FIFA 11 – The PS3 Attitude Review
FIFA 11 is truly a “game of two halves”, a phrase that has summed up the topsy-turvy nature of this beautiful game we call football since it was coined, probably by either Jimmy Greaves or Ian St. Clair, in the early ’90s.
The problem with FIFA 11 is this. On one hand you have the slickest and best feeling football game to ever arrive on the PS3. Then on the other hand you have a game mode so maddening you hope and pray that, just for some light relief, Sir Alex Ferguson would walk into your room and kick a boot in your face.
FIFA 11, or FIFA Soccer 11 if you’re in North America, was developed by EA Canada (the people behind FIFA 6,7,8,9 and 10) and comes only a few short months after the last FIFA game, the rather lengthily entitled 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa.
As with any yearly refresh from EA, the marketing-speak on the box lists a whole array of improvements and new game modes.
The game boasts a new gameplay engine which is also, for the first time, being used on the PC version of the product.
There is a new Pro Passing feature that combines the gamer’s skill and the stats of the player in control to determine the accuracy of every pass. These stats can be taken from what is happening to that player in real life if you purchase a subscription to that data in the PS Store.
In addition to the old ‘Be a Pro’ mode, you can now ‘Be a Goalkeeper’, which finally opens up the 11th position on the pitch to the gamer and allows for 11 vs. 11 online possibilities.
There is a new Creation Centre. This is a web-based application that gives you the chance to create content on your PC that you can download to your console and share with your friends, opening up some great new customisation features.
The ‘big’ new feature however, going on the PR and box marketing, is the new Career Mode that allows you to be a player, manager or player-manager. This merges the ‘Be a Pro’ and ‘Manager Modes’ into one, and then adds a few bells and whistles.
All the major players, clubs and leagues are fully represented in the game. Every ‘primary’ league for the world’s main footballing countries (and some not-so-footballing nations) are offered in addition to ‘secondary’ leagues in Italy, France, Germany and Spain, such as Serie B. The English choices even stretch from the Premier League all the way down to League Two, giving you incredible flexibility.
All the major cups and tournaments are also available, from each country’s league cup through to the local and cross-nation knockout competitions.
Graphically, this is the best FIFA yet, surpassing the recent World Cup version of the game that had previously raised the bar. The character animations are not only more lifelike than ever, but you can spot the likes of Ronaldo, Kaka and Rooney a mile off thanks to stunningly accurate portrayals of their own running, shooting or free-kick styles.
The visuals are matched by an incredible soundtrack (one of EA’s best in ages) and superb effects, crowd noise and brilliant commentary.
The controls are as sharp as ever, and while passes can sometimes be a little lacking in power, you always feel as though you are in full control. Of course, if your player is not the world’s best, that is accurately reflected in the odd slack pass or poor control. Along with much more intelligent goalkeepers, all these elements make FIFA 11 a far more complete football experience than it has been for years.
Online mode is as good as it has been in years and the game plays perfectly well online with little or no lag and very few dropouts, and problem that some earlier FIFA games couldn’t shake off.
Everything sounds great so far then, yes? So what is the problem then? Why is FIFA 11 a “game of two halves” and what can be done about the issues?
Career Mode is the big draw for this year’s FIFA title, and we have to report that it has to be the single most hair-pulling experience we’ve had to go through for many a year.
A little scene setting for you first. We all know how this works in FIFA. You start a new character and create them in your own image. Or make them look ridiculous. Or both. Either way, you’ve put together your very own player and given them everything they needto start out on a new career.
Then, you assign your player to a team. Now, when playing FIFA it is fair to say that you’ll want your persona to be playing in a decent team. We’ve all seen online FIFA matches – everyone chooses either Manchester United, Chelsea, Barcelona, Real Madrid or one of the other top-flight choices.
In FIFA 11’s Career Mode, doing this is tantamount to committing video game suicide, and yet EA Canada ‘could’ have made this (and still can through a patch) a true-to-life progression.
Imagine you’re a wet-behind-the-ears player, just acquired after a good showing in the youth programme of a feeder club. You’ve arrived in style and are ready to start the pre-season warm-up.
In real life, the manager would most likely play you in pre-season matches to determine how good you really are. If you have assigned your player to a top-flight team, the fact is that you have to be pretty awesome straight away to ensure you get noticed. You also have the issue that when playing in one of the best teams around, your opponents will also be the cream of the crop, so it is harder to stand out.
You muddle through the pre-season games to find that in your annoying and pointless email inbox system, there’s a note to tell you that you aren’t up to the right standard and the manager will pick you when he thinks you’ve improved.
Except in FIFA 11, you don’t actually get an opportunity to improve. The calendar system simulates every single day of the transfer window, making progression slow and arduous. There are no ‘training days’, mini-games or ‘Reserves matches’ that could keep you playing and improving.
