After many years of watching European football on television, I'd like to think I know a little bit about what makes for a good simulation of the 'beautiful game'. Soccer fans from all over the world are able to re-live their favorite team's best moments, both on the club and international levels, and duke it out online against teams from different continents. However, not every football game is created equal. Something I know all too well after more than a decade playing EA's FIFA and Konami's PES/Winning Eleven games.
The FIFA series, while primarily an annual football simulation franchise, has taken a few chances with games like fan favorite FIFA Street and the quadrennial FIFA World Cup games alongside some smaller DLC releases like UEFA Euro 2012 and the now cancelled FIFA Manager titles.
The debate surrounding the best game in the series has been a hot button topic for fans since the early 2000s and is a bit more difficult to rank compared to a first-person shooter or third-person action series. Annual game franchises tend to be conservative in their changes, although hardcore fans are able to notice even the most minute of gameplay tweaks. While there certainly are some obvious candidates like the aforementioned FIFA Street, I'd like to imagine the most ardent of fans would tend to focus on the annual releases, which is what this list will definitely angle towards. Here are the past 25 FIFA games ranked!
25 FIFA 14
I play each FIFA title for about 250 hours before jumping on board with the next year's version. I remember the fond times I had playing FIFA 06 and 2010 FIFA World Cup among more recent releases like FIFA 13. I could tell you about the hilarious matches I had against friends or the trophies I won in Manager Mode. But I couldn't tell you anything about FIFA 14.
What's even more odd is that I bought FIFA 14 twice, both when the PS3 version came out in September of 2013 and when it got ported to the PS4 a few weeks later in November. But yet, besides the main menu, I don't remember any particular matches or online shenanigans. And for I game I know I put roughly 200 hours into, that should say everything about its quality.
24 FIFA Street (2012)
FIFA Street 2012 is just a bad game. You would expect a game called FIFA Street, a reboot from the original 2005 version, would include a few more tactics than simply using the same move over and over again. You would sadly, like I was, be sorely mistaken.
FIFA Street devolves into using the exact same spin move or juggle trick over and over again until you get near your opponents net and miss most of the time. And this strategy works on all players, even including defenders or your own goalkeeper making the trek across the court! How's that for fun? It's not! I couldn't imagine how hectic and frustrating the online experience must have been. Playing with a friend on a couch was maddening enough without adding the pressure of dropping points earned online.
23 FIFA 11
FIFA 11 is the only title where I simply loathe the overall aesthetics and look of the game. Menus and stylistic decisions about the way other sports game are presented might not be important to those fans, but I demand a welcoming and vibrant style to the FIFA games, and they've all delivered except for FIFA 11. It's just kind of bland and ugly.
It also doesn't help that the innovation from FIFA 10, with its introduction of 360 dribbling, simply stalled when FIFA 11 dropped, opting for a focus on what would eventually becomes FIFA's premier mode: Ultimate Team. As a Manager Mode fan, that was the final nail in the coffin, and I've never returned to FIFA 11 since. To top things off, it also has the weakest soundtrack, although still very good.
22 FIFA 12
Like FIFA 11, FIFA 12 just felt unnecessary. And not being a fan of Ultimate Team, it felt like a way for EA to cash in. The Ultimate Team YouTube craze, with fans opening packs and screaming in their mom's house when they get an in-form 98 rated Cristiano Ronaldo, started with FIFA 12.
Even with my favorite real-life football team winning the Champions League—as many fans will understand the link between real-life success and the amount of hours played in FIFA—I still couldn't get myself to go into the menu and start up a match. However, this was when I managed to convince a few friends, who are now hardcore fans, to jump on the FIFA bandwagon. Although they're now even better than I am!
21 FIFA 99
I know what you're thinking. FIFA... 99? 1999. Not 2099. The first FIFA game I ever played on my rickety old Dell computer. You could say it was the beginning of a lifelong fascination, but to be honest I only played a few matches. However, those matches were unlike any other I would play in the future.
FIFA 99 deserves a shout-out, even a negative one by being placed this low on the list, solely for its charming 1999 pixel aesthetic and the ability to play full 90 minute matches. I don't mean 90 minute matches that skip dozens of seconds before your eyes like in the recent games. I mean 90 actual Earth minutes. And that is why I only played a few matches!
