too many matches, you will soon mysteriously run into sticky mud. Suddenly, for no real reason, you won’t be ‘allowed’ to score so many goals and you will struggle to win matches.

Which is of course ‘realistic’. Every team goes on indifferent little runs at times throughout a season of matches. In our beloved football games, though, this sort of thing is plainly hard-coded behind the scenes. Scoring goals and winning matches automatically brings on the handicap, sooner or later.

In memory of Professor Arturo

FIFA16 season 1 after 20

Anyone having a private wager on how soon it’ll be before my annual announcement that I’ve scuttled back to Pro Evo can tear up betting slips that say ‘Tuesday the twelfth’. I’m still going strong. It looks like FIFA16 will get another post at least.

I had a very interesting couple of sessions on the Operation Sports sliders.

I’m firmly against sliders, on the whole — well, apart from one in particular — and have manfully resisted their lure ever since their first appearance a few editions of FIFA ago.

Even if you alight on a completely satisfactory set of sliders, how long before the game throws an iffy match or session your way? Which it definitely will do, eventually. What then? The temptation to tinker is just too great, and before you know it you’re spending more time being anxious about your sliders than playing the game. I want to play my football games, not play with them.

But as so often happens I saw a comment in passing on a forum that piqued my interest, and I tried the Operation Sports settings.

Very interesting. At times, inspired.

For a session, I thought I’d found my spiritual footy gaming home. The next session wasn’t so great. Lots of comical moments of players miscontrolling, and a few sterile goalless draws. Also, speaking here as a football gamer who absolutely loves shooting (otherwise what’s the point?) the nerfing of shooting wasn’t very welcome. When I started getting PES2012-style ‘wrong-side shooting’, I decided it was time to go back to vanilla FIFA16.

Sliders fans (of which I really am one!) will tell me that each tried-and-tested set of settings is best experienced on a particular match length and difficulty. The Operation Sports sliders are intended for 10/15-minute halves, on Legendary. I played on my customary 5-minute halves, on Professional.

So it wasn’t a fair test. If I had the time, I would certainly embark on a 10-minute-half/Legendary experiment.

But there is no time. Suddenly we’re just a few bare weeks away from the holy month of PES2017. This is not the time to be diving deep.

In FIFA16 I see enough great play and interesting moments (as above) to make this a more than worthwhile use of my gaming time. But please do note that I reserve the right to change direction at any time.

One of the ethics of the blog that I have cleaved to from the start is that I don’t do anything for the sake of the blog. By which I mean, I never think ‘Oh, I need to play X, Y, or Z now, because that’s what I’m doing on the blog.’

No way. The blog is about my football gaming. My football gaming is never about the blog. That’s why I’ve traditionally never stuck with FIFA in the summer months. I don’t consider it to be my duty to ‘cover’ FIFA. I’m not a football game blogger in any way, shape, or form. I’m a blogging football gamer. There’s a difference, and it’s huge.

I go on, plugging away with Coventry City in League 1 in Career Mode on FIFA16, and bloody enjoying it. If the point comes where I’m not, I go back to PES, and that’s that. No big drama.

But if I was a betting man, and I am, I’d bet that I’ll play FIFA16 for a few weeks yet.

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