In my opinion, there will never be a perfect sports title. Regardless of how much hard work developers apply, there are always new avenues to evolve future games. Last year’s FIFA 10 was the best soccer game EA Sports had made to date as it offered so much for hardcore fans and was easy enough that a first-time player could pick up and have fun. It looked like they would be hard-pressed at improving upon last year’s product, but once again EA Canada has taken huge steps with FIFA 11. Because of their hard work, fans are treated to the best soccer game on the market and a sports game that everyone should play.
For sports games to be relevant they need to build upon past iterations and offer something different. Last year, FIFA pushed the boundaries of giving us a truly unique experience with its Virtual Pro feature. This mode used RPG elements as a way of growing your created player from a regular athlete into a superstar. While this mode has returned and is still just as fantastic, the changes this year completely alter the way in which you play soccer games.
Sure, the last few FIFA titles improved the dribbling to be more realistic with 360 degree movements, but the passing often had a ping-pong effect which cost it some of its authentic feel. What that meant is that all you needed to do was time your button presses properly and you could thread the ball from one end of the pitch to the other without any real difficulty. As long as you popped the ball in the proper direction of a team-mate, only a well-timed defensive move would have been able to intercept the pass.
This year, the passing system has seen a massive overhaul. Instead of simple button-presses that would push the ball to a teammate, the amount of time you hold a specific pass button and the distance of the player relative to the ball comes into play. Small taps will result in a shorter pass while the longer ones will cause the ball to travel farther. Because of that, you need to properly judge your distance when making passes. Now you will refrain from making ground passes to the players further away since the opposition will have an easier time at intercepting them. At the same time, those who focus on making passes to where the player is going instead of where they are will enjoy this change as it creates some really good one-on-one situations with the attacker alone against the keeper.
Even veteran FIFA players will need some time to adjust, especially those who may not rely too heavily on through passes. Once the player is comfortable with the new set-up, the field with feel much more open with the amount of width available.
Another change on the pitch that also helps to create an even more open and realistic portrayal of the sport is what EA Sports is calling Personality+. Those familiar with the previous EA Sports’ World Cup games will recall how some players often had specialty traits that made them stand-out over other players. These players would excel in one or more key attributes and they were the go-to player in specific situations. This year’s edition carries that same idea. Certain players will have special features that will have them stand apart from the rest of the guys on the pitch. These traits include fantastic crossing, greater poaching ability and being a playmaker. No longer will you feel that all players are created equal and these subtle differences can really make a world of difference in each match.
Virtual Pro was an absolutely fantastic feature as it added so much more value to the overall product. You would create a player from scratch, including having the ability to import your own face into the game and develop them into something more. The feature has returned with the same set-up but this year they’ve also added the ability to create a Goalkeeper (finally!). Those who have always wanted to be the last line of defense may find this mode interesting; unfortunately as you would also expect, it is also one of the more mundane aspects of the game.
Soccer is very much played in thirds and unfortunately, more than half of every match is spent in the middle third. Because of that, your time as a keeper only amounts to less than 25% of the total in-game action. During my play-through as a created keeper, I kept track of how much time the ball was actually in my own third and never once did it peak over that percentage. Since so little time is actually spent having to deal with goalkeeping responsibilities, it often lead to some fairly boring matches.
But, when it did come time to protect the goal, it was some of the most fantastic and stressful moments I’ve ever experienced. Being a successful goalkeeper is all about timing and positioning and if you’re off on either one, you will get scored upon. So many times I had to react quickly to crosses or one-on-ones because any hesitation would have resulted in a goal. While these moments were few and far between, there was never a dull moment when asked to stop a ball from hitting the net.
Considering this is the first time being a Virtual Pro Keeper, I have to give credit for a valiant effort. However, something needs to be done to improve the amount of time actually spent in this role. While I’m sure it will be a difficult thing to pull off, there are certainly options, such as giving greater control over the other players or speeding the game up so that you spend less time doing nothing.
On the other hand - even if you don’t want to play a season behind the posts - I still recommend that everyone creates a Virtual Pro Keeper and spend some time with it in the Arena. The one-on-one scenario of the Arena completely makes up for the weak career. You are always being attacked and even just standing in goal during practice penalties is a blast.
There are so many more features and additions made to this year’s game. Minor improvements include an even better match experience with real-time stats appearing as you play and more realistic animations on-the-pitch, including more goal celebrations. The top-notch commentary partnership of Martin Tyler and Andy Gray return with more even more lines of dialogue and incite on the matches and your career/season. The Career mode has also seen some changes with an easier menu-interface and the ability to play as a Player/Manager.
In past versions, your be-a-pro and manager careers were separate and you couldn’t play both simultaneously. This year not only are both offered in one mode, if you decide to play as your pro - after your career is complete and if an offer is made - you can then jump into the role of Manager. It’s no easy feat, but hardcore players will relish the chance to evolve from a super-player to a coaching-god.
FIFA isn’t perfect as there are a few problems. Outside of the issues surrounding Virtual Pro Keeper, there are still some very obvious graphical glitches here and there. Most specifically are the first couple of seconds upon entering the arena pre-match. When you transition from the menu-screen, players would be invisible yet controllable, then both the attacker and the keeper would stand at the center-circle for a moment. It would return to normal after a few seconds but it seemed very odd. Other glitches occurred during player profiles in-game which also serves as the loading screen for substitutes. Also, now that goal celebrations are done in-engine, often times the opposition would be standing dead still and getting in the way of the celebrating players. These glitches were not isolated situations so hopefully they get addressed in a future update.
There is so much more to this year’s FIFA and I wish I could touch upon everything. If I did, I would be taking away from your valuable time that could be spent playing. Just when we thought that last year’s edition was the peak of the summit, the guys at EA Canada have proven there is even more to the mountain. This year stands-out as a must own title and once again, the pressure is on the competition to try to catch up. This is soccer/footy at its finest.
Release date : 2010-09-28
Publisher : Electronic Arts
Developer : EA Canada
Gameplay : Sports
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