Electronic Arts revealed its top-selling franchise from EA SPORTS will redefine player authenticity when FIFA 11 launches this Fall on the PlayStation 3 computer entertainment system and Xbox 360 videogame and entertainment system. FIFA 11 reinvents player authenticity – on and off the ball – for every player and at every position on the pitch with Personality+, an all-new feature that sees individual abilities reflected in game, enabling clear differentiation for every player.
“Listening to criticism is something they do very well,” EA Sports chief and life-long Liverpool fan Peter Moore says of the team behind FIFA, the football game that has gone on to become one of this generation’s most highly acclaimed sports game. “I love the fact they have two good things and five bad things. That’s always the way that this team, under Kaz [Makita], Gary [Paterson] and [David] Rutter, has done things.”
It’s to the series’ credit that, last October, finding faults with FIFA was a much harder task than ever before; a culmination of the well-documented journey that EA Sports has taken the series from its wilderness years to its position as a critical and commercial phenomenon, FIFA 10 was a superb slice of simulation – and easily the game that’s consumed more lunch hours than any other in the IGN UK office.
“I think it went well,” sums up Rutter of the FIFA 10 experience. “We set out on a mission with FIFA 09 and FIFA 10 to refine the game in response to feedback and innovate. We did it with FIFA 09 and we did an excellent job with FIFA 10, but there are still some areas that I was less happy with.”
And naturally, after an immense amount of time spent pounding the pitch FIFA 10’s players also had their gripes, uncovering exploits that went unnoticed in the game’s development and were never addressed in its subsequent patches. FIFA 11 is, in part, a response to those criticisms, as EA Sports takes its fans and their feedback more seriously than most. “That community is a very small fraction of the amount of people that are playing the game,” admits Rutter, “but for me they’re the distillation of hardcore FIFA fandom and we’d be completely mad to ignore them.”
So FIFA 11 has been shaped by you, the player, as much as it has by the development team at EA Sport’s Vancouver headquarters. That time you went fuming from an online defeat, cursing at losing to another cheap chip shot as the keeper made a suicidal run from his line and the defensive four seemed to fleetingly think they were playing in midfield and you ranted and raged with all the ferocity of Ferguson at his most feral? Well, it seems the gods were listening.
Rutter presents the FIFA team’s development tracker, a daunting list of forum feedback that’s being implemented in the game. It’s utterly exhaustive and seemingly endless, and if you’ve ever had a problem with FIFA or cursed at any of its imperfections it’s highly likely you’re covered in this list, and the repercussions of the feedback to FIFA 10 range from the subtle – retiming tackle animations or adding different sock lengths – to the positively game changing.
First the big stuff. Last year’s FIFA won out over PES in nearly every regard, but there’s one aspect in which Konami’s series’ still trumps EA’s. Player likenesses have always come out second best in FIFA, with previous games managing to over-egg the ogrish nature of the football elite. Faces are now more detailed, more authentic and crucially more animated, their eyes darting about the pitch and their expressions reflecting the match’s action. “They won’t completely be crawling out of the uncanny valley,” admits art director Michael Day, “but they’re certainly getting there.”
It’s much more than just a pretty face. The likenesses extend to player’s physiques – which have now been remodelled from the ground-up, meaning much more believable player models – and animations that in turn translate into how each player performs on the pitch. It’s in this respect in which FIFA 11 has made the biggest leap from its predecessor – dubbed Personality +, it’s a feature set that could prove as progressive as the 360 degree dribbling that was introduced last year.
“Personality is a holistic feature,” game director Gary Paterson tells us, and in FIFA 11 it manifests itself in a number of ways. Firstly there are those physiques – FIFA 10 had a mere three different body types, while FIFA 11 has a whole nine of them. Take a glance at a team like Tottenham and you’ll see the rainbow of forms in full effect; at one extreme you’ve got human beanpole Peter Crouch while at the other you’ve got the man-mouse Jermaine Defoe, but FIFA 11 manages to accommodate everything in between as well, with the lanky playmaker Tom Huddlestone looking true to his real-life counterpart.
What really impresses is how the personalities manifest themselves in a match. Again, it’s best illustrated in extremes; take Arsenal as an example and you’ve got a player like the elderly Sol Campbell – get him on the ball and he’ll lumber up the pitch. Pass it to a more youthful counterpart like Arshavin and the difference isn’t only felt – thanks to a host of new animations it’s explicitly visible, the Russian midfielders’ toes positively twinkling as he fleet foots towards the goal.
Individual’s behaviour also plays out on the pitch, as brilliantly exemplified by the less-than-dynamic pairing of Rooney and Berbatov at Manchester United. Rooney’s the perfect picture of industry, chasing down every ball and hounding every play like an over-enthusiastic pup caught in the middle of a park kick-about, while Berbatov is – to put it politely – a more laid back presence, holding back and barely bothering to move.
There are real ramifications for the player as well, as it’s now more important than ever before to know your team and play to individual’s strengths and weaknesses. Pick Premier League strugglers West Ham and it’s likely you’ll have to rely on Scott Parker’s skills, placing every play through the industrious midfielder if you want to make them stick. One new feature underlines this, placing a paramount on skill levels.
Successful passing is now more dependent on player’s skill, and a new Pro Passing system means it’s now possible to over or under-hit balls. It’s born from the criticism of the ping-pong passing and it makes a big difference; the pace of games is noticeably slowed, and now every move must be more considered. There’s still room for flair and pace though, with the player’s individual personalities again coming to the fore – the likes of Messi and Ronaldo will be able to turn on a sixpence, and will be full of the flicks and deft touches, while swerve passes, driven lobs and lofted through balls with back spin will all be possible.
It all comes together on the pitch, and playing FIFA 11 reveals that the game has taken a step back in order to move forward. AI in set-pieces has been dimmed, adding spice to the once sterile corners as players now react believably to the incoming ball rather than automatically snapping to it. The partial lobotomy has also been extended to the keepers, who can prove more fallible in some regard while thankfully are smarter in others – there’s now no straying 20 yards off the line and getting caught short.
More importantly, it now feels more authentic – and having already proclaimed FIFA 10 as the most realistic take on the sport last year, we’re going to have to redefine our expectations of what’s possible. The dip in pace helps make it more thoughtful, and helps make a successful move all the more satisfying. Going back to FIFA 10 feels more regressive than we expected, proving that EA Sports is on the right path with FIFA 11’s gameplay.
There are changes off the pitch too, though most of those are being kept under wraps for the drip-feed of information leading up to the game’s release later this year. One has broken cover though; the ability to have custom soundtracks and chants. It’s something that’s been an undersung part of PES for a while, but it’s no less welcome for it and it’s being integrated with typical panache by EA Sports.
The potential for custom chants is, of course, immense, and the ability to include some of the bluer chants that haven’t made the cut in the past is a neat touch. Chants can be assigned to teams, as can uploaded tracks – so, true to life, it’s possible to have Manchester United come out to The Stone Roses’ ‘This is the One’, or Chelsea to come out to Harry J. Allstars’ ‘The Liquidator’.
Other more substantial features are yet to be announced, but expect Manager Mode to be given the once over, and it’s impossible not to glean from the game’s official ‘We’re 11’ tag-line that controllable keepers may finally become a part of Be a Pro, enabling true 11 vs. 11 online play. What really matter is what happens on the pitch, and in that regard FIFA 11’s looking in fantastic shape.