FIFA 11 Review

Realism? Or really isn’t?

After a long series of pretty much the same but decorated, isn’t it time the FIFA franchise broke out of its ‘broken mechanic’? That is to say unfair teams; unrealistic halfway-line goals and a FIFA 10 system which rendered a five-foot something pro stronger than even the beastliest of defenders – let alone the streams of upset bloggers dampening their keyboards with tears from ‘ping pong passing’ and docile goal keepers. With the arrival of FIFA 11, is it more of the same? The answer, thank EA, is no…and yes.

FIFA 11 is arguably the best game in the series, boasting an innovative approach to presentation and gameplay with realism as its ally. Although it introduces only one new key feature of being a goalkeeper, the game at first glance could easily be mistaken for FIFA 10’s smooth design, almost adopting a copy and paste method of its predecessor. Thankfully this is only partial.

A new menu screen rids us of the complex matrix that spider webbed the starting screen in FIFA 10, and now makes browsing options and game modes a calm and speedy experience. This simple approach is reflected throughout the game, impressing most in a recaptured 15 year career mode, where fixtures, statistics and options are now visually pleasant as the game passes from one match to the next in a ‘real-time’ progression.

The choice of playing as a pressured manager who must bear such responsibilities as negotiating contracts and ensuring players are kept fit adds tact to gameplay – not seen in previous games. This Football Manager type role and organisation adds realism, and help reinvent the games playability. Likewise does the player-manager role, yet if you’re a rookie player or advanced one, rest assured there is diversity even in being simply a player. EA on this front have easily tailored the game to multiple preferred playing styles. Satisfaction thus comes in a slightly improved, yet ‘10’ identical tactical system, organisational styles of being a middle man, or making your goals, appearances’ and career progress count as a player – if the managers path is not your forte.

Added options of choosing whether you play as the entire squad, or simply your virtual pro (Be A Pro) makes the difference here, satisfying gamers with choice without having to compromise for game modes.

Virtual Pro is still here and left mostly unchanged from FIFA 10. However new role positions such as ‘creationist’ or ‘finisher’ for strikers change the stats of your pro, making them suited to your role or playing style. Otherwise there is little more to say than other than being able to edit your players ‘personality’ on the pitch in the multi-optional Creation Centre, whilst being limited now to the number of unlockable traits you have active (5 at any one time) . This is a good choice as play is now more varied online, and pros’ can longer reach godlike proportions, keeping realism at heart.

Career modes realism as such is cradled by small but efficient inclusions of fabricated ‘skysports’ or equivalent channels, including minor improvements to the commentary which is excellent and timely all round.

‘Real-time’ results of other league matches now sprawl across the screen whilst you play, and are not annoying and obscuring to your view.

Other presentation adjustments are more interactional. Celebrations for example now allow players both on and offline to react with one another, or as a team in exaggerated man hugs, crazy acrobatics or simply running around in chicken circles. Customization is arguably just as rewarding here, especially for goal scoring. Personal music samples or tracks can be uploaded to your console, to lap up your opponents virtual tears as they weep to your rendition of ‘Night Fever’, or crush their controllers in rage of the ‘Balamory’ theme tune. Evidently EA have thought with comedy in mind, which makes even a bitter one-nil victory against a friend taste the sweeter.

Other game modes have unchanged from FIFA 10, which is a shame in light of drastic improvements. But tournaments and exhibition matches still at least renew themselves afresh.

FIFA 11’s newest feature ‘Be A Goalkeeper’, as a whole is strategic and realistic, minus of course the computers optional aid in saving direction and positioning.

As goalkeeper of your team, the games result depends often on your performance, and indeed strategy. Though control is minimal, as goalkeeper you are able to suggest passes and shots as you would playing as a regular pro, so patience and timing is crucial. However the downside comes in tedious and unrewarding lengths of inactivity during matches, and thus Be A Goalkeeper is likely to be unpopular offline. Those who battle on however, and concede seasonal clean sheets or successive victories will gain satisfaction from their efforts. This mode is certainly not for the faint of heart.

