EA Canada Does It Again
It could be very easy to become lost in the John-Madden-sized shadow at Electronic Arts if you’re a sports game, particularly in America this time of year. While football (American football, that is) grabs the attention of the nation, the rest of the world collectively yawns in apathy. America may be becoming more soccer friendly, but this isn’t the time of year you’d normally think to reignite your newfound passion of the original football. Funny, then, that EA’s FIFA 11 successfully builds on last year’s amazing game to become the best realistic video game representation of the sport.
In case you missed it, last year’s FIFA 10 scored rave reviews from critics and players alike. It was hailed as a turning point in the franchise and occasionally as the best sports game ever made. High praise indeed! If you were a fan of last year’s game or are any sort of soccer die hard, well, there’s really not much point to keep reading. FIFA 11 is better, if not significantly so, and worth the purchase. On the other hand, should you be a casual soccer kind of person or just a sports fan looking for your latest gaming fix, the answer may be a bit more complicated.
Everyone likes to key in on graphics first in games, especially when it comes to first person shooters and sports titles. Never fear, as FIFA 11 has some seriously slick presentation. Characters are polished and the stadiums detailed as the action takes place on the pitch. Even better, the framerate is smooth sailing as you pass and dribble your way through the opposing defenders.
You’ll notice one of the central additions to this year’s game is the Personality Plus system where soccer stars, particularly the well known ones, have been outfitted with specific personality profiles that guide them to act and react similarly to their real life counterparts. Skills are appropriately adjusted to reflect abilities, from dribbling to passing to heading. It’s more than that, however, as players look and move more authentically as well. They even tangle up in physical altercations like their real flesh and blood selves.
The physical altercations have also been vastly improved and given weight, pun quasi-intended. This is more in depth than the old NES Ice Hockey system of “skinny guy is fast and weak, fat guy is slow and strong,” though the principles are there. Players tangle up, shove, hold, and tackle with a greater degree of realism. A goon type player will impose his will while an agile speedster will be able to, sometimes acrobatically, stay out of trouble more easily. It’s not-so-little things like this that continually add to the realism and depth of the franchise and make you excited for the continued growth of EA’s FIFA series.
Gameplay has stayed largely the same although it is worth noting there is a new passing system. Now, the length of a button press determines where and who you are passing to. A short press goes nearby whereas a long hold lobs a pass much further down field to a teammate. Once you get over your natural inclination where long equals power and not location, you’ll be good to go. It may take a few times but will feel natural soon enough.
Another added feature is the ability to play as the goalie. That sounds cool if you’re not a big follower of the sport, but any elongated thought process will cause you to come to the realization of “Hey… doesn’t the goalie mostly kinda stand around and wait?” Well, yes, yes he does. And that’s what you do from a behind third person view waiting for your moment of glory. To make the boredom less tedious, you can switch your view and watch the action up close and influence where your teammates pass the ball, giving a bit of control from your little box. In a great move, when the action does drift over to your side of the field, the game helps guide you where the optimal place is to stand and where the ball may go so your quick flick of the analog isn’t a total guess of direction; much better than some hockey games where your job as goalie is a complete guessing game.
The Career mode is new, which essentially combines Be A Pro and Manager (and Player Manager) to a fifteen-year career for your chosen path. Playing as a pro is as you expect, lots of game playing, though the option to switch between controlling the entire team and one player is a nice one to have. The manager options are quite extensive as you attempt to build your club into one to be feared. While the sheer amount of options and depth are to be commended, a novice or casual fan of the sport could easily feel it’s too much to process and get scared away. I’m a sucker for soccer management simulations, thanks to my local BBS with the demo to 1994’s One-Nil soccer sim, and I like the ability to get down and dirty with building my club for the future; I just fear that most casuals will be turned off by the complexity.
Keeping the energy flowing is a fantastic soundtrack with over thirty quality tracks of artists you may know and ones you’ll be glad you’ve discovered. Lincoln Park, We Are Scientists, and Scissor Sisters are just a sample of the variety available. But should you find nothing to your liking, you are in luck, as you can import any song you’d like, provided you digitally have a copy of it, into the game to be used. It’s things like these that makes me think that the addition of hard drives to this generation’s consoles was certainly worth it.
Online play, after inputting the code to access EA’s controversial Online Pass system, of course, is nearly identical to last year, which is a good thing. Provided your internet connection is fast enough, you will receive little to no lag while getting your game on. The biggest change is that with the inclusion of the goalie as a playable position, you can now experience eleven-on-eleven gameplay online against your friends… provided you have twenty-one other friends that is, otherwise against friends and strangers. Just to be clear.
All told, EA’s newest entry into the FIFA series is another slam dunk. It may not have reinvented the wheel quite like FIFA 10 did, but it adds considerable and quality enhancements. FIFA 11 is more than a roster update or quick grab at money. That EA has brought even more authenticity to the gameplay, whether it from Personality Plus or the enhanced physicality, while adding in the goalkeeper play as well, makes this a game worth checking out. Its realistic depiction of the game of soccer may detract from the more casual fan’s experience, but FIFA 11 is so good it will just be a matter of time until that casual is won over anyway.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.2 Graphics
New physicality system and animations improve on last year’s game. 4.2 Control
The new passing system can take a bit of getting used to, but once you do it works well. 4.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The soundtrack is phenomenal while the in-game commentary is great. Customizing your own chants is a fun feature as well. 4.5 Play Value
With the number of licensed clubs, Career options as a player and manager, and online component, FIFA 11 will keep you busy for a long time. 4.4 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.