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FIFA 11 is on the horizon but does it have enough to maitain last year’s triumph...
With this year’s FIFA you get the feeling that David Rutter and the team faced the same problems as Alex Ferguson encountered after winning virtually everything back in 1999 - how on earth do you build on last year’s success?
Presumably by quickly getting back to business, introducing a few changes and making sure the core football experience remains up to the job. Exactly what FIFA 11 seems to be offering with a gradual evolution of the ideas that first began to take shape in FIFA 08. Beyond the addition of ‘Be A Keeper’ and ‘11 vs 11’ online play this year’s version lacks a feature that is easy to pick up as the defining element. Features such as Personality+ are difficult to really get excited about until you actually see its effect and play the game, so we jumped straight into the few features that are completely new to the series.
A couple of matches with the all-new Be A Keeper mode was enough to see it shaping up to be an entertaining addition to the series, particularly for the online Pro Clubs, but there’s still plenty of scope for improvement. It’s not that there’s particularly anything amiss with the way they’ve implemented it - thumbsticks control movement and dives, while face buttons allow the keeper to rush, dive at the feet and catch aerial balls - it’s more to do with the general AI in Be A Pro matches that seems to keep goal incidents to a bare minimum. We played a couple of matches against similar opposition at World Class difficulty and barely had a shot to save. Admittedly when you’re playing behind a strong defence the keeper should be pretty confident, but two saves in two matches doesn’t exactly make for the most enjoyable of experiences.
To make up for the fact that you’re spending a lot of the match watching the action unfold, EA has focused on the ability to bark orders at the other players. It’s identical to previous versions of FIFA where you can call a pass or instruct a shot, only with the ability to switch the camera to focus on the ball. If we’re being honest it’s all a little bit daft. The beauty of Be A Pro when it first made an appearance is the fact that it puts the emphasis on important real world aspects of football such as positioning and movement, which are otherwise downplayed in a normal game of FIFA. Rather then being able to dictate the play, as it currently stands, we’d prefer to have seen EA focus on the real duties and responsibilities of a goalkeeper. Instead of choosing when to shout out “Shoot” to the forward, we’d rather have seen the keeper restricted to marshaling his defence, instructing them to push forwards when appropriate or man-mark, organising the wall at a free-kick and choosing which post the short left-back should stick to at a corner.
We also spent some time with the unified Career mode. Hoping to bring some harmony to FIFA’s pretty disparate array of modes and options, the Career mode encompasses Be A Pro and Manager modes with the ability to choose to play as either a Player, Manager, or Player/Manager. With over 15 seasons to guide your player or team to glory, we’re hopeful that the combination has allowed EA to focus on what it offers and iron out their respective issues. Unfortunately from our brief experience there are still things that break the sense of belief, such as key players like Everton’s Phil Jagielka going to Chelsea on loan for first team opportunities or the fact that if you choose to be a Player Manager you’re going to struggle to make the first team if you choose a big club.
So there’s some concerns that the decision to unify these modes into one will just highlight the niggles even more, but it’s a mode that requires a considerable amount of playtime so we’re going to remain optimistic that our initial concerns will be downplayed as the mode develops and expands. The chance to start out as a player and work your way up from the reserves into the first team and ultimately become the manager at the end of your career is a challenge that will certainly make the wait for FIFA 12 whizz by in no time.
When you take to the field it appears that the objectives that governed your season and individual matches have been removed completely. Equally the messages that appeared when you played a good pass or missed a sliding tackle on the pitch have been replaced with a red and green flash on your overall match rating. It’s a wise choice as the system before it always felt a little too clinical, although we suspect the actual way it calculates things is probably as black and white as it was before.
But these are mere concerns because when it comes to actually getting on the pitch FIFA continues to shine. Although it’s a hard feature to really appreciate until you’ve actually got the controller in your hands, Personality+ looks like it could provide the momentum and blueprint for the series to continue evolving over the next few years. Immediately its influence over the action on the pitch over FIFA 10 are apparent. Pacey wing backs such as Patrice Evra will continuously bombard down the flanks in a manner much more noticeable then previous FIFA titles, while energetic midfielders such as Darren Fletcher make a greater effort to push forwards and get into the box. It provides more dynamism and variety to matches, while the individuality of each player combines to ensure teams also play with a more distinctive style that’s closer to how they do in the real world, such as Barcelona’s midfield combination of Xavi and Iniesta bossing the midfield with neat first touch passes and clever movement. It also forces you as a player to adapt to new styles and play with a greater variety then simply relying on the same techniques that guaranteed success in FIFA 10.
Pro Passing doesn’t appear to play so much significance but does at least reduce the pinball passing of previous FIFA games and combines with new animations such as bringing the ball down in mid-flight to add to the overall fluidity of the game. It’s somewhere a little closer to playing without any pass assistance, which could hopefully begin to bridge the gap when auto players play manual online. Equally the 360 Fight for Possession is a difficult feature to gauge at first. Tussles certainly seem to be less scripted in the defenders favour than before, which when combined with the traits of a strong player such as Wayne Rooney, do seem to benefit the attacker much more. It can occasionally seem as though players are stuck in canned animation sequences, however the preview build we’re playing does have a lengthy list of known issues and bugs so we’re pretty hopeful that EA Canada has been working on these ahead of the final version.
Does FIFA 11 have enough to continue expanding upon last year’s success? It’s a tough question particularly because there was a World Cup in-between games this year. But once the significance of Personality+ becomes apparent we’re pretty certain FIFA has enough where it counts to retain its crown again this year.