Given that we’re talking about a sport with a fanbase that believes in clairvoyant octopi, EA’s decision to feature Wayne Rooney on the cover of FIFA 11 could’ve been construed as a bad omen. As you may know, Rooney’s performance in South Africa was at best lack-lustre.
Like all international soccer players and teams - except ours - there’s a lot of pressure on EA to perform. As is usually the case with annual updates, the game needs to demonstrate enough advances over the previous edition to justify the steep price tag. Used to be a time when buying the latest edition of an annual sports franchise was in large part simply to get the most up-to-date rosters and statistics. In that regard, EA have effectively painted themselves into a corner as the games are updated constantly with all the latest transfers.
Happily, EA have navigated these divots. FIFA 11 does so much right, and so very little wrong.
FIFA 11 is an unmatched football simulation containing over 30 leagues from around the world including the Barclay's Premier League, the Bundesliga, and of course the Hyundai A-League where, if you're a fan, you can follow the Wellington Phoenix.
It doesn't stop there, of course. You can select a raft of international teams to play with and over 15,000 players are included in the game, each carefully recreated to appear as much like their real counterpart as possible.
Primarily this year’s changes focus on dynamic gameplay. It’s immediately clear that EA have set out to make FIFA 11 the most authentic experience they can. The gameplay has been slowed down somewhat – something that will feel a bit strange to FIFA 10 players. However, the passing has been sped up considerably, allowing you to string together a number of passes with ease. The players also react much faster than they have done previously. The result is gameplay that is much closer to real life than it has been before.
EA have hit the nail on the head, and though some of the passes seem to run a bit short at times, overall the passing, shooting, through passes, and lobs are very well implemented.
The true to life gameplay is supported by the new 360 degree Fight for Possession system which does a phenomenal job simulating the pushing and shoving that goes on in football, making the pitch feel alive. This isn’t limited to players jostling for the ball either – in the goal box strikers can connect with goalkeepers in some pretty intense attacks.
The brutality on display serves as yet another reminder to us all in New Zealand that football isn’t simply a sport for the bubble-wrapped kids of safety-obsessed parents, and certainly for gamers this really adds to the fun.
Graphically FIFA 11 has reprised a lot from EA's FIFA World Cup 2010, and it simply looks stunning. The awe factor is enhanced by the much improved motion capture used in the new edition. The pitches look great and the snow effects are a nice touch. The most noticeable development is the much improved frame-rate, particularly when the cameras pan around the stadium in the pre-match hullabaloo.
Wholly new additions are somewhat fewer. EA have labelled their enhancements with new titles, such as "Personality+ CPU AI" or "Personality+ Celebrations", and in one way or another it appears that every aspect of the game has been tweaked.
In some ways this is just a matter of rebranding the same old concepts, in others you’ll mark some noticeable changes. The AI players really do appear to be more vibrant and lifelike than we have seen before, and the celebrations have gone through a significant revamp. Players now will interact with those around them to make the celebrations come to life, and they really are exceptional.
The career mode is back and has been enhanced, allowing you to get into a 15 year career managing a club of your choice, working closely with the transfer market to your their club to the heights of football.
The biggest new feature this year is “Be a Goalkeeper” which allows players to play as keeper for a single match, throughout a season or in an 11 versus 11 online match. A number of guides allow you to get a good feel for what you need to do and the merits of this mode are best demonstrated in the 11 versus 11 online matches. That said, it’s hard to shake the feeling that it’s all a gimmick – one that gets boring pretty quick.
The same has seen its share of enhancements online as well and FIFA 11 is linked in with EA's online network. The connected leader boards allow you to compare your statistics with others and The 11 versus 11 online modes will also help players feel immersed as with 22 gamers each controlling a single player on the field, there’s no need for any AI.
Beyond that the Creation Centre allows you to sign up on your PC to create teams, players and other goodies which can then be imported into the game. Here you can set formations, tactics, appearances, crests, kits and so on for your dream team before sharing it with the world. It’s perfect for those wanting to insert their own local club or team into the game. The online matches are a familiarly pleasant experience with no apparent connectivity or speed issues.
A smaller – but no less appreciated – addition is the FIFA Theatre. This allows players to access their replays and key goals, including those in online matches. At the end of any match you will be presented with a summary of key moments in the game which you can then access with the tap of a button allowing you to review those key shots and misses with ease. This is a great way to improve the game’s cinematic capabilities and no doubt user created movies will be considerably easier to generate.
Somehow, the game is once again a significant improvement over last year’s iteration and if you’re a football fan FIFA 11 is a must: EA have shown they can draw blood from a stone and they've done it with style.