Call me a cynic, but when the latest game in a series plasters the word “NEW” all over the game cover and within the game menus to highlight the additions and changes, it makes me suspect that the incremental updates to the game are so minor that if they weren’t pointed out then gamers would complain that they were being sold the same game for a new price. These were the thoughts running through my mind as I booted up FIFA 11 and watched the intro sequence which had “NEW” overlaid all over it telling me about all the new features of this year’s game (was that a new feature too?).
As far as I could tell after watching the introduction, very little had changed for FIFA 11. Playing the game confirmed that the changes this year (or half year actually, since the last game was FIFA World Cup South Africa 2010) come mainly in the form of gameplay tweaks. Player movement and dribbling takes a little practice to get used to, as sensitive collision detection with other players means jostling with opposition players for the ball is challenging but feels somewhat realistic. Defending is in a similar vain – getting in the face of an opposition striker affects their ability to control the ball in possession, and their passes/crosses/shots.
Little else has changed in terms of the gameplay on the field, which is a good thing. FIFA games of late have gone away from fast and furious “arcade” gameplay to a more refined simulation where players are rewarded for dominating possession and patient buildup. Goals always feel “earned” and wholly satisfying. One of the “NEW” features of FIFA 11 is called “Personality+” which supposedly lets you “feel the difference” of individual players in terms of their “authentically replicated” on-field behaviour. Ultimately I don’t know enough about the game of football and the personality of the world’s best to judge how well this feature was implemented, or whether it adds anything tangible to the game – real football nuts will have to judge this one for themselves. Outwardly it would seem to me that this “feature” simply meant that the developers simply assigned scores to in-game attributes that reflect those of the real-life player. Therefore increasing “authenticity” but hardly revolutionary.
As always, the online mode is where most gamers will spend their time and get the greatest value from FIFA 11. The tagline for this year’s game is “We Are 11”, of course referring both the iteration of the game as well as the number of player aside. This year the team play has expanded further from the 10 vs. 10 human player matchups to the predictable full 11 vs. 11. Obviously the 11th player to be added to team play is the goalkeeper, and fully human controlled keepers is new to the FIFA series. Sadly, few human goalkeepers in online teamplay matches have either the proficiency or the desire required to guard their goals, so most games are farcical. This is not helped by having an achievement for scoring a goal as a goalkeeper. The game urgently requires a patch to allow teammates to boot players where there is consensus to avoid ruining the otherwise excellent online team play mode.
Online play continues to run fairly smoothly whether it be in team play mode (with up to 21 other human controller players from all over the globe) or in standard head-to-head matches. Lobbies are constantly filled with players waiting for a game – at one stage I logged in and there were hundreds of thousands of players online and almost a hundred thousand actively participating in a game. I wonder if New Zealand even has this many gamers registered on Xbox LIVE in total.
Ultimately the staggering number of gamers that play FIFA online means that in order to get the most out of any FIFA game, you pretty much need to have the latest version of it, regardless of whether you feel the upgrade is worth your cash for the upgrades. It is definitely sad but true. FIFA 11 introduces EA’s controversial Online Pass to the FIFA series for the first time. This won’t affect you buying the game new, but if you come across a used copy you may need to buy the right to play online (in addition to Xbox LIVE Gold subscription fees) if the one-time access code printed on the game’s manual has already been redeemed.
A new addition to the offline game mode is the extension of the previous “Be a Pro” mode where you play a particular player for a season – the season is now expanded into a full career, and now incorporates the game’s Manager mode. You can choose to play as a player, manager, or player-manager. The chose player can now be a goalkeeper, with a huge 50 Gamerscore points up for grabs for anyone dedicated enough to play as goalkeeper for an entire season.
Reading this review will probably leave you with the impression that very little has changed from previous FIFA games. While this is true, it must be noted that FIFA Football is an excellent series and the game developers will be cautious not to undo years of hard work by trying to get too clever and fancy. Each year’s version of the game feels like a refinement, with feedback from gamers taken onboard by the developing team. While these refinements may be small and at times feel cosmetic, there is no doubt in my mind that FIFA 11 stands as the best football video game available on the market. Combined with a massive online community, it is certainly worthwhile to have the latest game in the series as you will maximize your gameplay experience and value by keeping up with the footballing Joneses.