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FSB FIFA 11 Impressions

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A couple of months ago, shortly after getting home from work and checking my emails, my eyes got a little bit wider and my heart pumped a little bit faster. A few of you may know I’ve been involved with the FIFA scene for a while now (starting out with some FIFA 99 patches I worked on with friends), but never before had I been invited to play a FIFA game and meet the developers while the game was still in development.

In-fact I was so excited that for the vast majority of my time out in Canada I completely forgot I was supposed to be acting the part of a journalist – but here’s what I managed to write down about my time with FIFA 11 before I was dragged from the building kicking and screaming.

Before I make a start on this essay/loveletter, I should point out that the build we FIFA community people were invited to test contained gameplay changes only, with the menu system butchered to contain exhibition match options and little else. Therefore, as much as it broke my heart, poking around Manager Mode (and all the other modes too) was off the cards on this occasion.

As a part of this, the graphics were also the same graphics from FIFA 10 – well actually, there were some 2010 FIFA World Cup graphics in there as well, such as the odd facial model and the much-improved lighting. So bear in mind that looking at the screenshots released today is as new for me as it is for you, as there’s a slight – but definite – improvement over what I was shown.

Finally (and the above two paragraphs should have made this pretty obvious but, you know, I’ll say it anyway just in-case); this was far from being the complete version of the game, meaning that any number of peculiarities could have been ironed out by now – hopefully not at the cost of some new ones creeping in.

But with that out of the way… Let the fun begin!

Getting personal

Before we were let loose on the game, we were given a brief presentation on what we could expect to see. There were a few key points that the guys behind the game were keen to show off, and for me (and I suspect most FIFA players) was player individuality – or, as it was referred to here, Player Personality.

The ways in which the developers have worked on this idea were discussed throughout the week I spent in Vancouver, and while some of the changes appear subtle, some were quite striking. For me, the biggest shock was in seeing how players now react on their own accord.

For example, playing as Liverpool and watching Arsenal pass the ball around me, I witnessed Fernando Torres taking a couple of steps towards a ball played across him before stopping in his tracks and visibly giving up on winning back possession. When the ball was passed to an opponent on Maxi Rodríguez’s wing however, they knew about it; without having to select the player or alter any tactical instructions, he was charging towards the ball (and the various passing targets around him) like a bull at a gate.

The effect that this gives as you watch the game play out is pretty authentic, and it’s obviously more than just a visual thing. Playing with the likes of Carlos Tevez in your team gives you a little bit of bite in the midfield, and playing without anyone like that in the team… Well, you end up having to do a lot more work yourself to keep the heat on your opponent.

After noticing this added pressuring from certain players, a question was raised by someone more intelligent than I; what happens if you alter your general team tactics to, say, stand off the opposition players completely? Well, the developers told us that they don’t want to make it possible to change a player into something he’s not using the team tactics sliders, and from experimenting with the sliders, it appeared to me that the ratio stays the same but with the range of pressure applied being reduced.

In other words, it seemed that each player applied less pressure but those who were obviously the hard-working individuals would still keep trying to regain the ball that little bit more than the others.

Graphically there was a bit of individuality to be seen as well, with a new “player specific celebration” combination added to the goal celebration controls – meaning that pressing the same specific combination will result in, for example, Fernando Torres doing that strange kneeling double-salute, Peter Crouch doing the robot or Tim Cahill showing off his boxing skills.

Also there are now some player specific dribble styles, with Cristiano Ronaldo’s “legs moving in fast forward” dribble amongst several that I managed to get a glimpse of – and along with that, player models have improved across the board, with certain players looking particularly impressive (with Cristiano’s smaller but toned physique coming to mind). There are still a lot of improvements that could be made in this department across the board – Shaun Wright-Phillips has the body of a considerably larger player, for example. However, it is a marked improvement from last year.

But when it comes to player individuality in the gameplay department, work rate is not the only thing that seperates the footballers from one another. Which brings us nicely onto the next big change to the FIFA series…

Pass and move

Passers of the ball are more prone to making mistakes thanks to what EA are calling Pro Passing (and at this point I would like to admit, yes, I hate the silly names that everything has to have as well). The biggest part of this is that the power gauge features a sweet spot, where if you go under that spot you will underhit the pass, and if you go over it then you will overhit it.

In the build that we played, this led to a few underhit passes – which is exactly the kind of thing I wanted to see in FIFA this year, more errors being made by footballers (because, you know, it does happen). Overhit passes were much rarer, but we were warned about this being an issue beforehand so you would assume this is something that the developers are looking at tweaking before release.

