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FIFA 11

 

FIFA 11

ESRB: Everyone - E
Platform: Xbox 360
Category: Sports
 
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Developer: EA Canada
Publisher: EA Canada

Features:

1-4 players or 2-4 co-op
2-22 players or 2-co-op online multiplayer modes
In game Dolby Digital
Custom Soundtracks
HDTV 720p/1080i/1080p
Game content download
Leaderboards

FIFA 10 was a fantastic simulation of “the perfect game” for EA Sports' soccer series when it launched last year. It took massive steps forward in both gameplay and features. In fact FIFA 10 is highly regarded as the pinnacle of videogame football (soccer for us N. Americans). FIFA 11 certainly has huge shoes to fill; can it knock the reigning king off the top of the mountain?

Graphics

At first look FIFA 11 doesn’t look any different from FIFA 10; the game still looks and flows fantastically. There are subtle differences, it looks as if EA is comfortable with the game's look and is now doing little tweaks here and there. The replays seem to have been smoothed out a bit, the jitter factor has been eliminated, and Personality Plus has given different player models a larger discrepancy so that the big bruisers look the part. Another change to the visuals is the new user celebrations that are triggered after a goal. Simply run over to a teammate and he'll hop on your back with his hand in the air or tackle you to the ground or do some other variation. It reminds me of the new NHL celebrations, with a push of a pre-set button certain celebrations are triggered and they can also be used online just to rub it in a bit. These little tweaks are certainly cool, but they aren't grand departures from what's already been established.

Players and their uniforms, along with the respective stadiums, are all replicated with painstaking care. The realism is pretty much on par with any TV broadcast, not to mention almost feeling like being there. I love that the game is brightly coloured and animates beautifully, it really helps to deliver one of the best looking games of the year.

One welcomed feature to the game is the inclusion of a very functional replay system. The mode auto-saves highlights from every match so you can pick and choose which of them you want to save or upload to the web after the dust has settled. This is another feature directly lifted from the NHL game, but I’m not complaining it looks, and works, very well.

Sound

Other than gameplay the sound and effects in videogames need to be top notch. The EA soccer games have always has this factor in spades, and FIFA 11 is no different. The entire game is encoded in crystal clear Dolby Digital so gamers can hear and feel every kick or exciting play. I really love the fan reactions and interactions; they call out players for poor play or scream with excitement if they score an impressive goal. As always the chanting is back, in a funny way it seems to be an integral part of the game. For gamers, the chanting can create an unbelievable atmosphere, heightening the gaming experience ten-fold. As with previous games the commentary crew is competent. I did hear a few repeated phrases here and there, but nothing too annoying. The script really hasn’t changed in some time; I guess that’s what happens when you release three football games in just over a year.

Gameplay

After the very well done and received FIFA 10, one wonders what else developers EA Canada could do to make the series better. Well EA promises a whole slew of additions to the new game, but do they make the game better than its fantastic predecessor? I’m mixed on the outcome.

One of the new features is the new Pro Passing system. The passing system is determined by the your ability to use the control pad. Poor decisions frequently result in terrible outcomes, and constant frustration. After last year’s game in which I finally thought EA had overcome its control shortcomings, the new system is a huge step back in my opinion. For me, the new Pro Passing element of the game has killed any momentum or excitement you could hope to find. Amazingly sluggish feeling players mixed with passing that is far too unforgiving makes for a playing experience that will soon find you hurling your controller at everything. The chance of making a through ball now equates to similar odds of winning the lottery, okay that is a bit of an exaggeration but most gamers are going to have to be very patient. I played many 0-0 games with little flow and enjoyment.

The frustration continues with the game’s tackling moves. I had no trouble trying to utilize the tackling, but knocking the ball off the opponent is oddly difficult. I specifically remember times I tackled a player 6 times in a row on the left wing before actually getting the ball under control. Over and over again the problem persists, somehow the opposing player retains the ball while I get fouls or fall off the play. This will leave players pulling their hair out trying to break down some already stale football.

