Is it really necessary to buy a copy of FIFA every season? Is there enough time in between releases to allow the developers time for true innovation? It's hard to come up with an answer to those questions, but monetary realities dictate annual releases. But to be honest I don't really have time to ponder it much as I'm busy enjoying the latest incarnation of FIFA. Even if its mostly spit and shine that separates this game from FIFA 10, it's still incredibly entertaining. And can we really ask for more than further polish and evolved game modes from a game that is so rich with content.
The most notable additions to FIFA 11 is the revamped career mode and the possibility to play eleven on eleven online, but I start out with a simple friendly match. My choice falls on the Merseyside derby where my team wears the beautiful red coloured shirts, while the opposition is dressed in blue. What I envisioned as an easy stroll in the park (4-0), was quickly turned into something written by Kafka (sort of like Liverpool's season thus far). More than half a lifetime worth of experience counted for nothing, or at least not enough. A goalless draw followed by a humiliating loss on penalties.
I'd never really reflected on it before. The key to passing the ball has previously mostly been about deciding who to give the ball to. As if on a string the ball would make its way to the intended target most of the time. Sure, it took some precision, but it was never any real challenge. The consequence of this was that any defence, especially those belonging to an AI opponent, was easy to negotiate once you had developed an understanding for where your players positioned themselves on the pitch.
The step from the passing system of FIFA 10 to this year's edition isn't massive, but the ambition to evolved this aspect of the game delivers. It requests more from the player, and poor decisions taken in haste are punished, while well timed and perfectly weighed passes are rewarded. It may sound like a minor detail and something that we take for granted, but passing is of the greatest importance in a football title. You pass the ball hundreds of times each match, and making this aspect more challenging and rewarding has a major impact on the experience. This type of fine tuning is what I expect from a new FIFA game.
One feature that feels even more as an ant step rather than a giant leap is something called Personality Plus. Simply put, it's a manner in which certain special abilities such as "great tackler", "good crosses", highlights players whose abilities ranked above lesser ones. After a healthy amount of games I can say that these traits definitely matter on the pitch, but perhaps they could have been even more pronounced to create greater diversity on the pitch. Something for FIFA 12, perhaps.
Something that sounds exactly like before are the commentators, Tyler and Gray always go a great job, and even if they don't exactly deepen my understanding of the game, they do provide us with that special broadcast atmosphere.
When it comes to the visuals I have seldom been awestruck by a FIFA game, and this year's edition is no exception. Sure, the zoomed in angles during replays are nice to look at, but only as far as the better known players are concerned. And once you are actually playing the game it's not always the sharpest looking game, even if the animations have been improved upon. When the game is at its best it looks almost like the real thing, goal celebrations and the physical side of the game are better.
That takes us to the new career mode - that includes both a player and manager career, as well as the new option of playing an entire match as the goalkeeper. For those who find it entertaining to watch 21 computer controlled players chasing a virtual ball this might be something to cheer, but personally I move and forget about it.
Does the lasting appeal of FIFA 11 lie in the career mode? Yes and no. I for one won't get caught up in the manager mode. I realise it's a natural development of the series, but the lacklustre options for tactics and transfers fail to capture my imagination. The time I spend trying to manipulate settings in order to lure Micah Richards to Milan, give very little back to me as a player. The player portion of the career is far better. I'm given the opportunity to create my own little virtual footballer with lots of options, and I find myself enjoying the experience of trying to please my coach. Had I not been force to deal with the realities of life I would likely have spent the rest of the year gaining fortune and fame with creation.
For those who aren't turned on by the prospect of the career mode, or who don't have a lot of friends who enjoy a good kicking every now and then, this year's edition offers one of the most expansive online modes in gaming. Whether you're just in it for a quick match, or love competing in tournaments and leagues, there is something for everyone. Add to everything that was great with FIFA 10 online the fact that you can now play eleven on eleven. All it takes is a couple of masochists in between the posts.
If you're still not convinced I leave you with one final word. It may put you off, but it would win me over in a second. The soundtrack is, for those who enjoy MGMT, Gorillaz, Ana Tijoux, Scissor Sisters and others along the same lines, the best you will ever find in a sports game. That's just a fact.