Video Game Deathmatch: NHL 16 vs. FIFA 16

FIFA 16
FIFA 16. EA Sports

Welcome to our new series, Video Game Deathmatch. We recognize that there are a lot of games out there, especially this time of year in which companies vie for spots on holiday shopping lists, and that dropping sixty bucks on a new title can be a risky proposition. And we also recognize that some games could arguably be considered duplicates. In the coming weeks, we’ll pit “Skylanders” vs. “Disney Infinity” (with a clear winner) and “NBA 2K16” vs. “NBA Live 16” (winner TBD). To start, we matched up two games that don’t have obviously as much in common as the NBA games but both have loyal, devoted fan bases who may be wondering if they need to upgrade last year’s version or not. They also share something else in common: I’m horrible at them. For some reason, and I think it’s related to how much I know about the actual sports being simulated, I’m significantly better at “MLB The Show,” “Madden,” and “NBA 2K.” EA Sports’ “NHL” and “FIFA” franchises have long frustrated me, even as I recognize their high degree of overall quality.

And so I jumped back into the annual editions of these titles with a decent degree of trepidation.

“NHL 16”

NHL 15” was considered a disappointment by most fans of the franchise, although I still found most of the design elements and fluid gameplay worth a look. According to Sean Ramjagsingh, the Lead Producer on the game, they’ve spent the last year listening to hockey fans and those who remain loyal to EA Sports. The result is the biggest NHL game to date, with deep modes and customization that really allows the hockey fan to get whatever they want from the experience. There’s an entirely reimagined EA Sports Hockey League experience along with classic like Be a Pro, Be a GM, Playoff Mode, and Hockey Ultimate Team. As with really all EA Sports games now, “NHL 16” is incredibly deep, complete with broadcast quality presentations and gorgeous menu design.

As with all EA Sports games, “NHL 16” is clearly detailed in its development and what it offers fans. So we really look for two things when we review a game like this one. 1.) How different is it from last year? 2.) How fluid does it play? Some years we’ve had sports games that seemed choppier than others, with awkward player animations or unreal physics. And while there were a few times when I was deeply frustrated by the AI of my teammates on my Detroit Red Wings playoff team, “NHL 16” is remarkably fluid. You can feel the momentum of physical movement down the ice, the speed of the game as accurately represented as I’ve ever seen in a hockey game. As for what’s new, “NHL 16” offers 6 v. 6 online team play, online couch co-op, and Hockey League, a beloved online team mode reimagined this year. So, not much. For the most part, it’s the precision of the game that feels upgraded from last year’s choppy iteration more than anything else.

“FIFA 16”

The slogan for this year’s soccer game is “Play Beautiful,” and the experience definitely lives up to that motto. David Rutter, the Executive Producer of the game, claims that it’s the biggest and most collaborative effort in franchise history, again, like “NHL 16,” working from fan input more than anything else. He claims they received 80,000 messages A DAY about what to do this year, and incorporated the feedback into “FIFA 16.” Fans wanted more depth and they get that in deeper modes like FUT Draft, Women’s National Teams, and Live Competitions. Fans wanted more authenticity in the presentation and balance in the gameplay, and one can see both of those evident in the first match one plays. The game also boasts the most robust online service in all of sports gaming.

Again, we look to check two boxes with “FIFA 16”—is it an improvement over last year and is it fluid in its gameplay? Yes and yes. Everything about “FIFA 16” feels like a step forward, clearly designed with hardcore fans in mind and after listening to what they thought of the series to date and where they wanted to see it go. In fact, all annual franchises from sports to “Call of Duty” and even “Assassin’s Creed” should listen to fans this intently.

Winner

Clearly, both “NHL 16” and “FIFA 16” are worth a look, however “FIFA 16” wins by an edge simply because it feels like more of a step forward for its franchise than “NHL.” Unlike a lot of future Video Game Death Matches, there really isn’t a clear winner here, which kind of makes sense for two sports that are often won by only a single point. Consider that the margin of victory for “FIFA 16.”