FIFA 09 made critics stand up, applaud and declare console football back on track. FIFA 10 introduced 360 dribbling and fluid, flexible play on the field. Then along came FIFA World Cup to brighten up our otherwise miserable summer of soccer with a flair-filled yet balanced take on the beautiful game.
The footy sim has become so sophisticated that the annual improvements are more about subtle adjustments than big engine and feature updates. The flagship tweak of FIFA 11 is Personality+, a system where different player types are easily defined, thanks to certain traits and a mechanism that determines everything from a player's shot accuracy to his stamina. It means that Sol Campbell should visibly play much differently to Aaron Lennon - and we should finally be able to lament a player's abilities on the pitch without getting the "well, you're controlling them" response.
The effect of this isn’t immediate. But witness Theo Walcott attempt to tackle Zat Knight - and bounce right off the big man and Lee Chung Yong flail his arms to keep balance as he scrambled around a left back on the wing. Personality+ is a classic subtle tweak, rather than an in-your-face overhaul.
Elsewhere, the basic feel of FIFA 11 will be pretty familiar to those who played World Cup - but will be a big step up if you've been hanging on since FIFA 10. Players are much more nimble, meaning that 360 dribbling can be properly taken advantage of with tighter turns and intricate dribbling routes.
FIFA 11: Visuals and commentary
FIFA's visual presentation has never been an issue - but now EA's stepped it up a notch with new animations. We were absolutely delighted to see a player bend down slightly to control a lofted ball with his shoulder. Even better, colliding with our fellow team mates during a celebration triggered a context-sensitive and enthusiastic shirt tug, hug or pile on.
Meanwhile, the commentary from Tyler and Gray is still top-notch. Although much of it is recycled from last year, now the pair comment on match stats that appear on the screen periodically in true broadcast fashion, which is a nice addition for number bods.
Originally posted on CVG: FIFA 11 review
The AI is actually much stronger in defence than in previous editions - but not always too tasty when it comes to moving forward. It could just be that we're cast-iron tackle-masters at the back, but computer opposition does sometimes seem oblivious to the threat of a slide tackle, and we've played more minutes of extra-time than we'd like.
Good news between the sticks, too: Keepers have been given, a brain, to be honest. Gone are the days where the goalie would make a half-arsed save and then slowly, almost apathetically, crawl back to his feet while a second striker smashed the ball into an open net.
Now keepers will parry a shot and leap from the floor to another finger-tip save on the rebound - as if the goal-line is a motion sensing detonator. It makes for some awesome box scrambles - that only get screechier and more breathless in multiplayer.
FIFA 11: Goalkeeping and penaltys
In terms of actual menu-based features, Be a Goalkeeper is probably the most intriguing..It's a basic system of positioning and timing, using the the left analogue stick to move to the best spot for a save and then the right analogue stick to dive.
Penalty taking gets a brand new mechanism, too - which also brings more panic and wayward slip-ups than anything else at first. It combines composure, power and placement all in one. Stopping a sliding bar in a green zone on a small metre determines your players focus, the usual power bar dictates... power, and an invisible target controlled with the left stick determines placement. It’s tricky at first but once you get to grips with it, it starts to feel more natural.
The all-new Career Mode encompasses Manager Modes of old - by allowing players to either start their footballing journey as a player, manager or player-manager. It all plays pretty much the same as previous FIFA editions - but the three different footballing roles are neatly combined so that you can build yourself as a player before moving into management or a combination of the two.
It probably isn't enough to tear people away from Pro Evo's much-loved Master League - especially if PES 2011's online features manage to recreate the mode's magic with friends worldwide - but the merging of roles to represent a full football career on and off the pitch is a great idea.
FIFA 11: Criticism
We haven't seen the final version of PES 2011, but when it comes to on-pitch action, Konami's going to have to pull something pretty special if it's going to regain the top spot this year. It really is hard to criticise FIFA 11 in any truly significant way at all.
Be A Goalkeeper is actually pretty boring - which we kind of guessed it might be. Playing with 28 AI players seems to cancel out more or less any real goal threat - and you ended up kicking your heels between the sticks, or running up for corner kicks in the 51st minute just to get in on the action. But to have a pop at a brand new feature that works fine - aside from a few balancing issues - seems unfair, especially since it's something no-one else has done before.
It still has some of the quirks that Pro Evo fans may not feel at home with. There's still not quite so much over-the-top frenzy as FIFA's rival had at its best, and the FIFA pass - pulling a ball back across the net to your fellow striker in a one-on-one, leaving the keeper stranded and crying - is still the easiest and an all-too-common way of scoring.
FIFA 11: Conclusion
FIFA 11 is the best football game that's ever been slid into a disc-drive. It mixes slow build-up play with quick, killer through-balls. It combines big, meaty defenders with slight, nippy speedsters - and smartly recognises the difference between the two.
You can score headers from the top of towering jumps or cheeky, low nods at the far post. Players can pea-roll a fluky long range bobbler or curl a graceful effort into the top corner. The ball can bounce off glove, boot, shin or shoulder before it hits the net - and all of this means that FIFA 11 will keep on surprising you.
Apart from a few incredibly minor tweaks, we can't think of anything anything else EA Sports can do to improve their game on the pitch.