Add to this my love for CCGs, and you can understand why I had high hopes for FIFA 16 Ultimate Team [Free] since it looked like it combined all three genres in one shiny package.
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The Player cards might look pretty, but they can't fit all the necessary info on them, which means you have to very often slide across various screens of info. In the older FIFA games, you could see and compare players' attributes very easily; in FIFA 16 UT, looks have dominated convenience and while the Player cards look nice, they are really bad at displaying information. For instance, if you want to see your players' fitness and morale in the formation screen, you'll have to switch views. When you do, you can't see a player's name, just his info. One view shows the name, another the info, and another his status. How useless is that?
As you'll see when you look at this review as a whole, I talk about the Ultimate Team part of the game more than the actual football-playing part of the game. Well, that's because you'll spend much more time in menus rather than playing football. First, the positives about the actual kicking the ball part of FIFA 16 UT. The player animations have been improved since previous iterations, with the players moving, kicking, and dribbling more smoothly in FIFA 16 UT. EA claims that it has brought console-quality gameplay to take advantage of the increased power of new mobile devices, and the game does play quite smoothly on my newer devices. Still EA forgot to add decent servers to this online-only game because four out of five games I played in this online-only game were plagued by constantly-stuttering players, frame rates that dipped to the single digits, and even lovely moments when my counterattacks failed because the frame rate dropped to 1 fps and my player literally wouldn't move. Mind you, my wireless connection is very robust, so the issues weren't on my end.
The controls work fine and you'll be using the buttons for most of your players' actions and swipes for corners, penalty kicks, and free kicks. Of course, no one actually tells you about the swiping part unless you go into the help menu and read about it. You can play with a floating joystick, which will promptly get in the way if you are trying to perform a free throw to the left side of the screen (the game thinks you are trying to use the joystick instead of touching to pass to a player). You will also use a few huge buttons (especially on the iPad) of various bright colors which might be pretty responsive, but are also so opaque you won't be able to see any player on the right flank of your team. Literally, the buttons will often hide the players, and since the game doesn't offer a radar to show the players' positions, you'll often miss out on what's happening on the one side of the field.
Speaking of the radar, this feature has been present in football games since back in the 90s and for good reason: it let's you plan your attacks by seeing where your players and the opponents are at any given moment. EA felt you don't need that anymore, and did away with it. The developers also did away with camera controls, another essential feature that's been around since forever, and also half-time lengths, with all matches lasting four minutes. You can't even pick a difficulty setting like in older games of the franchise, you just have to deal with what the game picks for you (usually tournaments have teams of ascending difficulty). I've played too many matches where I wasn't challenged in the slightest. In other words, if you've been accustomed to playing FIFA in a certain way in terms of difficulty, half time duration, and camera/zoom angle, well, sorry, you can't; you'll have to deal with EA's one-size-fits-all game.
Overall, the football-playing part of FIFA 16 UT is sorely lacking in customization options and also in tactical options. The only aspect of your team you can change is formation and mentality, nothing else. You can't even decide who takes a corner kick or a penalty kick. I took a look at FIFA 14 while writing this review, and I was amazed at the depth of tactical options that game had compared to this one. I understand that EA probably tried to make the game more accessible to newer players, but more options never hurt; you just ignore them if you don't care about them. FIFA 16 UT doesn't even have player ratings at the end of each match, so you'll have no idea who's playing well and who's not. I could go on about all the really basic features missing from the game, but I think you get the picture. But hey, at least they've added goal celebrations for the first time, a feature EA has been trumpeting for months. So, yeah, priorities.
So, I'm sure the very perceptive among you have figured out how disappointed I am with FIFA 16 UT. EA has turned the best football series on the App Store into a game about menus with the occasional basic ball-kicking. You'll spend much more time going through badly-designed and unecessarily complicated menus than playing football. Where does that leave FIFA 16 UT? Well, if you want to play a CCG, there are much better CCGs out there than this clearly Pay-to-Win game. If you want to manage and build a team, you can go with PES Club Manager [Free] instead since its interface is much better and the whole team performance depends on attributes rather than chemistry. If you're planning on getting FIFA 16 UT because you missed a good football game on mobile, I hope you still have FIFA 14 on your device because this stripped-down version will only satisfy the die-heart UT fans and no one else. Not all is bad though; you can now celebrate your goals in many different ways.