The constant battle between EA Sports’ FIFA and Konami and Seabass’s Pro Evolution Soccer series is certainly ripe for debate, although with PES 2011 seemingly picking up more attention than that which the series has garnered in more recent years, it’s up to EA Sports to really deliver with FIFA 11, establishing its lead as the go-to game for football enthusiasts.
Coming only months after the ambitious and much improved 2010 World Cup tie-in, FIFA 11 seems to have taken all that was learnt from that particular effort and tied it into this fully fledged release. Rolling into FIFA 11, you’ll notice none of the lag on menu screens that blighted last year’s smooth finish, and moving into Manager Mode highlights some key differences to the series. Not only is FIFA content with providing, arguably, the most realistic footballing sim on the market (more on that later), but EA Canada have gone much further in bringing the FIFA experience closer aligned to football management sims (Football Manager, for example). ‘Career Mode’ now boasts three different choices of which to delve into; ‘Manager’ (the usual manager mode), ‘Player’ (previous years’ ‘Be a Pro’ mode is now brought streamlined into the main crutch of the game), or ‘Player/Manager’ (an amalgamation of the two). Serving each under the same banner of ‘Career’ is a logical step, but one that has been missing up until now. FIFA 11 might overwhelm new players who just want to start up a game, but for fans of the series there’s no denying that giving the option to play in each of its modes in one place is a nice touch, whereas last year ‘Be a Pro’ felt quite separate to the main game.
Our time in Manager Mode this year was wholly impressive, with a visual overhaul to the face of the news screen; bringing the league table, news articles and latest game information all entwined in one display, whilst the transfer market is now much more active and true-to-life, with contracts having to be settled and rival clubs outbid. We had a problem with how days are simulated through, often being sluggishly slow and protracted, although everything in the build up to the match is otherwise fantastic, building up atmosphere once you enter the stadium with accurately modelled players and a neat presentation. The commentary is just as woeful as it ever has been though; repetition is still a regular occurrence and the commentators will often be rambling on about something that has no relevance to the play.
That play, though, is some of the most fluid, dynamic and dare we say it, realistic, we’ve yet seen. In addition to the general improvements to AI (especially the goalkeeper, who will now react more suitably according to the action), FIFA 11 also marks the start of Personality+, an advanced system that is said to accurately project individual player traits onto the pitch. Sufficient to say, at this point it seems early days and the difference is minimal and barely discernible to you and I. ‘Pro Passing’ also makes its way into the game, requiring you to hold down the pass button depending on how powerful you want the touch to be – removing the magnet-to-metal feel of previous FIFA’s and, actually, results in a more slower (for the better) progression of play; you’ll now have to be more patient in the build up of play to earn success, which we can only applaud.
The system also makes it way into penalties, with a green meter bar having to be stopped in the green in order for shots to maintain their accuracy. How the meter reflects the more tense situations (for example, in the final of a cup) by reducing the amount of green available to the player is also a guaranteed winner in our eyes. Back into the main form of play, players are now much more likely to tussle accurately for the ball, replacing the stinted animations that made the system apparent, in favour of a more physics-based rough and tumble. There are a few bugs that ought to be patched at a later date, such as pop-in issues and long load screens, but this year’s FIFA is one of the most accomplished we’ve seen in some time.
Not urged to stop there, FIFA 11 expands upon its 10 v 10 mode – where 10 players in each team can control a specific position – to where the goalkeeper can now be used. The result is, surprisingly, a well conceived role where the right thumbstick is used for diving and your positioning must be spot on. While it’ll appeal to a more targeted audience, the inclusion is still great, and we can see many 90-minute last-gasp corner’s being taken with the keeper planted firmly in the opposing box.
The last few years have seen the FIFA series come on leaps and bounds. This year is no different, with a welcome update to the visuals and presentation stakes, whilst again, EA have beaten down hurdles to bring gameplay to a delicate balance between realism and fun. The whole package is huge and well worth a purchase, even for those who’ve picked up last year’s. We can’t see where they take it from here, but then we think that every year!
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