Review: FIFA 11
Another year, another FIFA - even these intros sound the same after a few years. However, EA Sports has been incrementally trying to improve each year so let's give them a chance.
- Worth The Time?Definitely
- Things LovedPersonality+, penalties, realistic graphics, challenging, still fun, multiplayer, menu design/layout, ability to record moments in a match
- Things HatedBugged ProPassing system, boring to play as keeper, worthless new features that don't add to the experience
- RecommendationIt could be argued that FIFA 11 does not differ enough from its predecessor to warrant a purchase, but it does feel like a different game even if the changes are small. They all add up to be more than the sum of their parts.
- Name: FIFA 11
- Genre: Sports
- Players: 1-22
- Multiplayer: local (2-7 players), online (2-22 players)
- Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360, PC
- Developer: EA Sports
- Publisher: EA Games
- Price: R350 (PC), R499 (PS3, Xbox 360)
- Reviewed On: PS3
FIFA 11 does not re-invent the wheel. It doesn’t even bring all that much more to the table than FIFA 10; you may even be forgiven for exclaiming upon first glance that this game, like FIFA 09, isn’t nearly different enough to warrant upgrading from its predecessor. What this game does is add so much more polish and realism to the experience that you simply can’t give it a miss.
EA Sports knew they wouldn’t be able to redefine the sports genre in the wake of FIFA 10 and what it accomplished, and so have spent a solid year at the workbench with some good old spit and polish and an uncharacteristic degree of attention to fine detail. That’s not to say that FIFA 11 doesn’t have a couple of new tricks up its sleeve, which it does, but rather that they won’t particularly rock your world in any big way.
Perhaps I’ve undersold FIFA 11 until now but the quality and realism that this game offers will become very evident once I start mentioning features and details.
Straight off, you’ll notice that FIFA 11 has a much cleaner, more streamlined look to it with bolder lettering, stark contrasts and a very smooth menu overall. Delve a little deeper, start a career, you’ll be met with 3 options: Manager, Player-Manager or Player. Manager and Player are just as they have always been, you either play the game as a specific player or control a team as the manager. The new mode, Player-Manager, is slightly more fantastical though, because not only are you the manager but you’re also the player. You create a Virtual Pro player with FIFA 11’s incredibly detailed creation centre – but more of that later – and then become the manager of the team that your VP plays for. It doesn’t make all too much sense, but then again, FIFA is not known for a gripping and coherent plot and this mode is clearly designed to give players the opportunity to experience the best of both since starting a Player-Manager career allows you to choose whether you wish to control the entire team or just your player during matches.
Once you’ve chosen a career path, a smoother, shinier, more interactive career menu layout is there to welcome you. You have a homescreen chock full of updates about players, transfers and fixtures in addition to the new calendar system which replaces the old system whereby you just went from match to match. The calendar system allows players to either skip directly to match days or drag things out by simulating each day individually. The option to sim day by day may seem unnecessary at first, but makes so much sense when transfer season is in full swing and you’re in the middle of negotiating big deals.
It allows you to negotiate deals before or after match days and subsequently means that players don’t accept or reject your offer based on the team’s performance in a match. It also adds a touch of realism to the experience, as pending transfers used to be decisions that would be simulated in a single instance immediately after a bid is placed. Now it’s a process that takes anywhere between a single day and several. You also receive updates about players and other news on these sim’d days rather than being bombarded by a wave of mails from scouts, the board, medical staff and your mother all straight after a match. It streamlines the whole admin process and makes it far less tedious.
The transfer market has also been given a good once-over and is overall much more realistic and logical in its layout. Instead of being sent straight to a list of players that are for sale, but most probably not on your shopping list, you start with the search function because in all honesty, people are looking for specific players to strengthen their squad and not just any random Joe who happens to be on sale. You also no longer have to worry about getting a player’s interest up with large amounts of money as EA obviously realised how shallow (albeit true) this system was and, as a result, what happens now is that you simply put in a bid for the player. A transfer fee and nothing more, but you will be warned at this stage whether the player is likely to come to your club or not.