Nor in fact is scoring goals. Noticeably this years FIFA has improved the AI goalkeeping drastically, and even teams in the likes of the Npower League 2 have goalkeepers who catch bullets with their teeth. This is noticeable from the offset in the area, where frustration takes hold as the goalkeeper saves shot after shot of true balls. Diving and goalie reactions seem more appropriately tuned now, being quick to respond in a FIFA that is all the more sensitive. Goalkeepers now rarely watch free balls roll between their legs, or forget to move. Yet it should be said this newfound sensitivity is unrealistic at times, but is a reassuring quality for new players

Another addition to the franchise is the ‘Personality Plus’ system of attributes. In a nutshell, these are natural or developed skills that are appropriate to match players’ playing position and temperaments. Gerrard for example has an innate ability to score goals from outside the box; whereas Defoe as a striker is better within it. Your virtual pro will also have or develop these traits as accomplishments are unlocked on and offline.

Gameplay for this reason has never felt so authentic. Yet as a whole gameplay is difficult to master, and a new passing system ensures ping-pong passing is stopped from resurfacing its ugly head.

Players must now hold A and X respectively for power and distance in their passes, whilst also pushing the directional stick to correspond with their desired pass. Gamers now find themselves unorganised at first, but after a while the new system seems leaps ahead of FIFA 10. It easily sets the better players apart from the noobs: my own first online experience being a testament, with a one-nil win for me, using Hereford United to humiliate Barcelona.

More importantly, dribbling the ball is now a subtle art to be thought tactically, because an improved tackling system raises the bar defensively.

Players can now tackle 360 degrees about those in possession and precision footwork is often required to break a vicious defence. Yet at times, tackling is messy and clumsy, even when done successfully.

Midfield often seems like a battleground of colliding limbs and card-less fouls. The difficult curve seems team dependant for example, with my chosen team Hereford often deadlocked to a draw on professional difficulty, whereas Chelsea reign supreme. But forgiving the stalemate of such rugby scrums, tackling resists the deadliest of build up play, as defenders inherent advantages often award them the ball, even in last second scuffles.

Shooting as another question, can be answered similarly. It has been changed realistically, and now hardens gameplay. The easy chip-shots of FIFA 10, a trademark online as the easy way out, are now extinct.

Changes to striking now see the ball struck differently based on player speed, distance and shot power, and never in the same way twice. This is not to mention the Gamers skill in timing. Shots are now often unpredictable, adding realism to the game which sees epic strikes from the halfway line as non-existent.

The best opportunity for goals now relies on patient build up play and well thought set pieces offline as the AI will easily counter a one man marathon down the wing.

The revamped AI will now deploy tactics and skill moves against you, countering you depending on the difficulty level. The difficulty level is modestly speaking perhaps too harsh in FIFA 11, and for that reason it is advisable to attach pillows to your surroundings in case you attempt a career on legendary.

More importantly, online play in FIFA 11 offers nothing new. Playing as a goalie granted and the change to 11 v 11 play offer some variation, but a new dimension is unfounded. Comparing accomplishments across online leader boards is useful and a nice addition, but offers little to the game itself.

The Live season also returns here at a £4.50- £8.50 odd cost depending on how many leagues you wish to unlock. This is more or less the same as FIFA 10 though, where stats are updated regularly, and your saved options from the former game can be imported to save you phaffing about.

Likewise setting up your own club, friend’s leagues and online team play are the same but tweaked. Yet it is still reassuring that a variation of game types are available online.

The option to now save your goals into a replay theatre is a useful addition, as now all those goals you’ve boasted about can have proof beyond their pudding.

In summary FIFA 11 is a great game, more realistic than its predecessor and best instalment of the franchise. Its fresh new look, gameplay improvements and added options, including features add a rich new playability to the game without complicating things. Its drawbacks are hardly noticeable compared to the quality of its content, and the game as a whole is a satisfying move from mimicry of football. The experience is all the more real.