I haven't noticed anything different about the game’s shooting mechanism, it feels solid, familiar and comfortable. I was able to score a mixture of both driven shots and placed finishes. It felt good to score as the control was so tough to use effectively.

Another new mode in FIFA 11 is the addition of Personality Plus. Personality Plus doesn't just mean that players are going to display authentic emotions on the field, it's more that players that you know and love will look, run, shoot, dribble and react to physical interactions authentically. Right away I noticed the mode actually works for all the big names of the sport, while the lesser-known players don't. Not a big deal as most footy fans love to play with their real-life faves. The mode may be lost on the casual gamer who only tunes in for the World Cup every few years, having little or no knowledge of the prominent soccer stars of the world.

For something more on the plus side of the game, I really loved the more physical play in FIFA 11. The game allows for more jostles, bumps, and slide tackle variations than the series has ever seen before. You'll see forwards and defenders alike get knocked and pushed around all over the pitch. You can also pull off some very cool skill manoeuvres by holding down the left trigger and toggling the right analog stick. I must admit it's rare to see these moments of physicality and skill in a realistic manner, but when they happen in game it does bring a smile to your face.

I think EA has addressed the player AI so kudos to that, but they still seem to do things they shouldn’t or not do anything at all. While the players do a slightly better job of positioning on the field, their aggressiveness, or lack of, still isn't up to the standard of real life players. I found all too often AI players wouldn't make an attempt at a slow-rolling pass because it wasn't originally intended for them, despite the fact that it was clearly going to be intercepted by the other team if they let it go by. Players also aren't all that aware of what's going on around them unless they're directly interacting with another player on the field. It’s like a case of ‘yeah I see it, but it’s not my job.' Problems like this are not new to this series, but it's a shame that they haven't been corrected at this point in the series progression.

Another interesting addition to the fleet of FIFA features is the Creation Centre. It allows you to craft players, teams, and tactics on EA's website and then download them onto your console. It works similarly to NCAA Football's Team Builder mode and is a very cool addition for FIFA fans. Once you begin the process it’s somewhat addicting and tough to put down till you have seen some kind of results. Fans can also create custom chants and anthems for your team either through homemade audio tracks or tunes you have on a portable storage device that's compatible with your Xbox 360. Once they're imported you can then assign them to different situations in a game (like scoring a goal or during team introductions). This can make for a fun time while customizing, and it adds tons of game time content.

FIFA 11 also has an all new feature that may have budding goalies jumping for joy. The Be A Pro career mode has been expanded into a new "Be A Goalie" mode in which you play as only the goaltender. While this does allow for online play with up to eleven players (every player on a team is human-controlled), it's not very fun, or I should say engaging. Playing as the goalie puts the camera behind the goal itself, giving you a third-person view of your player. As the goalie you are going to be standing around for much of the game. Realizing that this is a pretty boring vantage point, FIFA 11 allows you to press the back button to scan up to the action ahead of you. This gives you slight control over the passing and shooting of your teammates, but no direct control over their movements. It's more to keep your mind in the game by trying to read the game action. You have to scan back to the keeper in time to position yourself for an incoming shot and hopefully flick the right stick to make a save.

The new mode titled "Career Mode" is really the same as the old “Be A Pro Mode.” This is where you play as only one player throughout his career. Manager Mode (play as only the manager) and Player-Manager Mode (manage your team and play the games) have been available before and return, but with a few helpful tweaks like a new calendar system that actually lets you simulate matches on your schedule. Other than that it is virtually the same as previous incarnations.

Online functionality obviously isn't limited to uploading replays, though. The regular suite of features is back with online leagues and full 11-on-11 soccer aptly represented. I found connecting to EA servers better than older versions, although there still is an insane amount of lost or unable to connect games. This also rings true with the NHL games, so a bit more work in that regard is still necessary. The games that I did connect with contained little to no lag, which is vital in a sport of this nature. There is also a new leaderboard setup that does a nice job of comparing your accomplishments with your friends' online and other footballers from around the world.


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