EA Sports FIFA 10 was quickly regarded as the greatest soccer similar video game ever following its release last October. On September 28th, 2010, FIFA 10’s much anticipated follow–up EA Sports FIFA 11 was released. Many soccer gamers have been giddy like schoolgirls in their waits for this year’s installation of the FIFA Soccer series. Thanks to Steve F. of EA Sports, we’ve had the game in our hands and PlayStation 3 for several since last week and have had a chance to thoroughly review it. We can say without reservation that EA Sports FIFA 11 has unseated FIFA 10 as the greatest soccer simulation video game ever.
Graphics and Presentation
The menu system for FIFA 11 isn’t much different from that of FIFA 10. The fonts are updated but the smooth, intuitive navigation system is still there. It has been well-designed since EA Sports FIFA was ported to current generation systems and really doesn’t need to be changed since it works so well for the current single-player and online gaming environments. It is also powered by a brilliant soundtrack of current music that’s can stand on its own in any mp3 player.
Graphically, FIFA 11 is brilliant. Well-known stadiums such as Old Trafford, the Nou Camp and the Santiago Bernabeu looks as almost as realistic as they do on HDTV match broadcasts and their features are well-detailed. Game fields reflect weather conditions and usage quite accurately while the player likenesses of well-known players such as Wayne Rooney and Kaka are near spot-on in most cases from their faces to their current boots.
The time-tested commentary team of Martin Tyler and Andy Gray is back with in FIFA 11 along with their annual repertoire of new phrases. A nice feature of this year is the use of references to current events in the game and specific player characteristics. Coupled with a new set of crowd chants and the always present stadium instruments (e.g. Brazilian Samba drums which can be louder in South American-based games than elsewhere), FIFA 11 provides an excellent aural experience.
The Menus, music and official league licenses are great but gameplay is most important element of any soccer video game. It is this element of EA Sports FIFA 11 that makes it an excellent product.
To the untrained eye or occasional soccer fan, FIFA 11’s gameplay may appear much like that of FIFA 10. Indeed, its improvements are not overhauls but rather refinements that are in tune with the constantly evolving modern soccer game.
These are the gameplay features that we found to stand out in EA Sports FIFA 11:
– Personality+– Many of the features of FIFA 11 are based on the game’s all new Personality+ system for players and AI that is intended to impart players’ real world characteristics to their virtual selves of FIFA 11. For example, Lionel Messi and Robinho possess blazing speed but can be easily knocked to the ground by the likes of Pepe while Cristiano Ronaldo can be used to pull off nifty footwork with which to beat markers. The result is a differentiation between well-known players and average players that has never been seen before in a video game.
– Goal variety — This is a major relief for as wonderful as FIFA 10 was, there were still “sweet spots” from which a good gamer was bound to score. If you played the game enough, some goals may have become predictable to you. This is not the case with FIFA 11 from what we can tell thus far! Instead scrappy goal mouth goals abound along with diving headers, deflections off defenders, low drives from just outside the box and Frank Lampard-esque long-range specials. Play on and be surprised by the variety of goals in FIFA 11.
– Better off the ball runs — Whereas in FIFA 10 frontmen were often left to battle defenders on their own, more support was offered to forwards in EA Sports’ 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa from midfielders. This is even more so in EA Sports FIFA 11. No longer will you see a speedy winger like Ashley Young pass a ball to a striker only to stop and stare at him. Instead, he will often continue on a supporting run with no user intervention as in real life. The same applies for every player outside of the defensive line.
– Better goalkeeping — Goalies live in FIFA 11 in a manner previously unseen in either the EA Sports FIFA or Konami Pro Evolution Soccer series! Instead of being the rudimentary beings who were only capable of basic saves in prior incarnations of FIFA, the goalies in FIFA 11 are very intelligent and will often make pull off saves that will surprise even the seasoned soccer video gamer. EA Sports has apparently invested heavily in goalkeeper intelligence and has even introduced a Be a Goalkeeper mode to the Virtual Pro mode of FIFA 11.
– Easier skills moves — We’ve always found the growing arsenal of skills moves available in the FIFA series to be difficult to execute. This improved with 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa is now even better with the right players in FIFA 11 as EA Sports’ 360° Dribbling system is now refined in FIFA 11. Play as Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani and the effort to beat a defender is much easier than in the past with the use of the L2 button and right joystick.
