FIFA 11 Review (PS3)

It’s fascinating to watch the fortunes of teams change through the years. Take Liverpool as an example; their triumphant comeback against Milan in the Champions League seems like a long, distant memory. Now they’re propping up the Premiership, languishing in the bottom three as High Court injunctions decide their fate. Many parallels can be made with the long running feud of FIFA and Pro Evolution Soccer.

PES, the once simulation golden boy enjoyed its success as FIFA struggled to shake its ‘score-from-the-halfway-line’ reputation. Then something changed, EA started taking its franchise seriously and a shift of power occurred. At first, the quality was neck and neck, but last year cemented FIFA as the king of football gaming. A full comparative article is due soon, but for the moment let’s focus on FIFA 11, beginning with its headline changes.

On yeh head son!

Perhaps the most noticeable change is the fluidity of the game. Before, players scrapped their way through matches, struggling to pull off any sense of pass and move. This year, FIFA seems to reflect the game of football a lot more. A defensively powerful team can put men behind the ball, waiting for the opportune moment to break at swift, devastating pace.

A player who prefers to slowly build up play, passing into space, finds equal measures at his disposal. Players, unless running face-first into opposing men, hold onto the ball with greater effect. The much heralded 360-degree dribbling seemed clunky in 2010. It was only usable by those who invested the hours learning the intricacies of the AI. In FIFA 11, you can pull of tricks with greater ease – you can run round sluggish defenders with nimble wingers. There seems to be a lot more space in midfield and enough time to think with the ball. You can pick out your crossfield passes and with the majority of the time, they work perfectly.

You begin to start thinking like a footballer. It’s no use holding sprint and relying on through-balls. You pass into space, backwards and switch play. It’s perhaps the first year that the change is instantly noticeable. Long range shooting has been improved – you can actually hit the target from outside the box. The lethal nature of chips has been toned down – it’s no longer an ‘I-score’ choice. Keepers are more athletic, but at the same time, they don’t overreact to the simplest of shots. Celebrations bring the players alive and their overall intelligence is greater as they wingers switch sides and defenders shift to provide adequate cover. Finally, you can actually win the ball in the air with forwards after a free kick.

The gameplay has been tightened to an astonishing degree. Attacking players still make peculiar runs players and there’s a fair few dim-witted individuals misplacing passes, but this is football after all. It’s not a perfectly performed spectacle and it just adds to the realism. The result is a sense of achievement unfound in past games. There’s nothing better than pulling off a perfectly timed counter attack – outpassing your opponent as your shot goes exactly where you aimed it – Chelsea being prime examples.

Rooney spots some pies in the opponent's goal

Thankfully, there are very few negative aspects to the gameplay. The biggest apparent change is penalties - the new system seems to miss nine out of ten times unless you’re striking down the middle. The referees are still a bit odd with their choice of cards (despite the new, multiple personalities available) and the new Be-A-Goalie pro mode is a tad boring (who likes playing in goal anyway).

The rest of the game is less drastic. The season mode has been refined by removing the gamebreaking scout system and letting you play as a player-manager. This means you don’t have to play separate Be-A-Pro / Career modes, instead managing a team and choosing whether to control your individual or the whole team at a whim. It’s a welcome addition as the Be-A-Pro mode in FIFA 10 became a bit tiresome. This now means you’re free pick and choose according to mood (although separate careers still remain in you prefer a specific play mode).

With your Pro, there are plenty of new challenges to unlock to better their stats. A lot more are rewarded for prolonged playing rather than having you farm over-specific challenges. It’s nice to see your pro gradually improve as you play more and more. There’s definitely lots to keep you busy and plenty of unlocks for customisation.

Online returns in a similarly deep fashion. You’ve got head to head, full eleven player Be-A-Pro matches, online leagues, and other bits and bobs. Whether or not the rage-quitters and own goal scorers who often ruined FIFA 10 remain is a matter that only time will tell, but it’s an absolute blast with friends.

A Bridge Too Far

A creation centre, the ability to import custom crowd chants (it’s a shame EA haven’t recorded them for the big-teams yet), a boggling selection of leagues and teams and friends leaderboards in the lobby round off an extensive list of features. Thankfully, you can also save replays locally for uploading at a later date – a feature sorely missed in the past.

Football games are slowly reaching a plateau with non-pitch improvements, but there’s no doubt that this year’s FIFA is the best yet. To many it’ll still seem ludicrous that sports games are worth the purchase every year, but for anyone who’s ever kicked a football in their life, this is the definitive choice.

Best Moment: Scoring a last minute screamer with Barnet to make it through to the Quarter Finals of the FA Cup