Stop. Before you wade in with a comment along the lines of "just another stupid VICE hit-piece on something popular," stop. The FIFA games are great. I've been playing them since the very first one came out for the Mega Drive in 1993. I bought the version that followed for the Mega-CD, with David Platt in England action on the cover and a raft of Italia 90 clips fuzzily shown between the gameplay itself. I bought FIFA 96 for Sega's 16bit machine, and switched up to FIFA: Road to World Cup 98 come the PlayStation's arrival. FIFA 15 is sat in front of me, right now, and I've several more versions from the years leading up to it hidden away in the loft.
Nutshell: I totally dig FIFA. This is not a hit-piece. It is written with love. My favourite football game of all time will always be Sensible Soccer, but that's not exactly capable of delivering the same fantasy fulfilment as EA's long-running series, in which I can take Southampton to the Champion's League final in believable, Sky Sports-style presentation that just about helps me forget about all the players we no longer have. But something is bugging me about the upcoming FIFA 16.
It's sure to play brilliantly, the closest that sofa-dwellers can get to the real thing using just their thumbs. It will take the football sim race beyond Konami's admirably deep but oddly cold efforts with PES. The look and feel of the experience will be top-notch, of that I've little doubt. And the introduction of a dozen national women's teams is a great move for the series, especially after an incredible Women's World Cup Finals, which has elevated the global profile of the women's game like no other tournament before it.
But look at the covers below. These aren't internal mock-ups – these are released to the public, presumably final sleeves for FIFA 16. The one with Jordan Henderson is the UK release – the newly installed Liverpool captain and England semi-regular came top of a public vote for which player should appear beside Lionel Messi – and the other is the US version, featuring women's national team striker and World Cup winner Alex Morgan. Something's just not right about these, is it? They just seem... well, like Photoshop bodge jobs, with neither of the "guesting" players looking as realistic as Messi.
Henderson's a rising talent whose influence on both Liverpool's and England's fortunes is likely to increase across the coming football season – but here he just looks gormless beside the hungry-eyed Messi, and just what the hell is going on with his feet? Look at them closely – is one fatter than the other? Why are they so tiny? I appreciate perspective, not that it's been effectively depicted here, but look, too, at how there's barely any lift in his right leg, but the shading below suggests he's getting a right old step on. And then there's his weirdly skinny left arm, and the odd gesture that's coming through in his hand, like some sort of LA gang sign attempt backed slowly out of. Is this truly the best that the fine designers at EA could come up with? Lovely hair, though.
While we're at it, what size feet does Messi have? He wears a ten, says the internet, but this cover implies, using urban mythology, that what he's packing inside his shorts must be akin to a salami sausage sizeable enough to feed a family of eight for a month. A right monster, lurking beneath the breathable man-made fabric. You wouldn't like it when it's angry.
Onto Morgan, and while her posture doesn't ring any alarm bells, her oddly stiff neck does. Are we sure that's all her, and that her head's not simply been superimposed atop a generic image of a lady in a US soccer shirt? Or a body shot of Morgan herself doing something entirely different from where her brain's heading? And the size of her head compared with the hole for it to fit through: how the heck does that work? Was her shirt sprayed on five minutes prior to kick-off? Admirably, she does look as if she's about to elbow Messi out of the way as they both chase down a loose ball – not that FIFA 16 allows men's teams to play against the women, but that's a whole other article entirely. And one that I don't actually feel needs writing.
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Women get a better deal just north of the border, though, as FIFA 16's Canadian cover features national captain (and bona-fide women's football legend) Christine Sinclair looking a lot more natural than her American peer, even if there's something slightly sketchy about the detailing of her facial features. Australians also get a woman on their FIFA 16 artwork, namely Melbourne Victory defender Steph Catley, alongside an unnamed, presumably also Australian, male player (note that the image above is not the final design).
All of which makes you think, as a British FIFA fan: why isn't there a Steph Houghton, a Lucy Bronze or Toni Duggan on there, "in the game", beside Jordan and his Argentinian pal? FIFA 16's released in the UK on September the 22nd – is it now too late for EA to consider the option? England were amazing at the Women's World Cup, and it'd be a great gesture from the FIFA series to commemorate their third-place result (they beat Germany, I mean, come on) with a star performer on the cover beside an England men's team international whose greatest achievement on that front has been... well, it's not happened yet, he's sure to hope.
On VICE Sports: What England Can Learn From the U.S.'s World Cup Win
I can't wait to play FIFA 16. I'm excited for a FIFA release like I haven't been in several years. I am looking forward to being able to create my own (albeit smaller) Women's World Cup competition, and steering the digital representations of England's Lionesses to a victory they were so cruelly denied by the most unfortunate of own goals. Not that I can get revenge against Japan – the Women's World Cup's beaten finalists, who got so lucky against England in the semi-final, aren't in FIFA 16 at all, which may or may not have something to do with an active licensing deal between the Japanese FA and Konami. All the same, it's a thrill to have women's teams in FIFA, and while Morgan might not quite convince on the cover of the US edition, what a statement to make at a time when video gaming is experiencing its own accelerated evolution of introducing more diverse role models. I can order that version, right?
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