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The Art Of Defending


Most football fans will agree that great defending is an art form in its own right. From Terry Butchers tackle on Jairzinho to Stam on Ginola, these great defensive moments stay with us for just as long as any wonder goal or superb skill. Great tacklers require excellent timing, skill and the ability to read their opponent. But how does FIFA 11’s tackling system stand up to the real world equivalent?

The tackling mechanics used in FIFA 11 are in a word, primitive and I’m being pretty kind. As a defender you have just two options available to you, standing tackle or slide tackle. Two buttons which you can unceremoniously bash until your hearts content tackling opponents at will. That I’m afraid about sums it up.

On the flip side if you take a look at the options available to FIFA 11’s cast of attacking players things are much more varied. They can use normal dribble, skilled dribble or the huge armoury of skill moves and feints available via the trick stick. Straight away you can see the massive imbalance there and it’s a clear sign that the art of defending is being badly neglected by EA.

As well as the number of options there’s also a huge contrast in the amount of user input and skill required to be proficient in each area. Performing some of the most difficult attacking tricks successfully in one flowing movement takes real skill and timing. Whereas making the perfect tackle simply requires a working thumb.

This isn’t solely FIFA 11’s fault though. The one button tackle mechanic has been the industry standard since football gaming began. It’s a very comfortable design choice which EA haven’t ever really pushed or innovated. But this kind of primitive defensive design is aging fast and for a high profile market leader like FIFA 11 we should expect much more.   

FIFA 11’s problems aren’t just down to the “one button” tackle mechanic though, it’s probably more about the complete disregard for user skill and timing. All you need to do is hammer the tackle button repeatedly until an unsuspecting forward comes in to range. Then you just sit back and watch as your defender leaps in to steal the ball with consummate ease. This gives tackling the sensation of complete automation and dare I say a “scripted” feel. There’s no bearing at all on when you push the button or your position its all about the percentages.  

Personally I’m of the opinion that if you press the tackle button your player should do a basic tackle animation regardless. That would in an instant stop people mindlessly button bashing standing tackle and wrongly reaping the rewards. If you press the button too early you’re easily bypassed, too late and you commit a foul but at least that variance in user input is there for all to see.     

If you take a look at what PES has done with its tackling engine this year then it makes FIFA11’s system look very archaic indeed. To tackle in PES you need to jockey and then push the analogue stick towards the player to time a tackle. It’s wonderful in its simplicity and ticks the crucial tackling boxes, timing and skill. It also loosely mimics the actual animation itself ie sticking a leg out. I’m not for a second suggesting that EA just rip this system off but the theory is something they must take on board.

Having a powerful tackling engine in FIFA 11 has also bred a high pressure culture amongst the community. I mean why stand off and be considered when you can leap in and take the ball a few seconds earlier? Over time we seem to have built up a reliance on the tackling engine meaning we no longer worry about our positioning or the situation because we know the magical tackle button will bail us out. Changing this mindset is a huge task which in my opinion can only be fixed with a radical overhaul of how we tackle in FIFA 11.  

On a positive note where EA have tackling nailed is in the animation department. The multiple tackle animations are a joy to watch at times, especially when players have the “aggressive tackler” trait assigned to them. Such a wonderful and adaptive animation engine deserves so much more than the “auto tackle” responses it currently gets. Tackling has fantastic style but lacks sufficient substance to make the excellent animations credible.  

EA get a lot of grief for either not delivering enough or not delivering at all but in tackling they have something they can really make a difference with. EA have shown their willingness to go back and deal with the games fundamental problems in recent history (Pro Passing, Personality+) and now its time to move on to perhaps the most important and most neglected gameplay mechanic, tackling.

The frustration overpowered tackling creates in FIFA 11 is unrivalled for me and sorting it out has to be high on EA’s priorities for next year. Great tackling should require timing, user input and good defensive positioning not just one button and the game doing the rest. The controls need to be intuitive, responsive and comfortable to use as well. Tackling needs an overhaul I’m afraid and it can’t come soon enough, the beautiful animations deserve it.

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