Review: EA Sports goes for the goal for the second time in 2010.
A few years ago, a co-worker and I were having a conversation about rankings put out by FIFA (as in the international governing body of the sport of soccer, not the video game), and immediately a colleague butted in with, ?You guys talking about FIFA? Man, I love that game.? So solid is this franchise's stranglehold on the soccer video game world that people think of it before they even think of the sport. That is a reputation that is hard to live up to, but somehow, EA Sports manages to pull this one off every time.
I'll start off by saying that FIFA 11 is a bit underwhelming at the get-go. In FIFA 10, the entire machinery of the game was turned on its head. Defenders started doing things that they do in real life, pushing off of attackers and preventing what used to be simple runs towards the goal. Fast-start free kicks gave fouls a new level of possibility and increased the pace of the game, therefore increasing the amount of enjoyment you got out of it. And then came FIFA World Cup, with different stadiums, new gimmicks, a further advance of the physical style of play, and perhaps the best FIFA soundtrack to date. Picking up FIFA 11, though the gameplay has improved, it'll take some time to get used to. It's like comparing two delicious steaks to a McDonald's burger. Sure, the second steak you try might be better, but the first one blew your mind so much that you can never recreate that high with the second steak.
More to the point, the physical play has again improved. If you're watching a real soccer match, a defender will pull at shirts, throw out his legs, and do everything short of clubbing them in the groin to stop the ball (or sometimes just stop the man) from getting through. In FIFA 11, that's exactly what happens. You can't just dribble around defenders; you need to maneuver and create space. Ticky-tack passes are gone; unless you one-time the ball (and sacrifice some accuracy), your player will control it before playing it to the next man. And build up play is much more challenging; defenders will throw their legs out and stop lazy passes from getting through in a way they never did before.
The only negative to this is that it's harder to score goals. Where my roommate and I used to regularly play out to 5-3 scores (on five-minute halves, of course), we're now struggling to get more than a goal in regulation. On the plus side, goal-scoring is infinitely more rewarding.
When you do score, I feel that the celebration engine has taken a small decline. It's harder to get a variety of celebrations, and many goals are immediately followed by pre-determined celebrations. The graphics for these are still pretty cool, and the rest of your team gets more involved, much as in real life, but I do miss the control that I had over what my players did when they scored in FIFA 10 and FIFA World Cup.
The biggest addition to the FIFA franchise is the option to play as a goalkeeper, which is very cool - in theory. Play one or two matches as a ?keeper, though, and you'll probably be done with it. Unless your team is terrible, goalie is a very boring position for video game-play, and if your team is
terrible, that's probably not a lot of fun either. Kudos to EA for doing everything they could with it, but less time spent on this feature and more time spent on other aspects of the game probably would have served the game well.
The other EA Sports talking point on FIFA 11 is a feature called ?Personality Plus.? In theory, this means that the players are given new attributes that allow them to play more like their real-life counterparts. In reality, it's mostly a new approach to player attributes that has a minimal effect on games. The most distinct ?personality? I've encountered so far is Carlos Tevez. While playing against Manchester City, my trusty right fullback, Seamus Coleman, was controlling the ball and looking for his next pass when Tevez came rampaging towards him and almost stole the ball in a very bad position. For soccer fans out there, the terror that Carlos Tevez wreaks on opposing defenses is an all-too-familiar sight, making me feel like this is an area worth the effort by EA. It won't affect your matches that often, but when it does, the payoff is pretty high. I'm sure this is a feature that EA will continue to develop and improve in future incarnations, and I expect it to really improve the feel of the game for those who closely follow the major leagues.
The other two more minor changes in the game are the passing engine and header accuracy. You can now hold the pass button longer to pass the ball farther up field. The clear drawback of this is that it makes it harder to just give a nearby player a hard pass to evade defenders. It's only a minor drawback though, and oftentimes you'll be pleased with the result. Overall, I've found this to be the most true-to-life passing engine and the easiest to control. The header accuracy means that fewer balls hit your head in front of the goal and then fly wildly out of bounds. You score more goals from headers than in past games, and when you miss, it's not by much.
Another small adjustment is that you can now choose from a slate of officials who range from lenient to hard on fouls and cards. Choose the most lenient one possible and gameplay improves dramatically. It's not like they won't call anything, but the flow develops much better and the game is a lot more fun.
One area of discontent I have had so far is with the commentary. The lines got repetitive a lot more quickly than before. Playing as Everton, they seem to say one of two phrases about how I have an even chance with my opponent, whether I'm playing against Chelsea or Wigan (no offense to any Wigan fans out there). It may just be because Everton are a typically mid-table team, but the reality is, most people will play this game with the same team almost every time, and I wish they had a greater variety of things to say in assessing the match-up. An improvement in the system, however, is that when they say things are looking up and things turn around quickly, they'll throw in a line about speaking too soon or ?the curse of the commentator? where previous incarnations seemed to just glaze over the fact that the commentators were completely wrong about where things were going. Overall, the audio doesn't take a huge drop. It's just an area where Martin Tyler and Andy Gray have held solidly for so long that I felt a bit disappointed.