If you are anything like us, you probably kept FIFA 10 close to your PlayStation 3 for the seasonal lulls in the video game release schedule. Whenever we faced a grueling month-long freeze in quality games, we booted up our PS3 with FIFA 10 for an online match, continued to progress our team in Manager Mode (often with great frustration), or just do a quick tournament to knock out our rival teams. Even the non-soccer fans (football everywhere else but here in the US) had plenty of reason to enjoy the game with the World Cup. Heck, you could even buy EA Sports’ 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa if you wanted to play-along as your country (although if you were England, France or Italy, you probably wanted to prove you could take your country further than the actual team could go). As such, there is little doubt that footie fanatics are anxious to see what this venerable franchise has to offer this time around with FIFA 11.
It’s fair to say there was a lot of hype surrounding this latest entry, more so than in years past, and it’s hard to say all that excitement was warranted, or even necessary. Developer EA Canada promised a more authentic soccer experience through Personality +, a system that more accurately represents real-players’ attributes and movement on the pitch, even specific and notable celebrations. For the first time in the FIFA history, you can play as the goalie and compete in 11-on-11 online matches. A new passing system promised greater user-control.
All of these new features or tweaks to FIFA 10 work fairly well, but there isn’t really that “wow” factor we hoped for. Sure, this is a solid game, and despite some typical FIFA-inspired visual hiccups, there’s not too much to fault in the actual gameplay or presentation. There isn’t, however, much to say about new game modes (since they are virtually absent this go), and while we get more of the same, we can’t help but lap it up regardless.
This is easily the most physical FIFA ever. Players fight hard for the ball, and there are a ton of new animations showing the physical defenders overpowering the weaker forwards. Then again, the best strikers in the sport can out maneuver just about any defender, and the new Personality Plus system does a great job of representing Kaka’s play style, or Rooney’s fancy footwork. Players hit harder than they have in the past, they dribble faster, and they maneuver better than ever. In general things are a bit slower overall, but the players have a much more physical presence. You can definitely tell the Personality Plus system is working in full gear when you are playing as some of the better players, but average players don’t get the same treatment—then again, that could be because they are average players.
We can’t help but feel Personality Plus is merely a starting point for the FIFA franchise, and we hope it is more refined in future installments. It’s great to see authentic gameplay on the pitch and memorable celebrations, but it’s just not quite as hefty of an addition as we wanted. The system doesn’t exactly translate well over to the Be a Pro/Player feature, which still suffers from some AI issues. In fact, the game’s AI doesn’t really improve in FIFA 11. You still have teammates waiting for a short pass to fall at their feet while the opponent moves in for the steal. On the flipside, sometimes it appears the AI isn’t really paying attention to what your forwards are up to. You can easily slide the ball down the field, and send a nice rocket in for a goal.
The biggest change to Be a Pro/Player is the fact you can now play as a goalie. When you assume this position, the camera shifts behind you and the net—providing one of the more awkward camera angles we’ve seen in any soccer/football game (still, it’s the best perspective to use when playing as a goalie). Playing as a goalie is tough, and takes some time to get used to; but at least it’s something new to try. Considering the game rests so heavily on the success of FIFA 10, it’s nice to see something new to play around with. Goalies typically don’t see much action, so you can zoom in down the field, but you can’t do much really. Playing as a goalie was fun a few tries, but not something we spent much time doing because, well, simply put—there isn’t much to see or do.
The Pro Passing system works as a liaison for players who like the ease of auto pass but want to try the manual approach. Pro Passing works by allowing players to pass the ball to a specific player depending on how long/hard you hold down the pass button. It’s a fairly simple concept, but doesn’t always have the best results. For instance, it’s not uncommon to try and send a hard pass to a teammate that’s running up next to you, but instead of hitting that player, you send it down the field for your opponent to scoop up. It’s not a terrible system; it just takes some time to get used to. We are actually happy EA placed a greater emphasis on player ability with the controller, because your success with Pro Passing is mostly determined by how well you know the system.
Aside from these features, that’s pretty much it in terms of dramatic improvements over the previous game. There are some other interesting features, like Creation Centre, which allows you to head online to make a player, team, manager and essentially tweak them at will. You can also assign customized music (even from your own hard drive) and chants to really personalize the game. But if you are looking for heaps of new game modes, you’ll have to wait until next year.
The “new” Career Mode is really just the hub for the different manager modes. You can play as a player, manager, or player-manager. We do like that the overall manager process, presentation, recruiting, and team management has been improved, but not drastically enough to warrant great praise. If you aren’t into micromanaging, you probably won’t care much about stats, but if you do, FIFA 11 really streamlines this particular component. This year it is easier to get top players on your team, and budgeting is much easier compared to FIFA 10.
Perhaps we are being a bit harsh on FIFA 11, but when the hype machine is in full tilt, we can’t help but be drawn in; plus, we really rated last year’s offering. That’s not to say FIFA 11 is a bad game, or not a worthy upgrade from FIFA 10, it just doesn’t really offer that bang we saw with last year’s installment. It’s clear that EA Canada wanted a “personalized” soccer/football game, given the greater emphasis on real-life player attributes and player controls, but we wish they had paid more attention to game modes and given us a bit more to do this year.