There’s not just error in the length of the passes – there’s more error in the direction too, depending on the players you use. With assisted and semi passing options, I have to admit that I found it difficult to hit an off-target pass with the likes of Arsenal, but with one of the relegation-battling outfits you definitely had to be a tad more accurate with your analog stick.

Performing constant first-time passes is now more difficult to get away with, and there are now more variables involved in determining whether these first-time balls will be successful or not (with most of the calculations coming from the skill of the player and the angle of the pass). When constant first-time passing isn’t really a viable option, doing it anyway leads to the ball bouncing around a little bit more awkwardly and this is an obvious attempt to try and reduce the much-discussed and (almost) universally despised “ping-pong passing” element of the game, but whether it has a strong enough effect to satisfy the guys (like me) who truly hate the pass button bashers remains to be seen.

Aside from these changes (and going back to player individuality for a moment), players with more skill will now pass the ball with, for example, a bit of swerve when appropriate to guide the ball away from any opposition players who might have been able to get a foot onto it.

Finally, there’s a new kind of kick you can perform called a “bouncing lob” (basically a low-trajectory cross-field kind of pass). I won’t go into detail because it was a late addition to the code that we were playing and I didn’t get to experiment with it as much as I would have liked – but it certainly looks good when you pull it off!

The men between the sticks

To be totally honest with you folks, during the initial presentation about the work on player individuality being done this year, I was half-expecting to get my hands on the game and find that it amounted to Steven Gerrard hitting low shots and little else. So when I found the various individual areas that had been worked on above, I was happy to be proved wrong. But what really surprised me was that it wasn’t just the outfield players that were being worked on.

I’ll try and explain how I feel about the goalkeeping now in a nutshell… Imagine a six foot tall sack of potatoes replacing a goalkeeper in the middle of some goalposts. Imagine that when the ball was kicked either side of it, it could fall onto the ground, and that was the entire library of the sack’s goalkeeping moves.

Playing as Tranmere, this is how the goalkeepers felt – as if they were on a pivot, able to collapse either side of themselves, but perform little else. No miraculous feats of goalkeeping genius.

But then, playing as Tottenham and having “Jazz Hands” Gomes wearing the gloves… Everything changes. His body’s momentum can be sending him one way – possibly away from the ball itself – but he can throw out an arm, or a leg, and get enough on it to knock it away for a defender to clear.

That’s not the only contrast in goalkeeping talent though. You can clearly see the difference between energetic goalkeepers like Gomes who dance along the goal line, and calmer goalkeepers like Liverpool’s Pepe Reina who simply judge where the ball is going to go and then put themselves there with as little physical effort as possible.

Defensive maneuvers

Another area that the individuality work has touched on is defending, and the art of tackling. Players have a tackling area (governed by their defensive stats) and the more skilful the defender is, the longer reach he can achieve with his tackling portfolio and the more successful he will be at regaining possession. It also results in the short tackles – or stab tackles as they are often called – being slightly different.

Rather than always being the same kind of tackle and having the same kind of animation, I saw several instances where a defender would (bear with me, it’s difficult to explain) plant one foot forward before swinging around with the other leg to attempt to knock the ball away.

Heading has also seen an improvement in both defence and attack – more than one player can now attempt to get their head on the ball. This is something you may or may not have noticed in previous games but when you do notice it, you can’t stop thinking about it, because it leads to so many missed opportunities. As you may be able to see in the first in-game screenshot at the top of this page, this has now been looked at.

Speaking of tackling and the danger of committing a foul, referees have had a bit of a revamp too. There is now a set of fictional referees from around the globe who have different refereeing skill attributes, such as likeliness to blow for a foul, likeliness to reach for a card and more.

I always felt referees were slightly different from eachother in the previous FIFA games but this time, not only can you view the attributes for yourself, you can get to know each referee and their talents (or lack of talent as the case may be) each time you see that referee’s name.

Music to my ears

So I think I’ve typed enough for one day’s work – I lost feeling in my fingertips about an hour ago – but there’s time to talk about one last feature of the game that was revealed to us towards the end of our stay in EA HQ.

FIFA 11 will present you with the ability to import sound files and use them as music tracks, team chants, pitch entrance music and goalscoring music. At the time of the event we were told that there were no limits (apart from the size of the storage device you use) on the amount of files you import. If we hear any more about this, we’ll be sure to let you know.

And that’s it; hopefully you’ve enjoyed this little look into my week with FIFA 11. There should be a podcast coming up shortly so if you have any questions – anything that I can answer, at least – please hit the forums and let us know.

Thanks for reading!

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