Rant almost always refers to itself in the third person, but when you’re attempting to critically appraise a work of art or entertainment, there really is no room for the third person – none of this is “Rant’s” opinion – it’s all mine. For the purposes of establishing credentials, I have a long history with video game versions of the football.
Me and the esteemed editor of this very website once had an actual 90 minute game of Match Day 2 on his Amstrad CPC464 – the scoreboard broke after 10 goals, and I think I may have won by infinity to infinity minus 3.
We’ve all come a long way since then and FIFA 11 from EA sports will be in many a video game playing football fan’s Christmas stocking next week.
That imaginary video game playing football fan will have much cause to be please with their gift because, with the exception of a few hold-outs waving the Pro-Evo flag, most people acknowledge that FIFA, long the slickest and best presented football game going, is now also the one with the richest, deepest and most satisfying game-play engine. That this is an uncontroversial position to hold is a remarkable turnaround for a franchise long dogged by accusations of style-over-substance.
The difficulty in reviewing annualised sports franchises comes in asking the question “who is this review for?” If it is for people who are getting their first 360 or PS3 for Christmas then there’s absolutely no question that if they have any interest whatsoever in playing football on it, they should run out and buy FIFA 11.
In return for their hard-earned they will be getting a product chock full of features – licensed leagues from across Europe, some startlingly accurate player likenesses (and some not quite so accurate – Darren Fletcher’s hair has NEVER been that colour), wonderful animation, and in spite of a limited number of properly modelled grounds, Old Trafford is replicated in all its glory. So who cares if Fulham, Aston Villa and Bolton all play in identical generic stadia?
The control scheme has been incremented upon – last year’s genuine analogue directional movement remains, shooting from range is improved (I scored an absolute belter with Nani the other day), and whilst I still can’t score from or even hit half decent free kicks, that could just be me.
In fact a good few of my criticisms of the game play may stem from the fact that nowadays, as may be inferred from my reference to 8-bit games, I am a grown up and don’t have the time or manual dexterity to truly master everything on offer here. Games occasionally become very bogged down in midfield because I lack the subtlety to implement much of the right stick skill moves which I imagine could cut open stubborn defences in a way my hopeful through ball can’t.
If the review is for someone who has last year’s edition, or even, as is the case for me, 09’s then the value proposition becomes very different. If what the Americans call “The Roster Update” is appealing to you and the nuanced visual appeal that comes from more years of graphical polish and engine refinement then you won’t be disappointed. And, of course, if online multiplayer is important to you, then the new edition means drastically reduced numbers playing last year’s edition.
For me, though, I think if I hadn’t been sent a review copy I would have thought long and hard before parting with the £35+ needed to pick up a new copy of this badboy. The differences are so incremental, and my own abilities so relatively unsophisticated as to render the game play changes of minimal effect. And the big shiny new addition of playable goalkeepers, whilst competent, is hardly earth earth-shattering.
Be a pro mode has been through some pretty serious changes, some very much for the better, some for want of a better word, bizarre. Instead of playing matches and being assigned points based on your performance after the game to improve your dude’s skills, your skills improve as you pull off moves in games – so running with the ball might improve your stamina, making successful short passes may improve your passing, and so on.
You can also use your pro across all modes of play now, rather than only in “be-a-pro” seasons, which is very neat, and the fact that progress made in exhibition games, or even the arena, is a really nice touch. What isn’t such a nice touch is that, as far as I could work out, you no longer get to play in reserve matches when you’re not in the first team squad, and EA Sports have implemented their terrible, terrible, terrible calendar system which “sims” other matches whilst you SIT IN FRONT OF YOUR TELLY HITTING X AND NOT GETTING TO PLAY YOUR GAME!
Fight Night Round 4 had a very similar problem – I’m not familiar with Madden or the NHL games, but I believe they may have this problem too. This is bad enough when you’re playing a season as an entire team, and having to wait in between matches, but when you’re only getting picked once every six games or so, as you are at the start of your be-a-pro career it’s an absolutely disgrace of a design decision. (Hey, this website does have rant in the title). The long and the short of it is – I just want to play the game. I don’t care that you accurately sim the result of Fulham vs Chelsea.
Enough of the griping though, about value and the very silly calendar thing. Playing local multiplayer is a huge amount of fun, as it always is with good sports games. The AI is the best it has ever been and means that when you don’t have friends round, and you don’t want to be pwned by 12-year-old ninjas on Xbox live, you can still get plenty of enjoyment out of this.
I cannot stress enough how fantastic it looks, and the sound design is great – they’ve added some more texture to the commentary, certain fixtures and individual players get extra attention from Martin and Andy, and whilst Andy’s still occasionally a bit on the wooden side, it certainly works well enough that I left it on for a few games before giving up on them.
FIFA 11 is a must buy if you don’t have a football game, and my personal upgrade cycle for sports games means it’s probably a must buy if you have FIFA 08. Even if you do have 10 though and fancy treating yourself, you know that you’ll be getting a pretty fantastic package, just perhaps not one that’s that different from what you’re already playing.
I’m off to level up my pro – I do feel a little guilty though – I’m keeping Berba out of the side.