Widgets Magazine

FIFA ’11 gets technical

If you’re like me, you were thrilled earlier this year to see even casual sports fans following America in the World Cup. It may be a few more years before the United States will be as excited for even an everyday soccer match, but at least in the meantime, we can imagine our team, or any other, going all the way in FIFA Soccer ’11.

The greatest feature of any FIFA game, and perhaps its most distinctive, is the staggering amount of depth and customizability it offers. Teams from every corner of the globe are well-represented, complete with accurate rosters, jerseys and, in many cases, their home stadiums. The career mode this year is more involved than ever, including options to sign and trade players, change lineups and strategies, assign new captains and more. Virtual Pro mode, a way to create a custom player to carry through a career, also makes a welcome comeback. Without discussing every mode ad nauseam, suffice it to say that FIFA does an admirable job of creating almost any situation that a would-be soccer player (or manager) could dream up.

This ambition extends to the game play side of things. FIFA ’11 offers mostly smooth controls with a lot of fidelity, but this comes at a bit of a price: for each of the myriad little tricks that the game allows players to perform, there’s another button combination to learn. I can’t knock the game for including advanced techniques like body feints and reverse step-overs, but the methods of executing them aren’t always intuitive or responsive, and at the default difficulty level, the game seems to expect them from the player a little too often. It’s rather telling that EA included a series of tutorial videos, which (along with a practice mode, interactive loading screens and a robust replay feature) help expose you to some of the more subtle techniques that can make you successful. It’s just a bit of a shame that these instructions aren’t more interactive or hands-on, given the staggering amount of moves that players can perform in FIFA. All this means is that despite the wide audience the game is targeted for, some less experienced gamers might find themselves spending more time contemplating the chunk of plastic in their hands than the action on screen.

Luckily, the basics of attacking and defending are as tightly tuned as ever. Players move with impressive fidelity, and it’s a breeze to control the speed of dribbling or the power behind a pass or shot. In fact, for all the new features in the game, the most impressive tweak in FIFA ’11 is just the basic way in which the ball moves about the field. The game flows faster and more smoothly than it has before, with the ball bouncing, spinning and dragging on the ground in the way you’d expect. For as good as the ball physics are, though, the game is sometimes puzzlingly restrictive in letting you get to a free ball, whether because it won’t let you change to controlling the proper player fast enough or because it’s already decided that another player “is supposed” to be getting the ball.

That isn’t to say that this year’s edition of FIFA doesn’t offer some bigger “back-of-the-box” additions as well, but only that these new features aren’t very compelling. The biggest addition is the new “Be a Goalkeeper” mode, which is about as exciting as it sounds. While it does allow for 11-player online play, playing between the pipes for an entire match is pretty boring unless you’re facing a shot. The controls are deep enough that these moments are fun, they’re just not frequent enough – and they shouldn’t be, if the game is to remain realistic.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the “Personality Plus” feature, which supposedly makes each player shoot, dribble or defend like they do in real life. This works all right for some of the bigger names like Kaka or Beckham, but it’s not ubiquitous enough to really change the game.

Speaking of big-time players, FIFA ’11 impresses with its accurate recreation of stars like Landon Donovan and Wayne Rooney. The grass and the ball look good as well, and the majority of animations are fluid and believable. Given the huge roster of players and global locations that the game offers, though, it’s not surprising that other areas lack this attention to detail. The sounds of the game are adequate if a bit underwhelming, but the charming pair of British commentators and a robust soundtrack of licensed tunes, sometimes international, make FIFA fun to listen to. (One of my favorite features is that players, for the most part, will yell to each other in their native language.)

Once you’ve mastered the basics of the game and gotten your fill of the commentators, you might want to try your hand in online play. There’s nothing groundbreaking in this regard, but it’s a full-featured experience with online leagues, leaderboards and 11-on-11 matches, all with no lag if you have a decent connection.

If you’re already a veteran of virtual soccer, I can’t recommend EA’s latest effort to you enough. Otherwise, you might need some patience as you learn the ropes of a fast game with an intricate control scheme. Once you do, however, there’s enough customizability and content here to easily keep you happy until the next time your favorite team takes the world stage.

Final score: 8/10

Adams reviewed the PS3/Xbox 360 version of FIFA Soccer ’11.