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In Memory
Sean Pettibone


FIFA Soccer 11 (Playstation 3)

EA’s latest soccer title supercedes the previous installment in a number of key ways. While the gameplay was always superb, the new installment’s refined passing system is both more challenging and more accurate. FIFA’s fantastic Be A Pro mode has also returned but now expands to include goalkeeping, which means you can now play any position on the field. Players also perform more like their real-world counterparts thanks to the new Personality Plus feature that lends them more of their own unique style. Extensive customization features have also been added which gives you even more control of appearance, uniforms and even music tracks. All this combines to make FIFA 11 an absolutely fantastic soccer title that captures the drama and excitement of the sport in a highly-polished, deep simulation. 

Last year’s installment in EA’s long running soccer dynasty was hailed as one of the best titles in the series to date. FIFA 11 thankfully adds to the excellent feel of last year’s game, but adds in a number of incremental and major upgrades that make the game even better in most respects. The most significant changes occur on the field which features a much more dynamic AI system that makes matches less predictable while requiring more skill on the player’s part. The first things players are likely to notice is the overhauled passing system, which requires a great deal of precision, making it more challenging. Instead of passing automatically to other players on the field, you now have to aim your player in the right direction before they shoot. This gives you greater accuracy but makes the gameplay a little more difficult, since there’s more room for error. This results in missed passes and more interceptions than you’d like, which can be a little annoying. Thankfully, there’s a newly expanded practice mode that allows you to learn these new gameplay mechanics under less pressure. Helping to ease the transition is the return of FIFA’s storied 360 degree dribbling system. This helps to keep the game flowing nicely on the pitch, allowing you to move, turn and, change direction on the fly as you move the ball up the field. Taken together, the improved passing system and dribbling gives players a much more versatile and flexible set of moves on the field, and makes for an intuitive and realistic feeling soccer game. 

The more complex passing system gives FIFA 11 a slightly different play style than it had last year. Most players should find the controls fairly easy to understand and master, and EA has once again implemented an extensive Arena section where you can practice shooting, passing and other goalkeeping. In addition, you can now order up and create set-pieces and play matches as you wish in this mode. Several different arenas are also included so your practice sessions won’t become tedious. FIFA 11’s depth is very impressive, and taken together these new control elements definitely make for a marked improvement from last year’s edition. However, the controls offer is a significantly different approach overall. These new mechanics will likely make some of your initial matches exercises in frustration. Once you get the hang of it, FIFA’s new passing system is fairly intuitive. FIFA 11’s other big change is it new Personality Plus feature. This gives many of the super-star players a better rendered avatar on the field, and also allows them to show more personality on the pitch. They’ll be more apt to perform their signature moves such as aggressive tackles or slicker passing moves. This makes them less predictable than most of the other AI players which makes for more exciting game with different tactics used on field. Personality Plus also allows them show some of their personality with their own celebration sequences. Personality Plus means the individual players have a bigger impact on each march with their unique skills giving the teams a distinct advantage. This becomes another key element once you understand how it works and learn to use it to your advantage. It definitely adds another layer of depth onto FIFA 11 and makes the game feel even more realistic and authentic.

Another major addition in FIFA 11 expands the Be-A-Pro mode to include the goalkeeper position. This was the last piece that the series needed, but you can now play the complete roster of players. It works like most of the other Pro modes and offers a different challenge. The objective is to block shots as you might expect, but the trick is to anticipate where the ball is headed to the net. It definitely a change of pace from the other positions in FIFA, but the game allows you to practice in the Arena mode for awhile and you can get the hang of things pretty quickly. The game shows you the action at a good angle that allows you to see the opponent running towards the goal. Where they attack on the field, how fast they are running and where they place the ball is critical. Controlling the goalie is a bit more complicated than you’d expect, since you can move them in any direction on the field and your position determines how effective you’ll be. Some moves are very easy to see, while others are trickier, depending on the skill of your opponent. FIFA 11 makes this an easier task thanks to the onscreen indicators which show in a general area, where the shot is going to be and what direction its coming from. Playing this mode through a full match requires a bit more effort than you’d expect since you are latent for long periods of time than have to spring into action suddenly. Playing the goal isn’t as action-packed as some of the other positions but the mental challenge makes it an interesting addition to the game.

