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FIFA 11 The Review

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When the Fifa 11 demo code was played by the public for the first time at Gamescom in August it received a fairly mixed bag of reviews. Some loved it, some weren’t impressed with the progress the title had made and others didn’t like it at all. But that was a long time a go now and the code we were all playing just last week is at least 2 months old and boy does it show.

After some basic setup and once you’ve redeemed your Online Pass it’s on to the arena where the new cover star Kaka is waiting for you. Things feel very similar at this point and you’re entirely unaware of what is just around the corner ready and waiting to hit you like a ton of bricks.

As soon as you flick the analogue stick and pull the trigger on your first Fifa 11 shot your reaction should be the same as mine, “Christ that’s different” and it is. The more you dribble, the more shots you take, the more skill moves you perform in the arena the more the chasm widens between Fifa 11 and the demo. It feels new, fresh and most importantly superior.

Gameplay

So on to the most important facet of Fifa 11 the gameplay and things have certainly improved in this area. EA haven’t re-invented the game by any stretch because they didn’t need to but what they have done is fine tune and optimise the gameplay to such an extent that it feels brand new again.

Things are much more solid and believable with players moving with greater purpose and weight. This feeling of extra weight also crosses over to the ball physics which now respond with frightening realism.

The emphasis on proper build up and movement is now more apparent, with passing seeming even more methodical than before. People who weren’t too happy with the pacing of the demo will now find themselves falling in love with the slowed down Fifa 11, the “normal” setting plays like a dream I have to say. The overall responsiveness of players seems to have been toned down a notch too but that isn’t to the detriment of the experience at all. The movements now contain more inertia and realism which when combined with the fluid animations makes for joyous viewing.


As well as that the previously MIA stamina model is now in and entering the final stages of matches the effect on player fitness levels is clearly visible. Making substitutions is no longer a nicety it’s a necessity and certain match situations can now be exploited by a clever change. Playing against Man City I threw on the lively Hernandez in the 80th minute and his freshness and pace caused havoc amongst the tired City back line. I’ve never ever seen this kind of effect before in a Fifa game and that one substitution literally changed the context of the last ten minutes of that match.

One of my biggest pet hates, player pressure also seems to be improved. You still get pressured but the opposition no longer chase and harry with the same ferocity as before. Its more measured and their situational awareness seems better.

The positional awareness of your own team is also very noticeable with them filling in for each other when someone goes walkabout at regular intervals. Its lovely to see but I feel EA have perhaps over done this a touch. Players can remain swapped for extended periods of time which gives your formation a strange feel sometimes. The logic behind it is sound but it happens just a little too often for my liking.

The AI has also been given a significant kick, playing on World Class I was struggling to contain teams at times, with more intelligent dribbling and use of passing now on show they’re a delight to play against. They also now show a greater regard for maintaining their own possession as well which is something I was disappointed not to see in the demo. You’ll have to be on your game defensively and offensively to deal with the AI on the higher difficulties this year which is great to see. Whether this extra behaviour was deliberately omitted from the demo I don’t know, but it’s certainly new and it gives the offline modes a massive boost in terms of difficulty.

I guess the best way to sum up the gameplay really is to say that I was taken a back by the changes EA have made in such a short space of time. I think a lot of people will be in for a real surprise when they play Fifa 11 for the first time. It isn’t perfect by any means but it’s far and away the best gameplay a Fifa title has ever seen.

Graphics

Visually the game looks great; there haven’t been any major advances since the demo graphically but with the full plethora of weather, lighting, stadium and pitch options available it goes above and beyond what we’ve seen before.


The player models are superb and whilst there are a few players who would have benefited from some extra attention on the whole they’re great. Having a full roster of stars at your disposal allows you to focus in a little more on the players that really do stand out like the scarily realistic animation set assigned to Fernando Torres. His movements and attributes are extremely lifelike and hair moguls amongst you will be pleased to see him sporting a short back and sides. That’s just one example, hidden in the depths of Fifa’s massive player roster are hundreds of gems waiting to be discovered.

I still think EA can take Fifa’s visuals much further though. I’d personally like to see a more realistic colour palette implemented for one, because at times things can seem a little too bright. More subtle lighting would help to smooth out that harshness seen particularly on sunny days. It’s a minor gripe really but I’d love EA to try and emphasise the gritty reality of football more through the games visuals.

Virtual Pro

A far as creating your Virtual Pro goes then the process is pretty similar to last year. Only this time you have to decide on a position and player role for your pro. I chose to be an attacking midfielder with the box to box role assigned. These options can be changed at any time but you have to really think about what you want to be now rather than just creating a generic template. You also have the option to assign 5 from the 20 player traits available which are all locked initially. These two new layers of personality provide so much more variety than last year and unlocking the traits is much more difficult to boot.