20 FIFA World Cup 2010
Most of the games this low are just forgettable, and FIFA World Cup 2010 is no different. Even after many hours scrolling through a list of teams using the game's dynamic map feature, I couldn't find much to like about it. The gameplay is just horrendous and had me questioning how on earth a FIFA title that proceeded the technical marvel that is FIFA 10 happened to play this badly.
Yes, the selection of teams was impeccable, but half of them didn't have licensed kits. Playing the British Isles against the Maldives is fun in theory, until both teams show up with blank red and green kits. But hey, I had a few good laughs conceding with Germany against my brother who picked Botswana, so that was fun.
19 FIFA 05
There are some FIFA games that are known for one aspect or another. FIFA 13 has an excellent soundtrack, FIFA 06 pushed the franchise past Konami's PES, and people only like FIFA 05 because it contained an asinine amount of highly rated players. It's not a bad game, but it's far too highly rated within the FIFA community.
FIFA 05 hardly did any more than its predecessor and its focus was clearly to cash in on its excellent roster of players instead of pushing the boundaries of gameplay and fixing issues from previous games. Luis Figo, Roberto Carlos, and the original Ronaldo on the same team? That's why people like FIFA 05, and the insistence to pick the teams with the highest rated players continues to this day. However, future games didn't just rely on that single aspect to pull in gamers.
18 FIFA 04
One of the few controversial opinions on this list, I just wasn't that encapsulated by FIFA 04. Many in the FIFA community consider it to be a top-5 game, but for me, it's just more of the same. Sure, the shooting mechanics—particularly with Arsenal's Thierry Henry who was smacked on the game's cover—were an improvement from previous titles in the early 2000's, but besides that, it was more of the same yearly football.
To be fair, I wasn't the fan I am today when the game came out, but future games being able to pull me in says more about FIFA 04 than it does about my football sensibilities at the time. And it doesn't help that I hate Arsenal Football Club! Fourth place forever.
17 FIFA Street 2
The delight I had when the original FIFA Street came out, despite its flaws, sadly did not translate to this trainwreck of a football title. My biggest issue was the unresponsive nature of the players and the repetitive AI that pass by you using the same moves they used the last time they had possession. And the game just won't let you stop them!
Animations that either take too long to complete or frustratingly have your player being interrupted only to still carry on the animation as your opponent walks to your goal makes for completely unfair and unbalanced matches. Having said that, it was only the second Street game to release, so the novelty of nut-megging your friends had not worn off completely.
16 UEFA Champions League 2006-07
Unlike another title with a similar name on this list, the 2006 version of the UEFA Champions League game really wasn't that good - and that's being kind. And it follows the same 'let's not change anything at all except to re-skin the game with different kits and badges for the teams and call it a day' pattern.
Oh, and I forgot to add: 'and let's make the gameplay far worse than the last game'. UEFA Champions League 06-07 doesn't deserve to be in the same breath as the two mainline games that it was sandwiched in between—FIFA 06 and FIFA 07. I'm all for spin-offs, but let's not be lazy EA! You can start by purchasing the UEFA license back from Konami. Please.
15 FIFA World Cup 2006
This is when we get into the 'okay' territory on the timeline of FIFA titles. FIFA World Cup 2006 was a passable game in an era when nothing was expected of the franchises spin-offs. A lot of these games tend to earn bonus points simply for being connected to the fantastic football tournaments they are based on, but even the actual, real-life 2006 World Cup could not save this game.
Of course, playing with Zidane in his final tournament with that gorgeous France kit is a special experience for a hardcore football fan, but the game aspect comes before the fandom. And FIFA World Cup 2006 was just a boring football game to play. It's hard to have fun when it's nearly impossible to put the ball in the back of net.
14 FIFA Street (2005)
Honestly, there are a lot of problems with the original FIFA Street, but the sheer fact that it even released was a mini-miracle for all football fans like me who spent their days playing in the tattered grass pitch outside with twenty-five friends and the infamous 'last goal wins' rule.
