EA recently released the latest annual installment to its “FIFA” series, adding to the repertoire of the greatest soccer game franchise ever. How did they do it? They simply repackaged the previous best-ever soccer game, “FIFA 10,” upgraded the graphics (and according to EA, the AI), added some minor new features and slapped a $60 price tag on it. Many players will be tempted by the addition of new team information and some minor fixes, but such solutions are hardly worthy of a full-price release.
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The “FIFA” series has always been a notable and innovative member of the sports genre. Previous versions of the game already nailed Internet gaming with the online “Be a Pro” mode, and to this day it’s still the best feature “FIFA” has to offer. In this mode, the user creates a player and takes him into online matches with the realism and intensity that any soccer fan would recognize. Every action the player takes is extremely important; the gamer no longer haphazardly controls a team of 11, but instead a single man, and the gravity of each brief interaction with the ball never ebbs. The intensity is as high as if each avatar were a real player.
The online mode makes “FIFA 11,” but it’s not even a new feature. It originated in its 2009 predecessor, but it’s still on the coattails of features like this that “FIFA 11” tries to ride into gamers’ homes. There are simply no revolutionary additions to be found in this title. The most touted new feature, one that seems to be long overdue, is the option to be a goalkeeper. And while it seems like a no-brainer, the only time being a goalie is enjoyable is online, though it’s hard to enjoy even then. Sticking to one position has the opportunity to be immensely fun, but as the positions get more defense-oriented, the excitement and action start to disappear. Playing goalkeeper affords very little involvement in the actual game and the thrill of playing quickly diminishes into boredom.
The other new features are essentially throwaways. The AI has supposedly been improved, but computer-controlled characters still don’t seem to come close to the real thing. Passing players would often overshoot their receivers and defenders would continue to guard their zone rather than approaching the loose ball. “Personality+,” another new feature, allegedly gives each athlete a unique play style, but characteristics were indistinguishable from computer to computer.
The AI and Personality+ need some improvement, but at least they take nothing away from the gameplay. The graphics are still top notch, human-controlled player responsiveness is extremely satisfactory and the physics seem real. Players push each other for possession of the ball and the 360-degree dribbling adds a lot of strategic variability. These changes make dodging players and sliding between defenders full of nuance. All this makes it a great stand-alone game, but its presence as the latest game in the “FIFA” genealogy demands much more.
The problem with “FIFA 11” is EA attempting to justify a $60 title with upgrades totally unworthy of an additional release. If you enjoy soccer games and don’t own “FIFA 09” or “10,” this game wouldn’t be a horrible purchase, but older versions are half the price. Hopefully one day someone will inform EA (and all sports-game makers, for that matter) about the existence of patches so they can reward their fan base with bug removal and updated roster information without charging them the price of an original game.