In most cases there’s no real worry, but you won’t be able to grab any players who have just transferred to new clubs. After the other club has accepted your offer, it’s time to work out the player’s contract with bonuses, salary and length of contract. You then accept and get to press a button to sign an official contract with the player. It’s a far cry from actually signing a multi-million Euro document, but is a nice touch that makes you feel a smudge of power for a brief moment.
Getting back to the Creation Centre, it has been upgraded so intensely that you could get lost in all the attention to detail it has on offer. Not only do you have the usual choice of facial features, hairstyle, physique and all the rest, but every one of the familiar categories has been ramped up to offer more detail than ever before. Up to 6 different body types, more realistic skin tones and more. There are also some new touches that really raise the bar. You are now able to select a name for the commentators to call out when mentioning your player.
It’s a cheap system as it just makes use of the real player’s names that the commentators have had to repeat into a microphone, but it’s better than for them to simply avoid mentioning his name as if he were a leper or had some crude-sounding pun in his name. Because it uses existing names, it definitely isn’t a perfect system and works for very few names of Asian or African origin and certainly didn’t serve a purpose when I created Osama bin Laden who was later renamed to Jesus Santiago so that his name may be heard during the match. What’s more, you can now give your player an ultra realistic personality and determine everything from the nuances of their in-game mentality to whether they rely on skill, power, speed or focus on things like taking dives, making runs forward or even arguing with refs.
Now we get on to the main event, the key thing that everybody came here to find out about: the gameplay. How does it look, feel, control – is it as good as real life?
In a word, the answer to all those questions is, yes. But it’s not as simple as that. There are a myriad little changes to the gameplay that help bring FIFA 11 a little bit closer to truly emulating the beautiful game. The gameplay is still very much like FIFA 10 at its core, but has been tweaked in so many small ways that the whole face of it has been changed.
Most of this can be attributed to the all-new Personality+ feature which makes just about every AI player have a mentality and playing style that is closer to what you’d expect from the stars themselves. Players will make runs, get back to defend and make/take challenges the way they do in real life. Each player also plays the way they do in real life. Evra will make runs forward, Xavi will never lose the ball and Torres will use pace and fancy footwork to get past defenders. Most of the better known players also run and move the way they do in real life. As an example, I came into the room, saw my brother playing a match with Barcelona and I took one look (from about 4m away) at the player controlling the ball and knew immediately: ‘that’s Piqué on the ball.’ It also affects the specific capabilities of players. While Drogba and Lampard may have similar levels of kicking power, Lampard is able to deliver longer passes than Drogba while the Ivorian is capable of powering through the opposition defence as he would in real life.
Personality+ also brings a close to the form system that existed in FIFA 10 where players’ stats would either increase or decrease based on their performance in the game. Instead certain players will have shields next to their name designating them as having speed, strength, skill, power and so on.
The flip-side of this new feature is that defending and goalkeeping mentality has also been improved. This means that defenders will be quicker to close players down, stop attacks on the break and better keepers will be able to perform amazing saves. It’s still easy enough to get a couple of shots off and on-target no less, but this doesn’t necessarily translate to goals.
FIFA 10 offered a very realistic experience of football but was also clearly designed for the purpose of having fun. Goal opportunities opened up fairly often, defence was little challenge for a bit of fancy footwork or pace and an all-out attack strategy was generally favourable.
Not so in FIFA 11, crossing, long passes and a moderate bit of strategy are essential to anyone wanting to win matches on difficulties of World Class or higher, possibly even Professional. The tempo of the game is slowed down noticeably as a result, but once you get used to putting a bit of thought into those runs up-field, they can quickly translate into goals.
Another new feature is ProPassing which is supposed to create a more realistic passing system. In essence it does with far more variations to each type of pass. Spin and curl can be added to air passes while ground passes can be played into space ahead of a player or perfectly weighted for precision. Far too often though, passes go astray, are too weak or overpowered. The overpowered passes are perhaps the most annoying as they usually result in the ball bouncing off players and putting an end to a promising attack. The system is sound in theory and may do well with a bit of tweaking, but is far too tricky and frustrating to get right. It is perhaps easier to misplace, underpower or overpower a pass than it is to actually deliver an accurate pass.
