Another year and yet another FIFA title to join the year-end ranks of gaming. It’s amazing how long the series has been running at this point and how EA Sports has discovered numerous ways to polish, hone and renovate the digital sport. Even with stand-out titles in Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer franchise, FIFA is here to stay and FIFA 16 seems to be the best yet. Please note that our entire analysis is based on the game’s demo.
Like PES, FIFA has been undergoing a shift in visual quality in the past two years. The Ignite Engine debuted in FIFA 14 two years ago and since then, it’s been used in every major current gen sports title from EA. It’s not all about better character animation, which has improved “ten-fold” over the previous generation or more realistic stadium members or even the improved physics to limbs and clothing. Ignite has also been pegged to feature better artificial intelligence calculations and allow its players to behave more akin to real-life athletes. Such a change in visual direction was to be expected and Ignite also lends itself to physical based rendering for added realism.
FIFA 16 on both the Xbox One and PS4 runs at 1920×1080 resolution and 60 frames per second. V-Sync is employed to ensure a steady frame rate during gameplay but this drops to 30 FPS in cinematic scenes like close-ups and replays, both manual and general. Oddly enough, frame rate spikes have been noticed during camera changes but it’s near instantaneous and you won’t even notice it.
MSAA 2x is employed for both versions of the game and does a great job of smoothening out any jaggies. The result is most apparent in objects with intense curves in their complex geometry – as a result, stadiums are of the highest image quality throughout. The PC version goes a step further with MSAA 4x which results in even better looking curves.
EA Sports made a pretty big deal about improved crowd graphics in FIFA 16 and despite how dumb some of the animations look, it’s managed to fulfill that promise. Models are now fully 3D and LOD relies on a less aggressive model to ensure clarity of details when the camera pans in and out. While the actual reactions don’t appeal to us, it’s hard to deny that FIFA 16 has the best crowd reactions till date in any football title.
Head to head comparison between PS4, Xbox One and PC versions. Select 1080p and 60fps option for best possible video quality.
When observing shadows throughout the gameplay, many of them appeared smooth but we noticed some dithering every now and then. This was noticed only on the console versions, primarily during cinematic cut scenes, replays and celebrations. The PC version doesn’t have this issue, thankfully. It should also be noted that Xbox One fans receive motion blur right out of the box along with all the other platform versions. Last year’s FIFA 15 saw motion blur patched in later and it’s a small sign of progress that helps maintain visual parity among the various platforms.
Even with dithering issues and 30 FPS frame rates, the replays are still one of the highlights in FIFA 16. The cinematic filter combined with the best goals, tackles and close calls really lend that extra polish to the presentation whether you’re a football fan or not.
That being said, all three versions suffer from inconsistent texture filtering. Trilinear filtering appears to have been used, which results in loss of details the further one looks into the distance. This is most noticeable with grass strands and goal bars looking blurry and losing detail when viewed from afar. Also, strangely enough, all three versions also feature weird player animations during gameplay and post gameplay sequences. Some good examples are the goal keeper quickly getting up to save from another shooting attempt or when a player slides again (resulting in an instant second step). Both animations look pretty jerky and remind us that Ignite’s skeletal animation system still requires a lot of work.
Player faces and models also look a bit off at times. The on-field emotions come across as incomplete as well and while one could point to the complexity of the system at play, PES 16 does a much more graceful job. We’ll look into just how deeply the two differ in this regard in the future.
At least the settings and environmental effects are well implemented. As with past installments, FIFA 16 features day/night settings along with rain and snow effects. This time around, they’re dynamic and you’ll even notice the playing field suffering from natural wear and tear like skid marks, foot prints, etc. Even players’ hands, legs and clothes tend to get dirty as a match proceeds. We even noticed water squeezing out from the bottoms of shoes or in impressive streaks as the ball moves through the field. The wet weather doesn’t really affect the appearances of players though, and function more as subtle graphical touches.
Oddly enough, FIFA 16 on the PC doesn’t sport a range of graphical options to tinker with. You can adjust the resolution, with choices up to 3840×2160, low or high rendering quality, MSAA 2x or 4x, locked 30/60 FPS or limitless FPS and the ability to disable the Windows Aero theme in case of micro-stuttering. We’re not sure if this is better or worse than PES 16’s three graphical presets though FIFA 16 looks way better on PC.
Testing the performance on an Intel Core i7-5960X with 16 GB of RAM, we benchmarked on two different GPUs at 1920×1080 resolution.
In short, PC players can look forward to strong performance all throughout and even those with mid-range GPUs will have a good time. Oddly enough, we noticed a bit of screen tearing at times in the PC version. While it doesn’t occur often, there’s no denying its existence. One would hope this has already been patched.
Overall, all three versions are incredibly similar to each other. The PC version features better anti-aliasing and shadow quality with no dithering despite minimal screen tearing but otherwise, the PS4 and Xbox One versions perform very well. Unfortunately, it seems we’ll have to wait until FIFA 17 for better character animations and physics.
Note: Bill Smith carried out the performance analysis.