Year after year, gamers pull up their socks and pick up the controller as they venture onto the pitch through the tunnel and into the world of FIFA. Since 2001, the competition for best football game has been a two-horse race between EA Sports and Konami as they’ve been going head-to-head in order to take the footballing crown with the FIFA and Pro Evolution Soccer series respectively.
Something EA are particularly good at when it comes to FIFA is improving the gameplay. This time round, the gameplay in FIFA 11 has been slowed down. It also feels a lot smoother and passing quickly between players is less ‘ping-pong’ like. Scoring goals has become more difficult with ‘hotspots’ (certain places where scoring goals from is a given) becoming less common and heading has also seen an improvement, becoming more accurate (particularly goalwards).
Nevertheless, there are some more dramatic alterations to the gameplay. Handballs have been implemented into the game. Whilst they aren’t compulsory, they can be turned on in the game’s settings either with the exception of penalties or fully. The handball system works fantastically well with the referee awarding freekicks, penalties and even advantages to the team whenever a ball strikes an arm. Whereas it can be quite frustrating when the decision goes against you, the flawless system clearly demonstrates how much the technology has developed in football games.
Penalties have also seen a makeover with the introduction of a ‘confidence meter.’ As players step up to take the penalty, they aim to stop the moving arrow on the confidence meter, ranging from green to red, by pressing the shoot button. If the arrow stops on the green, the shot will be more accurate, whilst landing on the red will produce a less accurate shot. On pressing the shoot button, players then add the power they want to put on whilst holding the direction of the shot using the left thumbstick. Combined with the result of the confidence meter, putting too much power/direction causes the resulting shot to go high and wide. The new system does make penalties more difficult to score; however, they are a lot tenser and make the game more balanced. Whilst they do take a bit of getting used to, this can easily be accomplished with a few practices in the arena.
As ever, the arena and practise mode are once again evident in FIFA 11, providing players with the opportunity to practise free-kicks, penalties, throw-ins, corners and one-on-ones with the goalkeeper. Like before, players are able to use their ‘Virtual Pro’ (their created player) and unlock a number of accomplishments (in-game achievements which improve the virtual pro’s stats). Despite the lack of improvements in this area of the game, the arena and practise mode now both incorporate the ability to control the goalkeeper.
After the success of the ‘Be A Pro’ game mode in the last title, ‘Be The Goalkeeper’ is one of the main new features within FIFA 11. As the name suggests, players take control of the goalkeeper with the option of assists instructing the player in the recommended position. The feature also extends to ‘Team Play’ in which gamers take control of players within the team, and for the first time in a football game, allowing 11 vs. 11 human players over Xbox Live. Unfortunately, the task of the goalkeeper can prove quite a tedious job as those allocated the role will feel the urge to venture out and often get distracted quite easily. As for the remaining Xbox Live game modes, these have pretty much remained as they were with very little in the way of alterations.
FIFA 11 also sees the introduction of ‘Creation Centre’ – a web-based application that allows users to create team names, kits players that can be downloaded onto the console. The application works very well and is a lot easier to control than the in-game player creator. Nevertheless, as with most game modes like this, the novelty wears off after one or two uses and players will resort back to the actual football.
Career Mode, previously known as Manager Mode, has also seen a number of significant improvements. Players are able to select whether they want to control just the players, be just the manager (and therefore matches are simulated) or a combination of the two. The interface has been altered to a news portal where the latest news stories, league ladders, top scorers and more can be viewed. A calendar is now evident when changing days and injuries have been improved so that players are out for a number of days based on their injury. Most pleasing for FIFA regulars, the transfer system has been tweaked so that players are more likely to sign for your club. The career mode is certainly an improvement on previous years, however, there is still potential for more. Hopefully this is something we’ll see in next year’s edition of the game.
Graphically, FIFA 11 is brilliant. The player modelling and appearances are very similar to their real-life counterparts (in most cases) and the stadium designs also match the real thing. Once again, EA Sports has chosen some great songs to feature in the soundtrack, including: Gorillaz – Rhinestone Eyes, Linkin Park – Blackout and Scissor Sisters – Fire With Fire. As always, it won’t be too long before players are singing along to all of the game’s songs as they browse the game’s menus and have casual kick-abouts in the arena. However, the commentary from Andy Gray and Martin Tyler is once again repetitive and slightly dull. Whereas it works to a certain extent, the phrases used are pretty much identical to those used in the previous title. A little change wouldn’t go amiss.
It comes as no surprise to say that FIFA 11 is the best football title to date. The improvements over the predecessors and the additional features, as well as the game’s depth and replayability factor deem FIFA 11 a worthy purchase, even at the £40 price tag. Expect to spend many sleepless nights as you keep telling yourself: “One more game.”