FIFA 11 Review

Richard Walker

It's a funny old game, isn't it? Not football, but the process of bringing out a new addition to a sporting franchise like clockwork year after year. But here it is again, football season and time for another round of FIFA and PES to mull over. You'll have probably already decided which one you're going to buy this year anyway based on the demos, but we're here to confirm what you'll likely know anyway, all the same.

"Not even Javier Sotomayor can jump this high!"

First impressions of FIFA are always good, given the strength of EA's typically slick presentation, with a licensed soundtrack playing over the menus and the practice arena returning to let you have a kickabout before choosing your desired game mode. Here you can run drills and set pieces, take a few shots at the keeper and practice every facet of the beautiful game including the penalties, which have been liberally lifted from FIFA World Cup 2010.

So far, so predictable perhaps, but there's a host of new stuff to take into account for FIFA 11, not least the potential enormity of the new Creation Centre, which presents you with the ability to put together an entire team of bespoke players from scratch using the web-based application. It's an incredibly welcome tool that puts a wealth of additional options at your fingertips when you're not even playing the game. And when you are playing the game, there's still a whole host of features and game modes, much as you'd expect, with Be A Pro joined by Be A Goalkeeper, which has you creating your own footballing superstar and sending him out onto the pitch to make an impression at your favourite club.

Like Be A Pro, Be A Goalkeeper offers 15 seasons of football stuck in the box, making saves and spectacular dives, which is a nice new addition on paper – and it'll hold some appeal for those interested in embarking upon a career as a goalie – but in practice, it can feel like a somewhat lonely and often dull endeavour. Sure, you can issue suggestions to your teammates out on the pitch, but the default camera view makes the action almost utterly indistinguishable when the match is unfolding at the other end, that it can feel like you're just indiscriminately jabbing buttons with little result. Thankfully, you can press the Back button to have the camera zone in on the play, so you can always draw a bead on where the ball is and bark orders to players accordingly. If that sounds too unadventurous though, you can always run out of the goal mouth and do a Peter Schmeichel, which we found ourselves doing on more than one occasion just to spice things up. Turns out, it's actually a really bad idea.

"Be A Goalkeeper: Agility and bendability required."

Otherwise, Be A Goalkeeper is a neat addition and if nothing else, it's a diversion that you might at the very least dip into now and again. More appealing is the game's Career Mode, which is divided into three sub-modes that will consume hours of your time if you'll let it. The ‘Player’ part of Career Mode is pretty self-explanatory, putting you into the studded football boots of a created player as you delve into what is essentially a Be A Pro Career, where your player is constantly graded on how he plays and the actions he performs as part of the team. Positive actions are rewarded with stat boosts, denoted by pop up messages and perhaps an unlockable item like ankle tape, untucked shirts, longer socks or a new hairstyle for your created player.

Manager and Player Manager are the other two available career options and again, they're pretty self-explanatory. Manager gives you full control over the inner workings of your team, making adjustments, transfers and planning strategies and so forth, much like FIFA 10's individual Manager Mode. Player Manager is the best of both worlds and is probably the best way to go if you're keen to get involved with all aspects of a FIFA 11 career, as you get to do the behind the scenes work of a manager and then go out and perform for your team on the field. Again, there's 15 seasons of pure football to indulge in for Career Mode, which offers masses of gameplay that gives it a hefty lifespan. You'll be playing well into 2011, that's for sure. And that's without taking the 11 vs. 11 online matches (which allow an eleventh man to join in as a keeper for the first time) into account.

"Taking the definition of leaping like a salmon to a new level."

Gameplay tweaks in FIFA 11 are fairly subtle and there are no particularly sweeping changes to be found. EA Sports' big back-of-the-box gimmick this year is 'Personality+', which supposedly gives each individual player a set of distinctive traits and unique behaviour, but it's not likely to be something that you'll notice unless you're an obsessive footballing pedant or your name happens to be John Motson. Playing the game is still a joy though, but it hasn't really leapt that far forward since FIFA 10. Visually, there's been an incremental upgrade since FIFA World Cup 2010 and so FIFA 11 still looks outstanding, building upon the improvements that the excellent World Cup tie-in brought to the table, like superior lighting, enhanced likenesses, improved textures and so on.

Achievement-wise, there's a lot of overlap between this and its predecessor, so scoring off the woodwork, scoring goals in the arena, scoring from a cross delivered by a friend all make a return from FIFA 10. The rest, unfortunately, are all pretty predictable, like playing a season as a goalie, entering each mode to create a Virtual Pro or taking a look at the FIFA Store and so on. And of course, there's a lot of online achievements and more grinding cheevos than we would have liked. Play 500 matches with your Virtual Pro? Pass!

Business as usual then for FIFA? Pretty much, but the overhauled Career Mode and Creation Centre go a long way in making FIFA 11 a worthwhile follow-up to FIFA 10. FIFA 11 is almost as perfect a football game as you could ever expect to play and it does pretty much everything right. The passing requires a more deft touch and fine aim than previous, which can throw you off a bit at first, but other than that, FIFA 11 is the beautiful game in every sense. Personality+ seems like a far too subtle addition from our uneducated football perspective, but Be A Goalkeeper, Be A Pro, Career and other modes will keep you irrevocably hooked for months on end. It's a cliché, but FIFA 11 hits the back of the net, every time.

A good mix of music from around the world and a marked improvement over last year's soundtrack. Stadium atmosphere is as immersive and authentic as always, but the commentary from Martin Tyler and Andy Gray still grates. Being able to rip CDs to incorporate your own music into the game is a feature that should be in every sports game and it's great to have it here.

Lovely grass, lovingly replicated stadiums and mostly spot-on player likenesses make FIFA 11 a visually strong title that looks almost like the proper football you'd see on TV, especially if you squint a bit. Menus have the traditional EA sheen, but the in-game interface is almost identical to FIFA 10's, which seems a bit lazy.

Played FIFA 08, 09, 10? Then you'll be right at home playing FIFA 11. It's every bit as fluid, immediate and satisfying as a football game should be and it beats the hell out of any other title currently available in the genre. Every facet of the gameplay is tight and responsive, and it's hard to fault how the game plays. If we had one gripe, it'd be that the team AI isn't quite up to scratch and can make stupid mistakes in defence and cause offensive moves to break down.

Career Mode alone will keep you occupied forever, with 15 seasons taking you well into the afterlife and support for 11 vs. 11 online will make waiting in the devil's waiting room to be called into hell, go by really fast. There's a lot here and it's all incredibly well-presented. 'Nuff said.

If you played FIFA 10, you've probably already done a lot of these, so prepare to do them all over again. There are possibly too many cheevos attached to online again and the rest are a mixture of simply looking at certain menus for an easy 5G and completing whole seasons of Career for a bigger chunk of Gamerscore. Obtaining the full 1000G will mean staying for the long haul though.

FIFA 11 in gameplay terms is really only a minor improvement over FIFA 10, but the bolstered Career Mode adds a significant boost to the depth and longevity on offer. If you're still happily plugging away at last year's instalment however, you might not find enough of a reason to shell out all over again, but die-hard fans and newcomers to the series will be impressed by how well the game plays and how much there is to do. It by no means reinvents the wheel (or the ball for that matter), but FIFA 11 is a superb game that retains its title as the best football game that money can buy.

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