– Smarter Defending — The defensive AI of FIFA 11 has evolved to its best form ever. Defenders now cover the opposition and anticipate its runs and passes better than ever before. Scoring against the likes of Real Madrid in World Class level is now a world class achievement in of itself. Even on the intermediate Professional game level, lazy passes or balls into coverage are more likely than not to become possessions of your opponent and the fodder for counter attacks.
Individual defending is improved via the use of the square button on the PS3 for very effective, yet aggressive, non-sliding tackles. Of course, the success of such tackles is dependent on the attributes of the player making them.
– Physicality — FIFA 11 is the most physical ever. As with the modern game, you’ll find defenders attempting to body you off the ball, tugging at you and even throwing arms in front of you. The same applies at the offensive end of the field where strikers with physical prowess can hold off defenders in the box when attempting a shot. Needless to say, this may result in scrappy midfield battles when closely matched teams meet or in cup competitions where the minnows step up their games.
– Virtual Pro in Career Mode — The old EA Sports Manager Mode is now Career Mode. This is because it now allows you to either run a team as a manager, player-coach or as a player. If you choose to be a player or player-coach, you can insert your Virtual Pro into your team and play him as much as you like. We found this to be an excellent way to build up the skill level of the Virtual Pro. Even unknown striker Joe Blow from Miami, FL can become a star if he has the talent that’s on AC Milan, Real Madrid or Manchester United setting him up for goals.
– Penalty kick system — The penalty kicks system in FIFA 11 has been revamped. It now seems to incorporate elements of the field goal / extra point feature of the EA Sports Madden NFL series. This is particularly evident in the use of a sliding power bar. Press the shoot button when the moving slider is at the green in the middle of the bar, and you’re more likely to make your shot. The speed with which the slider moves in reflective to the kick taker’s penalty shooting ability e.g. it moves slower for Cristiano Ronaldo than it will for an English League Two defender.
Online Features and Experience
FIFA 11 continues to offer a slew of online options from the “put yourself in the game” Virtual Pro mode (which lets you load your face onto a created player) to custom leagues to11 player muti-player matches to good old-fashioned ranked one on one battles.
Once again where FIFA 11 excels online is in terms of the gameplay experience. In all of the games played online so far on FIFA 11, not one experienced any lag or gameplay degradation of any sort. It should also be noted that most online games were played between 8:00 and 11:00 PM ET. This is prime time for gamers in the Western Hemisphere.
Areas for Improvement
The FIFA series owes much of its improvement over the years to input from its vocal, internet discussion forum and Facebook-frequenting user base. EA Sports has incorporated many recommendations from online reviews and gaming forums to make bring the series to its current level of greatness. While EA Sports FIFA 11 is an excellent game, here is where we think it can be made even better:
1. Club Championship Mode
Players of FIFA 2003 may remember this wonderful feature in which all of the big teams of European football battled it out for supremacy in a league format. It was the closest that the FIFA series ever had to the highly addictive Pro Evolution Soccer Master League. As we said in our review of FIFA 10, please bring back the Club Championship Mode with Career Mode features included.
2. International Tournaments
Yes they can be created as custom tournaments in FIFA 11. But that requires time and effort on the part of the user. We realize that EA Sports sells separate games for the big tournaments like the FIFA World Cup and Euros but what about non-branded tournaments such as an “International Cup” and a “European Cup” or even the Copa America, CONCACAF Gold Cup, etc. like in the past? EA Sports did such a good job with 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa, why not incorporate some of its magnificent flavor into their flagship product?
3. UEFA Champions League and Europa Cup licenses
Konami has these for PES 2011. They’ve even added the Copa Libertadores. It would be great if FIFA 12 can have these as well. The full experience of the world’s foremost club competitions are unique and make for excellent gaming experiences.
FIFA 11 is pure soccer genius and unless Konami can match it with PES 2011, reigns supreme in the world of soccer video games. Given the constant refinement of the series by EA Sports since FIFA 09, we’re already eager to see what’s in store for FIFA 12. Could motion-sensitive controllers that fit like soccer boots be in store for us as we stand in front of our 3D TVs striking an on screen ball in a true virtual soccer experience?
Gameplay: 9.5 /10
Graphics: 9 /10
User Interface: 9.5 / 10
Online Features: 9.5 / 10
Longevity: 9.5 / 10