You see, when you are not picked to play in the next match, you still have to sit there pressing the X button to progress through a whole array of simulated events, whether it be calendar progression, emails or entire games. Thank goodness for the ‘skip’ button when a game is being played out for you or you’d just yank the disc out of the PS3 and throw it at the nearest wall/dog/housemate.
If, by some bad fortune, you get an email in the middle of this calendar simulation phase (yes, FIFA 11 comes with its own inbox for full authenticity), it will never be interesting or useful, and it will always waste another minute of your gaming experience. For example, you often get notes from the Board that a game has been re-scheduled, only to get another email a few days later to say it has been re-scheduled again back to its original date.
Other pointless emails include this reviewer’s particular favourite. If a player is injured in a game (which when you’re playing or just watching is apparent, since they appear on the injuries list), you get a full email explaining that the player is injured. We know they’re injured – you’ve already said they are! We don’t actually NEED an email about it too. What’s worse is you will then get another email when they’re available again. In this email it tells you to NOT be easy on them in training just because they’ve been injured.
Fat chance; since there isn’t any training in Career Mode, this set of two disruptive and time-consuming emails are completely moot and pointless. How can you NOT take it easy on the returning player in training, when you can’t even train with them in the first place.
Then, there’s the annoyance of the manager picking you for completely the wrong games.
In real life, any newcomer to a top-flight team is usually picked to play in the league cup matches. In England, for example, a newer or younger player would get the chance to shine in the Carling Cup, but would be dropped for the important Premier League match against a Top 5 opponent.
Not in FIFA 11.
In two separate Career Mode play-throughs, the manager consistently left the created player out for several matches including these lower-importance league cup games, only to re-introduce the player in the most important (and therefore most difficult) clashes. That meant the player couldn’t shine and score enough ‘player points’ to get picked in the next match, and the cycle of simulation starts again.
When you are left out, you can’t play a reserves game to sharpen your skills and provide some respite from sitting there for ages just clicking the X button. If you’re wondering how much of a problem this is, we timed how long we had to sit pressing X (and the occassional triangle button to skip the simulated match) before we could play an actual game of football. The result? 14 minutes of dull, boring and repetitive-strain-injury inducing nonsense.
The poor design choices don’t end there either. If you do get to play a game, you’ll be offered the chance to play as the whole team or in ‘Be a Pro’ mode. While every other menu choice in the game offers you an opportunity to press the circle button to go back, if you accidentally choose ‘Be a Pro’ when you meant to choose ‘whole team’, that’s it – you’re done for. They remove the circle button option after that choice. You cannot go back after you’ve picked, so press carefully or you might regret it.
FIFA 11 does offer a whole range of other game modes. Be a Goalkeeper is an odd one, consisting of you mainly standing in goal doing nothing for ages, and then ensuring you are covering the angles so that you give yourself the best chance of saving the ball if it does come your way. It is fun to have a go at this role every now and then, but we’re not sure it really needed its own full game mode. Be a Goalkeeper does make much more sense in an 11 vs. 11 match online though, and can be a lot of fun.
The customisation options are utterly incredible. You can even create and inject your own team music and chants. Some people have already become incredibly adept at putting realistic chants and music into the game. In fact, we know of some FIFA 11 gamers (yes, we’re looking at you @BenjiWilson) who have gone as far as finding, distilling and installing every single club’s real atmosphere into the artificial world of FIFA 11.
That level of modding within FIFA 11 is not something this particular reviewer is ever going to take advantage of, but the fact that the option is there and is so well done means that gamers have the chance, along with the Creation Centre, to really make this their own.
The decisions your manager makes in Career Mode, the pointless email system and the lack of in-calendar Reserves Team action, mini-games or training really scupper the Career Mode, but thankfully all of that could be fixed in a patch if EA so wished.
In addition, we cannot believe that the PS3 doesn’t have the power to simulate several days of calendar entries while you’re actually playing a game of football. The fact that it has to sit there, churning away, while you wait for each day to get crossed off the calendar is nonsense. When it is a transfer period, it takes forever to move forward as it calculates who is getting sold to which team and how much for.
If EA could get rid of the out-of-play nonsense and just focus on the football, and fix the virtual manager’s foolish decisions, they’d have the perfect sports game in FIFA 11. Instead, you have a title that has not only the best football simulation in the world but also the most annoying game mode we’ve seen in years, which leads you to either try Career Mode by playing in an English League Two club to make yourself look better or avoid Career Mode entirely and focus on all the other ways of playing FIFA 11, which is a shame.
Remember, there is a lot to love about FIFA 11, so don’t be too disheartened by the faults that exist.