FIFA 11 will be the 18th title in Electronic Arts’ FIFA series of football video games. Last week FIFA 11 PC Producer Ian Jarvis gave a presentation about the game, answered a few questions and then gave journalists the opportunity to have a play. FIFA 11 PC gameplay will be a combination of FIFA 10 Console and FIFA World Cup gameplay. The Windows version of FIFA 11 will be the first in the series to use the same game engine as the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.
We hate FIFA’s dev team; every year we write about how they’ve perfected virtual football, how each new iteration of the series is the best yet, and then every year they go and trump themselves spectacularly, leaving us looking rather stupid in the process.
And so it is with FIFA 11; while the progression from FIFA 10 isn’t as superficially vast as it has been in previous years, the suite of subtle additions make its game for a more convincing take on the sport than before, and one that plays with a wonderful flow and instinct. We’re not going to say that it makes FIFA 10 look poor, but having played FIFA 11 our lunchtime sessions with last year’s game are often spent yearning to get our hands on this year’s model.
Pro Passing brings the manual passing that’s been an option in the series for some time to the fore, tweaking it to ensure it’s still an exercise in fun for less experienced players. Slotting the ball to other players is now more reliant on context – trying to spray it around with abandon is now a less fruitful option, and in the team’s own parlance it puts an end to the ‘ping-pong passing’ of previous FIFAs. It’s now important to think before laying the ball on, and the game benefits hugely as a result.
Then there’s Personality Plus, which is marketing speak for a new philosophy that fuels a string of like-minded features. Player’s physical attributes are now more varied – and subsequently more faithful to the source – and their behaviour on the pitch is also more pronounced. That means more player models covering a wider range, with the petite frame of Jermaine Defoe to the extra-terrestrial proportions of Peter Crouch accommodated, and the spectrum between is also served well. What’s more, they’re more than just player skins – older, bulkier players will move differently, their lumbering runs in stark contrast to the twinkle-toed pace of snappier players.
Player attitudes are also more faithful to what we see played out on the pitch, with the Berbatovs and Anelkas of this world sulking around the box before springing into life while more tenacious players like Gerrard and Rooney (or, at least, the Gerrard and Rooney we knew before their dismal performances in this summer’s World Cup) will hound the ball at every opportunity. Tie this in with the recently announced partnership between EA Sports and the Premier League and Peter Moore’s dream outlined two years ago of allowing people to play the game they saw the night before comes one step closer.
Another chance to play FIFA 11 comes alongside the announcement of another suite of new features. First up there’s 360 degree physicality, an extension of the 360 degree dribbling that was introduced last year. It’s introduced in a brief video showing Argentina and Man City’s Carlos Tevez – raised by eels and the real-life inspiration for Blanka according to unsubstantiated reports – shielding whilst in possession, jostling a player who’s attacking from behind and protecting the ball by moving it from foot to foot.
In conjunction with the unsurpassed dribbling it promises total control – but of course the defender’s arsenal has been boosted to keep FIFA 11’s balance in check. For the first time it’s now possible to shove a player from behind, so when you’re chasing a player down you can give them a hearty punt in the back. It’s not something that’s readily available, and while it’s shown in full in a presentation in over an hour of hands-on time it only occurs once or twice – reassuring us that it won’t be a cheap tactic for the desperate.
We’ve saved the best news for last, though. FIFA’s Career Mode is getting a complete overhaul, and it’s looking like a full-blooded response to the problems some users had with FIFA 10’s Manager Mode. “We were very upset with some of the negativity around it last year,” producer David Rutter tells us, “There were bugs in there and they did affect people – I can’t think of any games without bugs, but that said it’s terribly disappointing for the team, we’re upset because it really did take the shine off of my personal success and the success of the team, and it’s not something we want to repeat.”
It’s not just about getting rid of the bugs; FIFA 11’s Career Mode has had a complete restructure. All of the previous options have been consolidated, so it’s now simply an option of being a player (a mode that directly replaces the previous Be a Pro mode), a manager or a player manager in campaigns that run up to 15 seasons. A new simulation engine churns out more believable results while the calendar is now day to day calendar, and for the first time there’s the ability to see results from across the globe.
All of which is great, but the most heartening thing is getting to play the game at leisure, an extended hands-on session showing the game in all its glory. Yes, it is a slower game than before but the added thoughtfulness required makes it all the more satisfying when a move comes off, and the ebb and flow of games can come eerily close to the real thing.
It’s something that’s apparent even when playing against the A.I, no doubt thanks to the work that’s been done this year in this area to make playing against the computer almost as satisfying as playing another person. It’s successful, and a face-off between Exeter and a computer controlled Colchester also reveals that, contrary to our early fears, the Personality Plus features do feed down to the smaller teams, the resulting scrap that’s illuminated by occasional accidental genius true to what we’d expect of a League One game.
There are more announcements to come – and don’t be surprised if controllable keepers are finally unveiled – but even as it stands it’s shaping up to be another top year for FIFA. Looks like we’ll be dishing out the hyperbole once again come October.