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FIFA 16: here come the girls, if not the goals…

FIFA 16, the latest entry in gaming’s biggest football series, is changing the record this year. Grown men are out, replaced with one-eyed, shaven-all-over monkeys. In a nod to the dev team’s love of Minecraft, balls are to become…squares. And pitches will be relocated to Diego Garcia, Pluto, and the surface of Pete from 30 Rock’s head. Yes!

Okay, it’s the same as it always was. Footballers whacking synthetic spheres in the general direction of a large netted rectangle. But! There are exciting changes afoot, with women players being introduced at long long long long (long) last, improved defending, new face scans, Harry freakin’ Kane, and, well, a whole lot more. But don’t just take our word for it. Take our great many words which follow your imminent click of the ‘>’ button…

Fed up with trick-sticking online trolls dribbling rings around your back four? Help is at hand. Er, foot. All the major changes made to FIFA 16 are defensive ones, and it’s welcome news. 25 new animations have been implemented to aid your defenders in one-on-one battles with skilful strikers, turning circles for players back-pedalling towards goal are tighter, and – best of all – you can break out of slide tackle animations (and instantly back to your feet) which a second tap of the same button.

Depending on their attributes, midfielders and forwards hustle back harder than in previous years, and players in all positions break on loose balls when appropriate – instead of looking lost when there isn’t an opponent in their immediate vicinity. Overall, it makes chance creation really difficult; but we’d rather that than fear conceding every time a foe crosses the halfway line.

While attacking changes aren’t as pronounced as defensive ones, those implemented do add variation and – crucially – give you some means of breaking down the competent-at-long-last back fours. Pressing R1 and X (on PS4), for instance, triggers a new driven pass which, when timed right, can be lethal in catching a full back out of position or splitting two previously faultless central defenders.

No-touch dribbling (hold L1) enables you to move your player without adjusting the movement of the ball, thereby fooling a tackling opponent if timed right, while dynamic crossing sees widemen delivering balls in behind defenders, with true whip. Shot trajectories have been flattened out, volleys reanimated, and a few new skill moves added – including Yannick Bolasie’s physics-defying flick debuted against Tottenham last season.

Last’s year’s tie-in with the Premier League saw more than 200 players facially scanned, right down to obscure West Brom youth prospects such as Kamar Roofe and Bradley Garmston. But a few who’d go on to have huge seasons slipped through the net – most noticeably Harry ’21 goals and 21,000,000 fantasy points’ Kane. As the above image confirms, he’s in this year.

It also appears that the entire league have been rescanned for this season in order to update hairstyles and facial fluff, with Leicester’s Jeff Schlupp and Everton’s Romelu Lukaku among those to share pics of their FIFA photo shoots on social media. Rumours persist too that the full French league is to feature, with PSG’s squad definitely scanned and Monaco promising a ‘range of benefits’ from its newly-announced partnership with EA Sports.

And mercifully, we don’t mean in the ‘ich liebe Sabine Lisicki für immer’ sense. Of the 12 female teams taking their bow in FIFA 16, it’s our longstanding Teutonic rivals who threaten to dominate the online scene. Only one player, left back Babett Peter, has an OVR of less than 80, and four boast OVRs of 86 or above (skipper and 2014 world player of the year Nadine Kessler is an astonishing 90).

My first game playing as the dainty yet fearsome Deutsch Frauen, against the almost-as-good USA, is a 9-0 win. (Nine!) It must be said that the all-ladies mode is excellent, with much less focus on speed and physicality than you’re used to from previous (all-male) years, which actively encourages finesse football. And it you’re one of those troglodytes moaning that you really don’t want to play as the women? Then, y’know, don’t play as the women. Duh.

Well, duh. No sports game developer is going to sit down at the big table-o-brainstorms and pipe up with “I know! Let’s make it look like an Atari Lynx game!”. But it’s worth noting that FIFA has taken another Yaya-Toure-sized stride forward in the cosmetics department. (No Mr Beckham, we do not wish to try your new cologne.) Randomised weather means you see more of upgraded effects such as heat haze or lightning during matches, and players look noticeably lass plastic-y thanks to new skin and eye textures and shaders.

Plus the introduction of women players has had a happy knock-on effect on blokeball too. New scaleable skeletons mean Peter Crouch no longer looks like he’s been stretched on a torture rack, ponytails behave like ponytails, and players track every single motion of the ball. So no more odd instances of your skipper volleying home while making eyes at number three’s wife in an executive box. (Sorry, John.)

The reason Sony sim MLB The Show has led the sporting pack for so long is it gets all the intricacies of baseball right in addition to the onfield stuff. And while it’s still no quite on par, this year sees FIFA 16 again move in a similar direction. For instance, referees in real life now use foam spray to ensure players keep ten yards back at free kicks – and now the officials in FIFA do the same.

And in addition to busting out a wealth of dandy moves, goalscorers can celebrate //into the TV// simply by making a beeline to the pitch-side cameraman after finding the onion bag. One frustration – as covered in our initial FIFA 16 preview – is not being able to specify which players go upfield for attacking set pieces, but generally the series is closing the gap on its bat-swinging counterpart.

For months it’s been rumoured that this might be the year where EA snaps up the Champions League license. That’s been quashed thanks to Konami locking in a new deal with UEFA for PES, but EA still maintains that big improvements to both career mode and Ultimate Team are on the way. It won’t elaborate, but we can speculate, and a novel job listing on EA’s website earlier this year throws up an intriguing possibility: specific storylines that take place outside of matches.

In April the company was looking for two ‘narrative designers’ who would “bring the player’s experience to explosive life in its story-telling mode… [capturing] emotional experiences that drive the story forward through non-linear storytelling techniques.” Juggling player contracts while managing our star striker’s Smash Hits Top Trumps addiction and trying to get just one member of the team to wear boots that aren’t blinding like the surface of the sun? By Joe Ledley’s beard, are we in.

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