One thing that has certainly been improved is penalties, which were previously far too easy to score from. EA Sports has made the process more challenging and maybe a little more suspenseful, as it should be, by transplanting the system used in this year’s 2010 FIFA World Cup game, which has a bar with a moving dial where players need to tap shoot while the dial’s in the green if they want any hope of scoring. It adds a little more challenge and suspense that was simply lacking from FIFA 10’s penalties.
The gameplay is near perfect, but it can often get frustrating when even a slightly overpowered pass ricochets violently off a player, or the ref gets in the way or a shot hits the crossbar (this happens a lot).
The greatest achievement of FIFA 11 is its attention to tiny little details. The new variable weather system means that the weather is changing as you play and has an active effect on play. Rain causes players to slide more and the ball to travel further. You are now able to choose the ref for each match, and while that may not have a noticeable impact on the game, it’s both a nice touch and tip of the hat to refs. You’ll also notice players appealing for fouls, tapping one another to get up after being fouled and players, as well as goalkeepers, taking a reasonable time to get up after being fouled or making a diving save. Further little touches include live updates of scores from other in-game matches that are also being ‘played’ as well as stats such as possession or shots on target being displayed every few minutes. There’s even different time/score displays for different leagues.
Visually, FIFA 11 is amazing and a sight definitely worth seeing. Most players are ultra-realistic when compared to their flesh and blood counterparts while some players are spitting images of their real self. The animations and body movements of players are uncanny and even the crowd has been gone over with a fresh coat of paint. The visual effects are greater than ever though, when it’s raining player’s kits actually look wet, you can see the folds in their shirts as they run. That’s not to say there aren’t some old gremlins such as the ball just disappearing when it goes out of play or players running through the net when they celebrate, but the game is still beautiful.
Extra features include the ability to record those unbelievable moments that your friends simply won’t believe without proof courtesy of the Rewind Theatre. A much talked feature is Create A Chant which allows you to import songs from your system’s hard drive and set them to play for anything, from your team’s entrance onto the field to when they score a goal. You can also get the crowd to chant a specific song and while it is a bit convoluted to record a soundclip on your phone or PC and later transfer it onto your console’s hard drive, it is rewarding to hear the crowd chant in beautiful harmony “Rooney has a mangina, Rooney has a mangina!”
The multiplayer is great as per usual and now features the ability to play 11 vs. 11 online for the very first time. There’s also what’s called Hospitality settings which let you save your preferences and settings from the World Cup game on an EA server and then transplant them onto FIFA 11. You can also create what’s called Player Friend Leagues where you and a couple of buds join in and play a number of matches against each other. Like any other league, the one at the top of the log by the end of the season wins.
You may have noticed that I’ve neglected one of the much hyped about features up until now, which is the ability to play as the goalkeeper in either Player or Player-Manager careers. Reason being is because it’s just so boring. The controls are intuitive and easy to use and there’s even a shadow line that traces the path of oncoming balls. The problem is that unless your team has no attacking prowess and lemmings for defenders, you’re not going to see all that much of the ball. If you pick a decently good team such as Manchester City, you don’t see the ball at all. I got so bored that I started running forward with the keeper and trying to score goals. It’s not clear what the intention was behind giving people the opportunity to get so bored with FIFA, but this new feature adds nothing to the overall experience of the game except maybe the ability to play 11 vs. 11 online, and the fact that one sad soul on each side is always going to have to be goalie and it will be a chore rather than fun.
FIFA 11 is by no means perfect, but it tries damn hard to be. The game is let down by some truly shocking passing mechanics at times, graphical glitches as well as new features which fail to add to the overall experience. FIFA 11 builds on the perfection of FIFA 10, admittedly not much, but enough to make a discernible difference. Enough to change the way the game plays. It uses little tweaks to make a big difference and ultimately results in a beautiful game that comes a little bit closer to emulating the beautiful game.