Platforms: PC | PS3 | X360 | Wii | NDS | PSP
Developer: EA Canada
Publisher: EA Sports
Right, first of all let's get one thing straight. Let's dispel all talk of realism here. FIFA has never particularly been the franchise for that. Where it has succeeded in recent years is selling The Beautiful Game at it's most beautiful: capturing the epic nature of the biggest matches, making you feel like a footballing superstar by thumping in a goal from 35 yards, bringing stadia to life the world over and making passers-by think that there's a Saturday match on the box rather than a video game.
But FIFA 10 wasn't perfect. Thankfully, neither was PES 2010 either, but there was still some ground to be made. For starters, it was far too easy, the keepers still erred on the side of occasional idiocy and, whilst the game boasted excellent motion capture and 360 movement, passing felt a bit robotic, there were too many clear lines through the opposition defence and lobbing made chipped goals plentiful.
That said, it was still an absolute cracker of a game, one with a distinct personality and arguably the finest football game we'd ever seen...though there were a fair few arguments there. A lot of work's gone into tweaking things for FIFA 11 and, whilst there aren't too many wholesale changes to the formula there've been a number of additions fuelled by fan feedback that make FIFA 11 an enticing proposition.
Let's talk game modes first. There's been a bit of streamlining: Be A Pro and Manager Mode have been merged into one and you can choose to be a Player, Player-Manager or Manager over the course of 15 seasons. There's far more feedback this time around, with the Board really getting shirty if you're not pulling the results in. Fail to float around the top of the Premiership with Chelsea or Man Utd and you're looking at a swift trip to the job centre.
The 'career' aspect of it all is really just superficial fluff, the central hub now a more dynamic window of scrolling stats and news items. It's sleek and swish and clinical, almost to the point of being austere. An injection of tabloid sensationalism wouldn't go amiss. The RPGish mechanics of FIFA 09 - crafting players to your own liking - are still largely absent: something I rather see as a negative, with PES offering a bit more in terms of customisation and focused growth.
Transfers are relatively laughable, you can buy anyone with the right money, and they're now split into two stage of negotiation: transfer fees and player wages. Clubs won't try too hard to hang on to their crucial players, and Gerrard will happily turn his back on the Kop if you put enough zeroes on the transfer proposal. Basically, FIFA 11 is suggesting that all footballers really care about is money. Which, on the strength of England's performance in the latest World Cup, might not be too far removed from the truth. Oooh...satire.
It's unfortunate that Ultimate Team isn't included from the start as it is with NHL 11, because it smacks of content being removed only to be sold at a later date. There's precedent for this with FIFA 10, but on the strength of EA's other franchises we might have thought it would make it into the game.
You can, however, now play as the goalkeeper and, as the online modes return with a vengeance, that now means full 11-vs-11 Pro play over the Web. Personally, I've never managed to get on with Be A Pro. 22 players are too many really, particularly when you find that 80% of the time you're stuck with mavericks who never hold position, don't know where the pass button is and fail to realise the difference between centre back and centre forward. That said, you get that problem in the park too. When you do come across a cohesive group of players, the game really kicks off, although as goalkeeper you're praying that your team are rubbish so that you actually end up with stuff to do.
This could all be solved by bringing back the 5-a-side mode that FIFA had, but alas, that dream is still yet to return. You can, however, form your own team. There are more creation tools than ever, although most of them require the Online Pass and synchronisation with the web based Creation Centre, which is slow, temperamental and likes to crash without warning from time to time. Designing your pro and downloading your face makes inserting yourself into the game just as easy as last time, but I found I actually had to unlock my own hair. Afros weren't allowed from the start.
Online versus play is still where it's all at, the head-to-head thrills are largely unchanged from FIFA 10 but that's certainly no bad thing at all. Matchmaking is swift and relatively painless, although there are one or two bugs that cause that have caused my game to crash once or twice, which irritatingly contributed to my DNF percentage.
A wealth of modes then, but it's the on the field action that'll mark FIFA 11 as a success or a disappointment and it;s fair to say that a few little things feel very different indeed. It used to be the case that speed was the ultimate cheat in football games. Special talismans - the Ronaldos and the Messis of the world - would be noticeable because of their supreme pace, capable of outstripping defenders with ease, seemingly running through them like a knife through butter. FIFA 11 still places a certain amount of emphasis on pace, and the 360 degree dribbling returns, but this time the main stats you need to be concerned about are strength and balance. This is a far more physical game than before.
The refined engine, adding in 360 degree jostling as well, has highlighted the physicality of the sport. We thought FIFA 10 was a step up, but this is a leap forward. It's no longer enough to pick the perfect pass or use speed to beat your man, you have to be prepare to put the bodies of your team on the line too. Defence, traditionally the weakest and most limited aspect of the FIFA franchise, is now crucially important.
Passing has undergone a shift as well, it's less automatic, requires far more control and goes hand in hand with an increase in the freedom and mobility given to off the ball control. Positioning and passing, timing and precision, are now things that can be said in the same sentence when talking about this franchise and, whilst we praise them here, I reckon they'll probably annoy some series fans.
Football games will now tend to get bogged down in the midfield area. The increase in physicality, the emphasis on player stats and abilities down to the minutia, means that the middle of the field turns into a bit of a scrap fest. Interceptions happen more often than ever before, the ball no longer magnetically drawn to players' feet. It also means, impressively, that matches in the lower leagues are significantly more dramatic, more variable and more unpredictable than ever before. It's more realistic, sure, but it's also a little strange. In certain games you could be forgiven for questioning as to whether your playing a game with FIFA on the box.
EA should be commended on the whole, FIFA 11 looks and plays fantastically. They've been brave and really put the 'contact' back into contact sport to make for a dynamic and dramatic experience.
- Eye-meltingly pretty
- Massive scope for customisation
- The new gameplay elements make for a more realistic, scrappier experience...
- ...but might upset series fans
- Loading screens are horribly ubiquitous
- Being a keeper isn't as fun as you might think
The Short Version: EA have not only managed to capture the beauty and grace of the Beautiful Game, but its grazes and grit too. There are bugs and niggles here and there, but by and large this year's instalment is a triumph. Close call between EA and Konami, but I think FIFA just takes it this year...but only just.