One major disappointment for me was that Game Face hasn’t really moved on at all. I imported the face I had stored from Fifa 10 and the same skin tone problem cropped up. So many people complained about this last year so I find it crazy that EA haven’t done something on the back end to smooth or blend skin tones properly. Game Face was supposed to remain in constant development by EA but they’ve done little if anything with it.


Next it was on to getting some accomplishments for my pro. The achievement book is back and better than ever now boasting 400 different tasks to complete across all game modes. I started by trying to rack up some of the arena accomplishments which act as a sort of tutorial for Virtual Pro. I’d recommend that everyone starts here as I really enjoyed completing the arena tasks. Some of which were easy, others hard but they give you a nice base of attributes to build your pro from.

Then of course you can take your pro online with Pro Clubs, in to Career Mode or just to use in Exhibition matches. Overall the Virtual Pro system has improved and there should be much more variety and style online especially because of the changes EA have made. But the thorn in my side is the lack of innovation with Game Face. For something that was so good last year to be identical is a poor show.

Career Mode

A very contentious mode this considering the furore that surrounded Manger Mode in Fifa 10 and I’m happy to inform you that the signs are very good. First of all the new layout makes Career Mode much easier to navigate and use. The two most welcome additions here are the news pane which feeds you the headline news from around Career Mode and the improved email system. The latter is extremely helpful in keeping you up to date with negotiations, board expectation and interest from other clubs in your players. The email screen itself is a little bland for my taste but its functional and quick which I guess is the main thing.


The transfer system also has some welcome changes, you should have all heard about the two tiered negotiation system by now and it works brilliantly. Having to deal with the club and player individually represents a real challenge at times and I had to pull out of quite a few negotiations due to excessive demands. For example Inter Milan wanted 40 million for Wesley Sneijder, a price I wasn’t willing to pay.

Playing as Man Utd I initially selected Gary Neville and Kuzsczak for the chop and both were snapped up pretty quickly, Neville moving to Birmingham (2.4mil) and Kusack to Everton (4.6mil) I was pretty happy with the realism of these transfers and both players moved on without issue.

Needing a new goalkeeper I added David De Gea to my shortlist which triggered a news story about him welcoming my interest. It was pleasing to see the game responding in that way and with that I swiftly moved in. After two rounds of negotiations I eventually agreed a fee of 9.5mil with Atletico Madrid and then concluded contract negotiations easily due to the player wanting the move to Old Trafford. It was a really smooth deal and a great example of how the negotiations are working in Fifa 11.

The strangest transfer I saw actually came through as headline news with Essien moving to Bayern Munich for 34mil. I’m personally of the opinion that Chelsea probably wouldn’t sell someone so influential whatever the price. However when I met Chelsea in the Charity Shield Ramires was occupying the vacant role which made a little more sense. Overall the transfer system works well and the negotiations are great but I was unable to test how it works over multiple seasons, I’ll need much more time to do that.


To speed things up on my play through and to test it I decided to sim pre-season. The events happening in simmed games now appear in real time on screen and my results were pretty realistic. As Man Utd I beat Lens 3-0 drew 2-2 away at Standard Liege and won 5-1 at home against Academica. The substitution choices the AI makes are good but they only seem to swap players like for like. So if you’re losing a match during a sim the chances are the AI isn’t going to turn it around for you with tactical decisions.

The new calendar is also a really nice addition, the day to day running of your club is now really focussed but the simming of days can be interrupted in an instant to deliver critical emails and news to your inbox. However at peak times (when the transfer window is open) the simulation engine can take a while to process what’s going on elsewhere in Career Mode. A little bit more optimisation on the back end to give the mode some more zip would be very welcome.

Another great little touch happens throughout Career Mode matches and its something EA have lifted from the World Cup game, live score updates. Regular updates drop down from the top right and at half time and full time you’re presented with a full run down of the results in your league. Its only a small detail but it adds to the immersion of Career Mode massively.

Finally just a quick note on injuries. During Tom’s playtest there was a worry that injuries sustained in game still weren’t triggering properly. But so far I’ve had Rooney (34 days) and Hernandez (83 days) out injured both sustained live and in game. So immediately that’s a huge plus, the jury is probably still out for me overall with injuries but these are good signs none the less.

