FIFA Soccer 11 (Xbox 360) review
"FIFA 11 retains all of what made FIFA 10's engine great, apart from making penalties more of a bother than they need to be, but a lack of meaningful improvements, particularly in its game modes, means that it feels like I'm paying full price mostly just for updated rosters and kits."
Last year, FIFA 10 became the pinnacle of football simulation. The 360-degree dribbling was an inspired addition, while importing my face through Virtual Pro and pretending to be Nottingham Forest's star player was all sorts of awesome. Players sometimes fouled each other with the slightest of pushes--a realistic touch--and this was countered by refs playing advantage to keep matches from being too stop-go. Attackers under pressure from defenders were also less likely to produce that perfect cross or shot, but best of all, there was a feeling of unpredictability when facing off against a mate. I once lost a match because my backtracking defender, who should've dealt with a tame low cross, failed to intercept it because the ball rolled past an inch behind him. Another time, I won a free-scoring match against Gary Hartley after his John O'Shea scored two comical own goals. Football is like that sometimes, and it was lovely that FIFA 10 captured that essence instead of adhering to a strict set of rules.
FIFA 11 retains all of what made FIFA 10's engine great (apart from making penalties more of a bother than they need to be), but a lack of meaningful improvements, particularly in its game modes, means that it feels like I'm paying full price mostly just for updated rosters and kits.
Sure, there are some nice tweaks. Some refs are now more lenient or strict than others, which means you might find yourself cursing at them more than ever when they make decisions that go the other way. Lobs are no longer effective unless you're absolutely spot on, and passing along the ground has been slightly refined so that the game doesn't handhold and let you pinball it through midfield, Arsenal-style, with as much ease as before. On the other hand, decent target men have become more of an aerial threat, making route one football a viable alternative. I've been scoring way more headers than I did last year, too. But, that's all they really are: tweaks. On the basis of only the engine, I could honestly put in my FIFA 10 disc and have just as much enjoyment. (In reality, the new kits and Forest's boosted stats mean that I'll probably never return to last year's title.) To be fair, this is perhaps not that surprising, given that FIFA 10 was already top-notch. All would be easily forgiven if the stuff surrounding the mechanics were much improved.
One of the biggest changes lies in the "Manager" and "Be a Pro" modes being merged together to form one single career mode. You've got the option to be a player (FIFA 10's equivalent of "Be a Pro"), player-manager ("Manager"), or even manager and simply simulate the matches, though I don't see why this would be anything more than a minor distraction when Football Manager 2011 is out and is so much deeper and more rewarding. Negotiating for players now involves two steps--agreeing a fee with the club and then sorting a contract out for the player--while the mode does away with recruiting unknown scouted players (a shame considering they were the backbone of my final FIFA 10 manager squad), team and stadia upgrades, and--more positively--scheduling conflicts. In addition, EA have made small attempts to make the leagues more lifelike and alive, like compiling teams of the week and making the latest scores from other matches pop up as you play, which are fine, but the fact that the menus have been given a new spank of paint doesn't hide that there's still a strong sense of déjà-vu when you compare it to previous games' careers. Not enough evolution has been made to give you enough incentive to play through everything all over again, unless you're the sort who likes to constantly wheel and deal.
The other new thing EA is touting is that you can now play as a goalkeeper, which to put it bluntly, is boring as heck. The idea isn't a bad one, and the mechanics are fairly well done if a tiny bit sluggish. Much like controlling your outfield Pro, you're given a helping hand by the game as it recommends where you should be standing. Being in the right position is essential to pulling off decent saves (you dive with a flick of the right stick). Shot-stopping is by far and away the most exciting and rewarding part of being the ‘keeper, though being forced to make split-second decisions on whether to come for crosses or not is oddly compelling, too. But, unless your team is appallingly outclassed, you'll be spending way more time spectating than being part of the action. It's a bit strange, really. The best matches are the ones where the opposition regularly bombard your goal, yet those are the sort you also usually lose. In contrast, I've played several where I only had to deal with one or two efforts on target and ended up winning. Those were complete snores.
Keeping clean sheets isn't anywhere near as enthralling as scoring a goal, and the game pretending to give you some semblance of control of your AI teammates by letting you press buttons and ‘shout' orders don't make it any better. I played the demo of Soccer Superstars on the iPhone recently, and matches would speed up if your player wasn't influencing play. That would have been a godsend here. Of course, one of the reasons why EA are pushing hard to promote this lame feature is because they can use the "We Are 11" tagline, which is admittedly kind of neat. However, 11v11 matches are worth exactly as much hassle as getting a game going in last year's 10v10--by that, I mean absolutely none. Good luck if you want to try and find twenty or so randoms who aren't all douches. You're better off gathering a group of mates to play in a Pro Club, controlling your collective Virtual Pros as one team and cooperatively competing against other clubs. Navigating through this mode is initially a little daunting, but it remains the best way to play with a party of more than two.
That said, FIFA 11 still plays a kick-ass game of football, and it does come with a couple of noteworthy extras. Importing custom music playlists is great if the soundtrack bothers you, and this year's edition of Ultimate Team, a decent card collection take on the game, comes free if you have an Internet connection to download the content. FIFA 11 is probably the best football game out there today, and it's a no-brainer recommendation if you've not been keeping up to date with the franchise or are still playing Pro Evolution Soccer. But it's only very slightly better than FIFA 10, and as someone who has spent a ridiculous number of hours on that game, this one is a bit of a disappointment.
Beating Gary is still as wonderfully fun as ever, though.
Freelance review by Freelance Contributor (December 04, 2010)
This contribution was provided by a writer who is no longer active on the site.
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