Chances are you've probably read a load of FIFA 11 reviews already. The usual plaudits have been handed out riddled with the usual, but completely justified, clichés of 'best sports simulation' and the 'closest you'll get to actually playing football' or 'captures the excitement of soccer expertly'. What you probably haven't seen yet is folk talking about the online modes or indeed basing their opinions on finished copies of FIFA 11 - the same stuff you'll be getting, or not depending on how you feel about the game. Well, rest assured because we're here to deliver these very things and a whole lot more, including where to get your team's MP3 chants from.
Above: Man Yoo's Wayne Rooney represents the near identical players you can expect this season
Career we go
It goes without saying that FIFA 11 is packed to the brim with modes to keep you happy. Amongst the vast array of things you can compete in are the English FA Cup, the French leagues or your own custom tournaments. Then there's the manager mode. A much maligned feature from FIFA 10 (check out the astonishing list of bugs on this forum thread) is rightly fixed in FIFA 11, but even now it's still not perfect.
The board of your chosen club can be notoriously harsh and sack you with little warning. I was playing as Manchester United and after eleven games we were in the Big Four and following a thrashing of Chelsea at Stamford Bridge I received a mail saying my job was under review. A nil-nil draw in the next game to Bolton and I'm given my marching orders. Ouch.
Above: Team news is presented in an e-mail style to create the illusion of being the manager. Sort of works
Unfortunately, FIFA 11 is marred by the cripplingly long load times between menus. And waiting for the calendar to update in Manager Mode is enough time to stick the kettle on and maybe load up the washing machine. We're still slightly dubious about the transfer system throwing up unusual transfers (Ryan Giggs to Liverpool, anyone?) but on a whole being able to play as a single player on the pitch, the manager or player/manager is a nice touch to add more variety to proceedings.
Touch of personality
On the pitch, there isn't a huge standout tweak in FIFA 11's football than the previous year. However, there are loads of little nuances that manage to improve on FIFA 10 and then some. Personality+TM
means that technically gifted players such as Man United's ginger prince, Paul Scholes, might not be as quick as others but his range of passing means that you can realistically dissect an opponent with his accurate ball-play. It also affects players like Barcelona's Andres Iniesta who's not the tallest of men but with the ball sticking to him like glue, he won't just get bullied off the ball by the bigger boys.
Above: Defensive characteristics include sliding in expertly and toe-poking the ball away
Considering that most footie games usually highlight top players by simply making them faster than the rest, EA's Personality+ strikes a landmark for the genre, heck, most sports games by creating such individuality. It really does add up to make FIFA 11 one hell of a realistic affair. And for the most part (pan-hands still flail about here) even the keepers have been improved so they can now make stunning double saves to keep your team in it.
On the downside, the new passing system that's been implemented is a curious beast. At times you can be pinging the ball around like a professional and the next all your passes are flying in a direction you swear you never even pushed the stick in. You can switch the auto-assists on full if you really want to hit the ball to feet 99% of the time but then it detracts from the simulation slightly.
See the next page for creation tools, online play and MP3 chants
After countless online games over the weekend, I can confirm that FIFA 11 is strong in the virtual arena. A major negative to the ambitious list of modes and options on offer is that, at the time of writing, it's riddled with annoying bugs. Taking your Virtual Pro into an 11 vs. 11 match is an absolute joy as you contribute to take down another team of players... when it works. Most attempts resulted in the game crashing and throwing me back to the main menu. At one point, I was locked in a lobby as the players came and left but I was unable to jump out and had to reset my PS3 to escape.
Another inexcusable mistake is the fact you only get 40 seconds to set-up your team prior to kick-off. This is nowhere near enough time, especially if you're going up against a team that you need to adjust your formation to combat against.
There's also a strange bug which loads your previous team's players into your newly selected team's kits and then crashes. Some games even continued to play out for me while my opponent was complaining down the mic that their's had frozen. Worst of all, some people that are forced to reset as the game has crashed end up with a naughty DNF (Did Not Finish) mark on their record. Surely a month of beta testing with the community would've ironed this out.
Above: The two most popular teams in FIFA 11 online. Not everyone can support these two, right?
I'd be surprised if there wasn't a patch to fix the online problems soon, but when it does work, FIFA 11 is superb. The ability to filter out your opponents to a tee is a great feature. You can choose language, skill level and more to really focus on the type of player you want to go up against. And the all new 11 vs. 11, where you can now play as the keeper, is a bit frustrating at first but once you land in a team that are willing to stick to their position and not storm up the pitch all the time, really is exceptional. Especially if your little Virtual Pro gets the man of the match award.
Get in the game
The creation tools in FIFA 11 have been upgraded to allow a far more comprehensive version of yourself to be stuck into the boots of your digital incarnation. Head here... http://www.ea.com/uk/football/fifa/game-face
and with two photos (one face on and the other side on) you can easily knock up a new player. See...
Above: Digital me. Still can't believe I have to unlock my natural large curls though
As well as creating characters and new teams you can also stick your own chants into the game, so your favourite club will always sing familiar songs as you play. You can find them here for a price
but if you, erm, search really hard, you can find them for free. Not that I condone that sort of business. The whole personalisation side of things in FIFA 11 heightens the atmosphere while you're playing so it's well worth plugging a few hours into sorting things out.
In summary, FIFA 11 is a fantastic package of football for novices and the hardcore footie zealots. The gameplay tweaks have created a sports game where you'll never play the same match twice thanks to the unpredictability of proceedings.
There are still a few issues with the online side of things so if you're thinking of picking this up solely for multiplayer purposes then you might be left a bit cold right now. But offline there's more than enough to sate any footballing hunger you've had since the World Cup and you'll be hard-pressed to find a better football game for a long time.
4th October 2010