You can certainly tell that Career Mode has started from scratch and it is a touch thread bare on the options front with player growth and media interaction only making fleeting appearances. But it does work now and you can see that the foundations are laid for the next 5 years. Marcel and the team have a lot of work to do to provide the offline experience Fifa 11’s excellent gameplay deserves but this is definitely a step in the right direction. Career Mode is great and what is there works but as an offline purist I want much, much more.

Edit Mode

This one was actually somewhat of a shock to me as EA have kept entirely quiet about the in-game edit mode. We’ve heard loads about Creation Centre and some of you will have read my impressions already but the in-game edit mode has remained a mystery until now.


To start with you’ll find all the options you’re used to being able to edit in Fifa games, boots, tape, gloves, shirts, socks amongst others. But with Fifa 11 EA are allowing us to edit player abilities in full. All attributes are available and there is no cap on the XP you can assign, editing the offline experience is entirely in our hands this year. So if the up and coming whiz kid in your local team has been underrated by EA you can do something about it on day one.

It’s a big step for EA to add this after years of requests from the community falling on deaf ears. It seems to me that EA are now taking the Fifa editing community very seriously indeed and hopefully this is just the start.

Audio

The in game audio in Fifa 11 is again a step up from its predecessor with the crowd noise and response to on field activities better than ever. There’s no better feeling than charging down the wing with Nani, whipping in a fierce cross which is only just cut out by the defender and hearing the crowd “ohhhhh” in unison.

The commentary has also seen the standard yearly upgrade with more focus from masers Gray and Tyler on individual players than ever before. Making the commentary sound fresh each year is an impossible task because EA can’t record every line from scratch, so of course some of the same phrases are in again. But EA have done just enough in my opinion to make the commentary better than last year. To really push it to the next level some new technology is going to be required to make commentary seem as spontaneous and unique as real life because as with all previous Fifa games it can be too predictable at times.


The new Custom Audio and Chant features are well implemented and cleanly designed. A “How to” article is up on FSB now which covers this in more detail. But for those with the time and dedication the audio world in Fifa 11 is their oyster. Custom chants and audio make a big difference to the feeling of atmosphere and anyone who does dedicate some time to it won’t be left disappointed.

Online Modes

Fifa 11’s online modes are extremely difficult to review pre-release. Until everyone around the world is playing the game online its impossible to gauge how that experience is evolving. Also having just two people on my friends list who have the game right now is extremely limiting. All the big hitting modes are in though as you’d expect with the improved Pro Clubs, Head to Head and for PS3 users the Fifa Interactive World Cup.

I think the best way to approach this is to review online separately post launch which is exactly what Fifa Soccer Blog will do. As I always say about online your fate also lies with the person who you’re playing against although having said that I have more faith than ever that the new gameplay will help smooth this sometimes frustrating experience for many.

The Verdict

So where do I begin. Well I can safely say that Fifa 11 has been improved dramatically in many areas with just a few issues letting things down. Game Face for one and the much unloved Team Management screens which when compared to PES or Football Manger are stuck in the dark ages. Career Mode also feels a shade light weight to me but maybe with this being the first iteration I was expecting too much. Next year Career Mode has to hit every single nail on the head, no excuses.

The shining light without doubt is the gameplay. I’ve fallen in love with it, the slowed pacing, the reduced pressure, its basically everything I’ve ever wanted. The work EA have done since the demo is staggering and the team at EAC deserve all the credit they get and more. What they could potentially do with this engine as the base for next years game is frightening. It’s a simple case of less is more and in stripping back some of the layers EA have delivered the closest representation of real football I’ve ever seen. I don’t want to go over the top with the superlatives because it does have its minor niggles still but the gameplay overall is simply stunning.

As an overall package Fifa 11 also stands up as the most complete football game on the market right now with enough modes, competitions and features to keep you busy for months on end. So in that respect it represents great value for anyone who wants longevity as well as quality from their football gaming experience this year.

Its without doubt the best Fifa game to ever hit the market and a clear leap from last years now stale Fifa 10. Its further proof that EA’s mantra of evolving the series step by step, bit by bit is still working and with Fifa 11 the improvement shows no sign of abating. I can see how incremental updates would be looked down on by some but for the hardcore the subtle nuances of Fifa 11 will capture and inspire.

Fifa 11 is still very much the every mans football game with something in there for everyone but the gameplay is now directed firmly at the community which have lived and breathed the games highs and lows over the last 3 years. The King is going to have to wait another year I’m afraid because the devilishly handsome Prince is still leading the revolution.

I wasn’t going to give a score but I appreciate that it is “expected” in gaming reviews these days so for those of you that do want a definitive number.

9/10

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