Gamers that like playing video game adaptations of football (or soccer) will likely fall under one of two categories: the ones that prefer Pro Evolution and the ones that think FIFA games are better. The former has always strived to be as realistic as possible whilst the latter offers more arcade-style action as opposed to ultra realism. So when it comes to deciding which one to buy, the player must be aware of what they're after: realism or arcade-style fun?
FIFA 11 is fairly similar to last year's instalment: the single-player Battle for Glory mode remains largely unchanged in that players choose a team and play through the season. Managerial duties like sorting the team's line-up and the transfer of players are available, as is the choice of skipping through any matches of the player's choice. Think of the system as a streamlined, more simplistic imitation of the FIFA Manager games. Although not as comprehensive, it allows gamers to do enough tweaking to feel like they are in control of their destiny, but ultimately the lack of any complexity is both its remit and downfall.
As it happens, the control options sum up the demographic of gamers quite nicely: All-Play's single Wii Remote use is obviously aimed at the casual player; the Wii Remote and Nunchuk combination offers intermediate gamers more buttons to utilise as well as motion gestures; and the Classic Controller support is for the traditional gamer who wants complete control over the action. The motion gestures don't feel as tacked-on as before, but some will still see it as a chore if the Wii Remote and Nunchuk combo is all they have.
The Manager Moments are the same as before, giving players opportunities to essentially make bets on their performance before the game, with correct predictions rewarding gamers with a temporary increase in the team's overall rating and booster points. Earn enough points and players can build up their arsenal of game boosters, which are essentially pre-kick-off power-ups that can be used to get an upperhand throughout the match. These haven't changed and still offer the same arcade-style gameplay that was seen last year but it would have been nice to see some new ones implemented since that is obviously something that EA Sports wants to hold onto as a distinct feature of FIFA games.
A new feature this season is the Hit the Streets mode, where players can take part in a 5-on-5 match out in the urban sectors. Although the Battle for Glory mode still has an arcade feel to it, it seems the developer has kept most of the over-the-top action confined here (and the other 5-a-side mode, which will be explained later). Venues include indoor gyms and outdoor courts around the world, and each country has its own theme that reflects on a characteristic of that place, making each place stand out from the rest.
It's definitely quite fun and is a nice alternative to the single-player, and one that can be enjoyed with friends too. It almost has an NBA Jam feel to it, with winning obviously being the main objective, but if opponents can be made to look foolish in the process that's as much as a trophy-winning victory as it is a moral one. The better gamers play the quicker power-ups will be earned and some of them are so ridiculously funny one cannot help but chuckle. For example, one power-up instantly turns opponents into child-size players, making them easier to outrun and out-muscle. Playing in these smaller courts means passes can be cleverly rebounded off the walls and when players get used to taking advantage of this additional spatial dimension, performances will be slicker than a Nike advert.
The staple inclusion of the Tournaments mode returns and the ability to play in various licensed cups and leagues from all around the world is as standard as ever, and players can also choose multiple teams to control as the fixtures unfold. To be fair, there's not much that can be changed in this department. Another area that hasn't seen much change is the caricature presentation of the players. The chants from the crowds sound quite hollow at times, but thankfully the banter from the players in the 5-on-5 modes make up for what is a rather half-baked approach to the sound design in other areas of the game. The commentary from Clive Tyldesley and Andy Gray in the Battle for Glory mode lacks the accuracy of what is actually happening, much like last year. When the player is 1-0 up at full time, hearing Gray suggesting the team that's behind needs to come out in the second half with more energy only encourages the player to push their lower lip out with their tongue.
A Streets to Stadiums mode allows players to create a footballer from scratch and chart his progress from a local 5-a-side team to the big stadium matches, with the ability to choose a separate name for the commentators to call out during play for a nice change from the lifeless "player one" that could have easily been the case. Here, players only control the up-and-coming character which makes it easier to be immersed in the rise of his status. Managerial elements from the Battle for Glory mode are used but perhaps here, they are more engrossing as it feels more intimate and results actually feel like products of the player's decision-making.
FIFA games traditionally lack a lot of the options and settings that a Pro Evolution game has. FIFA 11's menus are quite bland and certain screens look like a family party game is spinning in the console rather than a big franchise sports title. There's not a lot to tinker with, and it's safe to say that if a "proper" football-sim is what you're after you won't find it here. FIFA 11 remains the slightly action-orientated football game it's always been, and probably will continue to be.
The overall gameplay in single player has been toned down, meaning it's much harder to put the ball in the back of the net from anywhere between the penalty box and the halfway line than before. FIFA 10 almost became a farce because at times, it felt more like Mario Strikers Charged Football with its shooting and subsequent scorelines.
This return to plausibility is due in part to the way shots are now taken with a revamped shot meter. Curving the ball now has a more manual element to it, the player now having a say in what actually happens. Headers still feel like an area the developer has decided to ignore, and set pieces leave us with mixed feelings. Taking free kicks is more realistic than last season, but the lack of total control with corner kicks takes some of the enjoyment away as they can be crucial moments in a match.
The ability to play with friends in the Hit the Pitch (exhibition matches), Hit the Streets and Tournament modes will add some replay value, as will the online play. There are some unlockables to be earned but unless players want every option available in the create-a-player section, it's not exactly tempting stuff.
At times, it doesn't feel like FIFA 11 knows what it wants to be. The over-the-top action seems to have been relegated to the "supplementary" 5-on-5 modes, taking the focus away from the main game as it shrivels from malnutrition. Without the crunching sound effects and "bullet-time" style moments, the game loses some of the fun that FIFA 10 was able to generate. Instead of focusing on providing improvements, EA Sports seems to have opted for side game distractions. As fun as the 5-a-side modes are, we're not sure if they're enough for owners of FIFA 10 to fork out more money. Overall, this is probably the more complete FIFA title to date, although it does have its flaws. Even though there's two new modes, the majority of the game still feels like what we were playing a year ago, and that itself wasn't great.