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Review: FIFA 11
by Tom Acres

The last few years of videogame football have pretty much perfectly mirrored the game in real life. Think of Pro Evolution Soccer as Arsenal: in the early 2000's it was simply unbeatable, but here in 2010 it's struggling to keep pace. FIFA, however, is like Chelsea; a sudden influx of power, thanks to the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, has seen EA's footballing behemoth soar above the competition. Last year's FIFA 10 was arguably the best football game ever made. It was hard to know how it could get any better, so I'm left scratching my head when it comes to FIFA 11.

Scratching my head in a good way of course. FIFA 11 is bloody brilliant.

For a start, pretty much every problem you may have had with the gameplay engine in FIFA 10 has been fixed. And let's be honest: there wasn't that much wrong with it anyway, so it's quite astounding how the gameplay has become so much better. The floaty heading has been fixed, the goalkeepers now have an ounce of intelligence which is a nice change, and the passing has lost its 'ping-pong' feeling, all of which make FIFA 11 even more realistic. In fact, the new 'pro' passing system is probably one of the biggest improvements on the gameplay side. Now, one really has to take into account power, position, angle and plenty of other parameters if one wants to pull off a perfect pass.

This new system works in tandem with the new Personality Plus mechanic, to give FIFA 11 the most realistic gameplay engine of any football game to date. Unlike in prior games, in which player individuality was somewhat lacking, FIFA 11 now divides players into body types to give them a unique feel. A lanky skinny feller like Peter Crouch will win everything in the air, but might be pushed off the ball more quickly and easily compared to a human tank like Didier Drogba or Michael Essien. A shorter, more dainty star like Andrei Arshavin or Lionel Messi will be able to keep perfect balance as they dribble around defenders, but they'll be more inclined to hit the deck when coming up against someone like Richard Dunne. The system has also been extended into specific traits, so you can expect David Beckham to deliver a far better set piece than most players, and Marouane Chamakh will be more successful when attacking a cross with his head than someone like Paul Scholes. It even includes things like long throws and goalkeeper kicking styles: it's crazily detailed.

The uniqueness among the players means that matches are far more unpredictable, and player skill becomes all-the-more important. A word that is banded around a lot when reviewing sports titles is 'organic', but here it's really justified. Pick up the controller and you really do feel like you're watching a Sky Sports broadcast in which all the players have had chips installed in their bodies to allow you to control them; the physicality of matches is incredible. Playing with Premier League teams is a vastly different kettle of fish than controlling the cloggers of League Two, and the game is incredibly immersive because of it.

Other improvements to the gameplay include the penalty system, the trick stick and user controlled celebrations. The penalty system will be familiar to anyone who played 2010 FIFA World Cup, and whilst it takes some time to get used to it is far more rewarding than it was in prior games. Using a power bar, an accuracy needle and aiming in conjunction can be tricky but it makes for much more tense shoot-outs. The trick stick has been beefed up with new moves, and has also been enhanced by the Personality Plus system, as have the user controlled celebrations, which now include group celebrations and trademark celebrations for individual players.

Another big improvement on the pitch is the AI of both your teammates and the opposition. It uses all the same passing and personality systems as you do, meaning that even when you're playing alone, matches are unpredictable and even more fun than in FIFA 10.

One completely new element of the on-pitch action is the ability to take full control over your team's goalkeeper, allowing you do dive, catch, charge off your line, flap, punch and whatever else real goalkeepers get up to on weekends. It can be dull, as much of the time the ball is nowhere near you, but there's no denying the satisfaction you get from making a fantastic save when you're 1-0 up in injury time. You can also bring your keeper up for corners, allowing for some truly dramatic moments, especially online.

FIFA 11 also looks and sounds great. Player models and likenesses are much improved, although they still lag behind Pro Evolution Soccer in some regards. The animations, however, are far better than PES and look incredibly realistic. The stadiums look great even though there aren't as many as you may like, and the commentary from Martin Tyler and Andy Gray is still excellent (albeit largely unchanged from FIFA 10). The overall authenticity is, as you've come to expect, superb, and has been beefed up with better camera angles, more broadcast-style touches (stats appearing on screen, more interesting cut scenes between substitutions) and even a nifty highlights reel at the end of the match.

On the pitch, FIFA 11 is pretty much perfect. Off the pitch, it can be a bit of a mixed bag. For a start, the menu system is becoming a bit clunky compared to Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 and EA should probably redesign it for next year's game. It can take an age to navigate and even finding options can be a labour on occasion. Once you get past that, though, there are some enjoyable modes for you to play around with.

Obviously everything you'd expect is present and accounted for - exhibition games, all the same online game types, tournament mode, lounge mode and plenty else besides. What's interesting is that EA have decided to combine the Manager Mode and 'Be A Pro' Seasons Mode into one Career Mode. This allows you to play as a player, a player/manager or a manager. If you're a player, you play through 15 seasons and can then become a manager. Other than the setup nothing much is different, and the transfer market is still completely ridiculous. You know William Gallas just joined Tottenham on a free in the summer? On FIFA 11 he had moved to Stoke for £11,000,000 within 2 weeks. It's truly mental.

Other new modes are focused on customisation: you can still create your Pro and can use the creepy (but cool) Game Face feature to stick your ugly mug on your virtual guy. You can also create teams by using EA's new web-based Creation Centre: using the service on the EA Sports website, you can create players, teams and kits which can then be bookmarked and downloaded into your game. You can also (rather amusingly for those of us who are a bit immature) import your own chants into the game. As I'm sure will be the case for many of you, my copy of FIFA 11 is now probably more deserving of a 16+ rating rather than a 3+. You can also import music for the menus, although the soundtrack on the disc is actually rather good so it may be a feature which you find you don't use as much as others.

There's very little that you need to worry about when it comes to FIFA 11. Quite simply, if you consider yourself a fan of the beautiful game then you should most certainly buy it. I'll probably say this again next year, but this is definitely the best football game ever.

9/10 [?]

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- Tom Acres

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