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FIFA 11 Review

Football has always been a big part of my life, from Sunday league kick abouts where my team lost every game 15-2 to playing FIFA on the Mega Drive and Pro Evo on Playstation. I’ve grown up with it and now look forward to this time of year when the next FIFA and PES roll out to get my next football fix. So with FIFA 11 out this week let’s kick off, to use a footballing Clichy (sorry) and see if FIFA 11 can improve on the already great FIFA 10.

Straight away in the arena kick about you can notice the difference, changing direction whilst dribbling feels freer and no two shots at goal are ever the same with so many new animations added. Passing is now not just a simple button press, it now needs to be thought about with both direction and power now something to be considered. This eliminates the ping-pong passing complaint from the last two FIFAs as you now have to work the ball up field. This can result in sluggish encounters however as both teams wrestle to control the ball but it is a change for the better more realistic game of football that gets easier with practice. The other major complaint was goalkeepers were too easy to lob either because they charged off their line or the lob shot was effective, this has been rectified with better keeper positioning and lob shots being very difficult to get on target.

The A.I. has been totally revamped making single player a much more varied experience, they don’t always pass a kick off straight back, and they close down short free kicks and are able to pull of skill moves. This will catch you completely by surprise when it first happens and you’ll wonder why they were never able to before; it definitely has a favourite the 360 spin though. Not only are your opponents better but also your team mates with full backs like Evra and Lahm happy to romp down the wing and overlap as well as players switching positions. During my Be a Pro career mode for Barcelona it was much more noticeable as I regularly found myself switching flanks with Messi and Villa as we pull the defence apart. One fault I had with A.I. was my defenders running into each other but that could just as easily be my fault for making too many players press. Defenders now will do everything they can to head the ball back stooping their head instead of just using their feet but keepers can still be sluggish to stop balls from going out. 

Personality+ is a big new feature with players being more individual and having trademarks such as Crouch is an Aerial threat and Beckham as a crosser. It also makes an impact on the visuals with players being visibly taller and broader representing their real life counter parts that much more. They even have similar running styles with Ronaldo and Robben moving much like they do in real life. It really brings FIFA 11 to life and bigger players are now more capable of dispossessing weaker ones so defenders physical stats actually make a difference. A big frustration with FIFA 10 was that speedy players could dominate and people would put fast wingers as defenders and they would somehow be stronger than a big centre forward but that doesn’t work any more. Long ball passes are now much more effective where as before they would loop just the same as a clearance they can now be drilled across the field Gerrard style. But because of their lower ground clearance you have to be careful as they can be intercepted. There are even more skill moves and are just as hard to pull off as ever although my opponents online don’t seem to have too much trouble bamboozling me with them… 

The major single player change is Career Mode; instead of Manager or Be a Pro modes there is now one condensed Career, where you can choose to be a player, player manager or manager. As manager you can simulate matches as well as play whilst in player mode you can control either your one player or the whole team. The front end has been given a overhaul similar to 2010 World Cups in that it now features news stories and information about other teams as well as your own, it helps you to indulge yourself into the season and really keep tabs on everything that is happening but can slow progress a little with more screens to click through than is really necessary. Taking on a career as a player through up unexpected surprises after starting every pre season game I then found the manager leaving me out of the first team and getting the odd chance when picked to impress and keep my position. You also get tired and left out of matches to rest up a nice realistic feature although you never seem to get a serious injury nor will you ever get substituted in a match unless you request it. The career mode also gets rid of any bugs in 10 with games taking place at appropriate times of day and weather that changes with the seasons other teams’ transfers can still be a bit silly though but then that’s part of the charm. Strangely the European cups are not present during the 1st season still and the International selection and world cup seem to have disappeared.

The biggest new addition is Be a Goalkeeper mode, yep you can now stand behind the sticks and do nothing all game and make one mistake and your team loses, seriously though it’s better than you might think it would be. You perform saves by using the right stick and pressing which way you want to dive which works perfectly but what makes this mode really work is the visual indicators. First up there is a correct position marker an O that donates the best position to be in to cover the goal. But it’s the ball trajectory which is the most useful showing a trail where the ball traveled and where it will travel, it’s not over done and helps you to read the game which would be much more difficult without it. It still can’t stop you from getting bored though as when playing for a good team the ball spend the majority of the match at the opposite end, EA have tried to counter this by allowing you to dictate passes to your team-mates but it never fully alleviates the dead time. But this is not necessarily a fault more just that there is a reason why everyone swaps being in goal when playing down the park and that’s because it’s boring and allows you to have a rest.

Other new additions are the ability to save replays locally (it’s like Pro Evo on the PSOne!), crowd chants and music can be imported and you can even change the nets style. The drooped net looks particularly awful with its stretched out squares though. There is also a creation centre on their website where you can create your own teams and kits but all of these feel like gimmicks just to add to the back of the box or for pre order incentives. FIFA 11 has tightened up in most areas with smoother frame rates during match intros with new scenes such as player entrances, menus load much faster which helps to remove some frustrations as button responses are a little quicker, load times can chug a little though but it’s never a pain or anything to worry about. Unfortunately though there is a frequent stutter present, this affects both on and offline play where the game freezes for a good 2 seconds during a match and can happen a few times. This is most frustrating if it happens at a critical moment forcing you to not time your shot, pass or tackle as it doesn’t respond to any button presses during the freeze.  

So is FIFA 11 better than FIFA 10? It certainly has a better feature set with the new career mode, which touch wood has removed all the game breaking bugs. The Personality+ helps bring the game on immensely, it is a lot more realistic in terms of how matches pan out and multiplayer resolves in a lot closer scoring matches.  You definitely have to create your scoring opportunities and scoring feels a lot more rewarding for doing so. It does make it a harder to pick up and play though as games can get bogged down with a midfield tussle but I feel it accurately recreates the sport rather than ruins the game. It certainly a lot less arcadey than 10 and all the better for it, definitely worth picking up if you want a football game, Konami’s Pro Evolution series is going to have to pick up its game a lot as FIFA has just reconsolidated its place as the king of football games.

* All single player modes were tested including a full season as player and half as manager. Online was also tested using the free 7 day pass including team play and head to head matches.

This review is based on a retail copy of the PS3 version of FIFA 11 provided by EA.