We're longstanding fans of the FIFA series. That means we’re always awaiting the new year’s title with some anticipation, and, as is usual with annual updates, more than a little apprehension. There’s always the fear that the price tag might not be justified, that we’ll receive last year’s release with a new lick of paint with a few updates.

FIFA 11 appears to be promising. While the game remains largely unchanged the areas where changes have been made benefit the entire game-model. The preview code we’ve played with was essentially complete and does well to reflect what we can expect from the final product.

Broader changes include the ability to take on the role of the 11th man between the goal posts. This is a unique and entirely new experience, though how good it is will be down to individual players’ tastes.

We didn’t find it to be nearly as appealing as we had hoped, primarily as the AI could have done a better job. However, the game gives you a number of aids in order to make it easier. Certainly for online multiplayer the ability to have all user-controlled players on the field is something that appeals.

Other subtler, but equally noteworthy changes include improved collisions. You’ll immediately notice the increased physical interactions between players. This is down to EA’s new 360 degrees fight for possession allowing full 360 collisions which encompass multiple players. This new gameplay mechanism is also used to create more inclusive goal celebrations – players will interact with others in a realistic and believable fashion.

On the downside, it seemed to us that balls weren’t being moved fast enough, or players would stutter on the ball rather than launching into a propelled sprint. However, through-passes and runs seem to be able to be executed better than before. We should also note that these gripes could well be ironed out in the final build.

One of the final big changes is the inclusion of the Creation Centre and a range of customisation options. These options allow you to go online and create your own teams from the ground up. Here you will be able to create team logos, colours and players, as well as inputting your players’ their play styles.

Already the site is full of player-created classic teams, and these are free to download by anyone. Features such as this are tied to EA’s somewhat controversial Online Pass system, meaning they’re only available with a retail copy of the game. If you buy it second hand, you’ll need to pay an additional fee to join the service.

Developers are encouraging people to buy new more and more, and EA are certainly not alone in this. And who can blame them when the used market doesn’t generate any revenue? We’ve mentioned it here as it’s something you ought to be aware of if you're considering buying FIFA 11.

On top of this the game itself allows you to customise chants for your teams, as well as select your own game music from your library. This should allow gamers to get a more personalised experience from FIFA 11.

But the game puts greater emphasis on refining features already implemented in earlier iterations, such as Personality+. This is the “authentic behaviour” modelling that AI players will now mimic from their real world counterparts.

As the action has become considerably more realistic with improved player contact, Personality+ appears to work very well. However, to what extent this makes any difference, and whether it’s noticeable at all, remains unanswered. But in time, subtle changes such as this prove to make the biggest difference.

On balance, FIFA 11 doesn’t feel like a great evolutionary leap for the franchise – the kind seen, for example, between FIFA’s 09 and 10. That’s unlikely to stop the game’s massive fanbase from snapping it up on day one, of course.