The original FIFA Street was unbalanced, had a plethora of graphical hitches, and was a step down from the visuals fans expected, but it was real! It actually came out! Football fans could actually play street football with Kaka and Ronaldinho. I fondly remember the hype surrounding the game as many fans simply switched from real street football to virtual street football. Bragging rights now ensued in two different worlds with similar rules: last goal wins!
13 FIFA World Cup 2002
I feel a little bad for not placing FIFA World Cup 2002 a bit higher on the list, but I aim to separate my favorite games from the ones that I consider superior in quality. FIFA World Cup 2002 was a fine game in its own right, but it's the nostalgia and its impeccable roster that pushes it so high.
2002 was a fantastic year for football, particularly with the overly stacked Brazilian national team. And there were also a bunch of lesser known squads that could pull their weight against the bigger teams. South Korea, shared hosts with Japan, were incredibly fun to play with, even if you had to face the might of the Germans or the silky tricks of the Brazilians. A great game for a great tournament - besides the blatant match-fixing!
12 FIFA Street 3
This is quite a controversial opinion in the FIFA community as far as I know. People tend to hate the end to any kind of trilogy and it was sort of the same with FIFA Street 3, but I am quite opposed to that opinion. It wasn't the most innovative FIFA title, but it executed on what it promised. I mean, what more is there than incorporating a solid move-set with a bunch of tricks to pull off?
As you know now, I'm not a big fan of its predecessor, so it might have simply been that my expectations were really low before the game released, but FIFA Street 3's addition of dozens of new tricks and locations, along with an excellent marketing campaign, made for a solid title.
11 FIFA 16
FIFA 16 is just an average FIFA game. It's not particularly good and it's definitely not bad. It just is. FIFA 16 didn't really add anything to the FIFA formula except maybe an appreciated boost in graphical quality that was long overdue at the time, but that is one of the least important things in a football sim behind evolving mechanics and furthering the development of game modes.
As a Chelsea fan, the only thing I really enjoyed was the addition of my all-time favorite football kit from that season. I guess that's a bonus? I spent most of my time in the Pro Clubs mode, which is always fun with friends. FIFA 16 just really didn't do it for me. But at least it's not as forgettable as FIFA 14!
10 FIFA 17
FIFA 17 is actually a great game but it feels like it's a title that is on the cusp of greatness. It feels like the prologue to an amazing, 10 out of 10 FIFA game with this year's FIFA 18. It almost sets things up for its sequel, throwing in additions like the FUT Champions mode and improvements to Pro Clubs that I only assume we will see the true nature of in FIFA 18.
Again, it's a great game, but one that seems like it's more of a set-up than a finished product. The introduction of the all-new The Journey mode, FIFA's equivalent of a campaign, is the most apparent example of this. It's got some heart, but it's clearly a beta version of what's to come. Hopefully.
9 UEFA Euro 2008
One of the few spin-off titles that didn't fail at release, UEFA Euro 2008 honestly wasn't so bad. And it most certainly helped that it was one of the last opportunities for the UEFA Champions League license to be used in FIFA titles as Konami's PES now own the rights.
But besides that, many at the time didn't expect any more than a run of the mill simulator, but the game's ability to capture the essence of the tournament football fans watched on their televisions was exceptional. Replicating Sneijder's goal against France with the best ball ever created—the gorgeous Adidas Europass—and the other wonder goals scored in the real-life tournament was fun for much longer than I would have imagined. Just try to ignore the stock, unlicensed kits as much as you can!
8 FIFA World Cup 2014
Honestly, FIFA World Cup 2014 has truly awful gameplay. And the visuals will make you wish you hadn't turned your PS3 back on to play it. While I was angry that a FIFA game releasing in 2014 didn't make it to the next-gen consoles, and even more angry at the awful controls, I wanted to give the game a chance. And boy am I glad I did.
While FIFA World Cup 2014 might play like a PS3-era FIFA at 30 FPS, it's the World Cup game mode that saves the day. Players can play every match from the qualifying rounds to the major final in this mode, taking their team through dozens of games. It took me several hours to get through it, and it was one of the best gaming experiences I've ever had. Allez Les Bleus!
