Tuesday, 15 March 2011

FIFA 11 [Review]

It’s been nigh-on eight years since I owned a non-handheld football game. Nowadays it’s all about the shooters, the music games; heck, even the LEGO games have become frustratingly addictive. So why invest in FIFA 11? Not least because it’s supposedly just ‘FIFA 10 with new kits’, as some scorners would have you believe, nor with last year’s game dropping to the price of a McDonald’s meal the second this launched. The answer is painfully simple: a change of pace. But a fresh change of pace, nonetheless. And boy, does it deliver.

Let’s start on the surface. Graphically, FIFA manages to show off the technological prowess of today’s next-gen HD glory with confidence; whilst admittedly not reaching the dizzying heights of games developed exclusively for PlayStation 3 (here’s looking at you, Uncharted 2), it’s still something to write home about. Animations are spot on; players react instinctively to the ball, linesmen dive, hands over heads, as they fall victim to another misplaced cross, and even the referee is guilty of a little human error every now and then, getting in the way of a perfect pass or tripping over somebody’s heels. Weather conditions are good, but not perfect: I’d like to see shadows fall further over the pitch as the match progresses; to the best of my knowledge, the Earth rotates around the Sun, thus allowing for a 24-hour day cycle. It seems in FIFA 11 you’re getting 24 hours of afternoon haze.

The sounds are all there too; crowds screaming ambiguous chants, players calling to each other, interacting and reacting realistically to situations (“Man on!”), the usual sound effects and menu music. But that’s where things change. Got a few gigabytes of music stored on your hard drive for a rainy day? No need to reach for the umbrella; FIFA has you covered. A few clicks and you’ve got your very own personalised menu music, stadium chants and winning songs. I’ve had 'Sweet Child o’ Mine'  blasting throughout ‘Valley Parade’ (read: renamed generic stadium) every time Bradford City score a goal - so in reality I’ve heard it about twice this season - and a sorrowful 'Under the Bridge' upon suffering defeat, a tune which has played far too often for my liking.

A slightly less brilliant feature of FIFA 11’s sound banks is the commentary. Ah yes, the ‘wonderful’ Martin Tyler and Andy Gray, legendary in football commentating, and more grating than sliced mozzarella. Captain Obvious and his wonderful sidekick Andy will just about manage to get you through the first half without you tearing your hair out. Then half time’s over and you’re flat out, bald as a new-born churchmouse, tears rolling down your cheeks. “Stopping the ball; that’s an important part of his job today,” balks Tyler, obviously coming to the sudden realisation that the goalkeeper is more than just a pretty face. Of course, they’ll offer the odd witty remark, commenting on the two teams’ league standings, perhaps, or having a chuckle at the referee’s negligence when he wanders into the middle of a strong attack. But for the most part, you’ll want to turn the commentary way down, and everything else up. Even the constant sound of Rooney grunting at his teammates is more bearable.

But beauty (for the most part) is more than just skin deep. The gameplay handles swimmingly, though not perfectly, with differences in skill level obvious between different leagues. That said, though, much relies on the human controller: I managed to grind out a 1-1 draw as Oxford United against Argentina (admittedly losing 3-1 in extra time). Passing is fluid, but the ‘power’ behind each touch makes little difference, with strong passes remaining infrequent, and often the ball trundles along the pitch at intolerable speeds. On top of this, playing with lower league teams is frustratingly inconsistent; as Bradford City, one game I might beat Sheffield Wednesday 3-0 whilst the next I face a 4-0 thrashing at the hands of Gillingham. Players rarely run to keep up the flow of play, lazily allowing the ball to be intercepted by the opposition. Whilst you might think this is simply a result of Bradford being rubbish - and I might be inclined to agree in part - it’s evident in higher leagues too. Heck, even the international teams suffer; my England vs. Germany replay was more painful than the original 2010 World Cup hammering.

With all this negativity, you might be baffled as to earlier mention of beauty and swimming and whatnot. But fear not: football isn’t called ‘the beautiful game’ for nothing, and FIFA 11, on a whole, manages to capture it. Whether it’s driving home an overhead kick, breaking off for a completely unprecedented counter attack and winging it past seventeen defenders, or simply walloping Leeds United 6-0, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better sense of satisfaction in gaming, not least from a football game.

You’ve probably played a football game at some point in your life. You know how it works. All you really need to know is this: the gameplay is solid, if a little touchy. Barring commentators, sound-wise, everything is spot on. And graphically? It’s astounding. But most of all it’s the little things you’ll be amazed at in this. And you’ll still be stumbling upon them by the time FIFA 12 is out.


Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360, Windows, iOS, PS2, PSP, Wii, DS
Genre: Sport, football, simulation
EA, 01/10/10

See also: FIFA 10 (2009), Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 (2010)

Images: The Guardian, EADestructoidXboxer360


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