Playing the goalie is only the tip of the game’s extensive Pro mode, which seems to become even more extensive with each passing year. As in previous installments, you begin with a fairly basic player with average skills and build them up by playing successfully. This is a slow process at first, but you win points by performing special moves, playing consistently and winning matches in the Be-a-Pro mode. However, poor on-field performances can penalize your player as well, so you have to be careful not to mess up or you can see your career stymied. You can assign the points you win to your player and make them stronger and focus on key areas. You can earn points in most areas of the game including the Arena, playing online and in matches. This lets you to create a strong player rapidly without much trouble. In addition to the basic points you’ll earn, completing specific tasks unlocks additional content and customization features.

FIFA 11’s Personality Plus system also expands into the player customization mode. This system is easy to use and navigate, giving you even more flexibility when creating your player. There are tons of new customization features available to players this year, with the ability to customize your player’s appearance in even greater detail. For example, there are many more cleats available to use and the uniforms can be customized as well. You can also create your own celebration animations and moves, add more specialized skills to your player. You can go even further than this and include your own team chants, music tracks and even import your face onto your FIFA player. The level of depth in the career mode is impressive and it allows you to fully immerse yourself in the game. You can play through a season with a team and compete in matches, freindlies and practice sessions earning points along the way. You can go even deeper and play through an entire career as well, switching teams when offers or transfers come along. This role-playing element makes for an immersive soccer experience that develops an effective bond between you and your player, if you want to go that deep inside FIFA 11. 

There’s plenty of other options and modes to discover in the game that we haven’t even touched on yet. For example, FIFA 11’s extensive online mode delivers a feast of football for players. You can choose to play one-on-one against a foe in a standard match, compete in the Be A Pro mode with other online players, go through a season or match mode and many other options. Your online performance will also be reflected in your player which makes them more important, too. The game’s online component is very easy to navigate and use, and feels as seamless and impressive as the disc-based game. There’s very little lag and online matches can offer plenty of challenge as well. FIFA 11’s attention to the small details in this department is impressive and extends to matchmaking lobbies and player rankings, which allows you to set up and play an online match with a dream team of other players. In addition, the game streams real-time stat updates, league news and player moves are all available from the main menu and many of these can be updated and used in the game as well. Additionally, players can save and share replays of their best matches online with others and make cinema sequences, which is impressive as well. This makes for a remarkably robust online component, one of the most polished and deep we’ve seen in any sports title to date. FIFA 11 definitely sets a new standard in this department.

As you might expect from a game that features a full compliment of licensed players and teams, FIFA 11’s visuals are superb as well. The player animations have been improved dramtically and they now move along the field with much more realism. The dribbling animations in particular are more fluid and lifelike. Each player’s render has also been upgraded in many ways and they now look more like their real-world counterparts. As usual, the commentary and sound effects are excellent. Crowd sounds and chanting ups the ante, giving each match a sense of drama and intensity that makes it feel quite authentic throughout. With its beautifully rendered fields, smooth television camera angles and effective first person viewpoint in the Pro modes, FIFA definitely feels slick and modern. Excellent menu design, a super smooth replay mode and realistic looking players combine to make FIFA 11’s visuals polished and professional. With all the changes and upgrades that EA has made to this year’s installment, it’s little surprise that FIFA 11 retains the series’ position at the peak of sports titles. The new passing system adds more strategy and realism to playing and works well with the 360-degree dribbling system to deliver a much more precise sense of control to the action. The deep Pro mode and extensive customization options give the game plenty of depth and longevity. FIFA 11 is markedly improved from last year’s installment, making it one of the best sports games on the market that sets a new standard of excellence in the genre.

- Michael Palisano

Grade: A

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