7 FIFA 06
FIFA 06 felt like a colossal shift in the football simulation market when it came out in the fall of 2005. Prior to this point, Konami's Pro Evolution Soccer franchise dominated FIFA in the minds of most football fans. But FIFA 06 felt like the beginning of the established market today, with EA raking in hundreds of millions of dollars from their premier franchise as Konami seeks to recoup far smaller profits with PES.
Many have grown up when FIFA was always the top dog, but many others remember when this wasn't the case. FIFA 06's revolution to become what FIFA is today is the sole reason why the franchise dominates in the way it does. Konami will be hoping September's PES 2018 is the shift back to 'normal' order.
6 FIFA 15
There's a run of FIFA games post-FIFA 10 that were very conservative in their approach. Four of the five games preceding FIFA 15 were easily my least played FIFA games, but thankfully, FIFA 15 was able to break the mold with a focus on perfecting its balanced gameplay.
FIFA 15 is probably the most fair game I've played, besides the insanely broken Diego Costa prior to the January update. If you had enough focus over 90 minutes, you were almost always guaranteed a win. I never felt cheated when playing online, and playing against AI in Manager Mode was similarly fair. It was the perfect game for true bragging rights between friends. At least until I stopped winning post-January with the aformentioned winter patch. I'll miss you FIFA 15 Diego!
5 FIFA 09
FIFA 09, like FIFA 07, brought back the insane gameplay that FIFA 08 ditched in favor of a skill-trick worthy focus. Skilled players could absolutely destroy anyone under their level with the mastery of these almost cheat-code like mechanics with long shots, player jockeying, and the like causing a headache for players that didn't know how to deal with it.
I would bet that at least half the super goals I've ever scored in any FIFA game came in FIFA 09. With a trend in recent years that focuses on realism, it would be such a nice surprise if EA pulled out another wacky FIFA game.
4 FIFA 10
The turn of the decade brought about one of the most impressive and substantial changes to FIFA's core gameplay: 360 dribbling. See, before the advent of 360 dribbling, players were only able to turn in eight directions. This caused a lot of unfair issues to crop up as defenders were able to move about with freedom but attacking players with the ball could only go forward either by moving up, up to the left, and up to the right.
You can see how it would be easy to defend such calculated motions. But with 360 dribbling, attacking players could make the most minute of changes on the ball, forcing defenders to up their game or risk being left behind, literally. And going on a 4-month unbeaten run was also pretty fun!
3 FIFA 13
FIFA 13 is probably the only game on this list that's ranked so highly due to its soundtrack rather than its in-game experience. Sure, EA introduced a plethora of new animations to make the game look closer to the real life action as players majestically rolled on passes with style or hit the ground via a realistic tumble. But none of that really matters when you're busy sitting in the menu.
FIFA 13's magisterial tunes took on a life of their own, and I caught myself throwing in the disc just to hear the sounds of a noisy pitch in the background in the main menu coupled with the eerily quiet soundtrack at the forefront. Too bad EA took away the ability to import old tracks!
2 FIFA 07
Quite possible my favorite game ever besides maybe Halo 2. FIFA 07 was the game that really made me a fan of the series and had me sneaking to the basement as a kid just to get in one more match in the dark of night. It was pure gameplay perfection with ridiculous long shots and utterly satisfying defending—yes, midfield play was almost non-existent!
Sure, its unrealistic mechanics weren't the best for playing competitive games, but for the sheer fun, there was nothing more exhilarating and hilarious than cracking a 40-yard screamer into the top corner in the dying seconds of a game. And I don't think I've ever scored as much with a player than France's David Trezeguet. L1 + Triangle and then R1 + Circle—how to guarantee a goal!
1 FIFA 08
You might be thinking, how is my all-time favorite FIFA game not the best on this list? Well, sometimes emotions have to be put to the side because the cold, hard truth is that FIFA 08's innovative co-op manager mode is the greatest thing to ever grace football sims. And it's also a mode that was taken away from gamers and has never been in a FIFA title since.
The co-op manager mode allows up to four players to join a team and create their pro characters. The best thing about it is that each player controls their own character and is given objectives and goals over a season that need to be fulfilled, otherwise the head coach—controlled by the game—will throw you out of the first-team. How's that for realism?