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Review: FIFA 11

The beautiful game or just the same?

FIFA has long been the undisputed champion at retail when it comes to football/soccer games but this year has seen a slight change in scenery. Ubisoft have released a contender, albeit one which was roundly criticised, and Konami’s PES series has vowed many improvements and a more directly competitive release date.

So are the champions complacent or will they strengthen their squad and regroup for another successful title defence?

This year’s iteration of the world’s most popular sports game doesn’t have any massive changes to grab headlines. The biggest addition to the bullet-point list of features is the option to play the Be a Pro mode (now replaced as an option in the new “Career” mode) as the goalkeeper. This is a welcome inclusion and it works well (although you do often feel a little solitary, stood at the back) but it’s hardly a big departure for the franchise.

FIFA’s development since ’09 has been all about refinement and this year is no different. The game plays in much the same way as FIFA 10 with updated kits, rosters and slightly improved visuals. That has been the FIFA recipe for success for as long as I can remember and it has always served the franchise well. When the base you’re building on is this good why do you need huge innovation year on year?

The menus have been overhauled to make them quicker and simpler to navigate. This is a very welcome change but it still doesn’t fix the slight lag in selections that has been evident in FIFA titles for a few years. As you would expect, the visual and audio presentation on the front-end is outstanding. The ability to slot your own music (or crowd chants, if you have them) in to the situational music rotation is a joyous inclusion too.

Player likenesses are a vast improvement on last year’s game and the kits are more realistic and adapt differently in different weather situations (which also have a big effect on the game-play). Key players have distinctive styles of motion that further pick them out from the crowd and the new crowd chants make the game even more immersive (if you can ignore the still-terrible commentary).

Some of the biggest changes to this year’s FIFA come in the form of minor game-play tweaks. The slightly improved crossing and corners of the World Cup version have been further tuned so that balls in from the flank are no longer mostly useless. It’s still not perfect but it does work a lot more often than previously. When the ball does arrive in the box your strikers are now much more likely to try different things to get some contact too. It’s no longer a case of a failed header attempt if the ball isn’t at the right height, they’ll try overhead kicks, bicycle kicks, volleyed flicks and diving headers far more often than in previous iterations.

The passing system is different too, with weighting of passes being crucial to the success of that pass. It’s not a new feature in the series, rather an existing control option that has now been set as default but it makes a huge difference to the difficulty of the game from the outset.

Player positioning, body shape and pass strength all have a very real effect on how successful your short game will be. This makes for a more testing and often more frustrating game of football. With player positioning more crucial than ever it would be nice if attacking teammates were more prone to making AI-controlled runs rather than edging around your midfielders, leaving little option but to play it sideways while the defence consolidate their positions. This can be instigated manually but some more intelligent automatic movement would make the game far more free-flowing.

The opposing AI has also had a summer at soccer school with a seemingly enhanced ability across the board to perform 360 degree spins and drag-backs. This is frustrating when you’re playing against lower league teams who regularly embarrass top-flight defences with tricks Ronaldo would be proud of. It also highlights the fact that performing these tricks yourself is still fiddly and tricky to get the timing right, to the point where it is much simpler and more successful if you just run the ball around opposition defences and shoot across the box at forty-five degree angles.

The advantage rule is still hugely weighted in favour of the opposition too, with advantage for your team being a quickly-expiring luxury that is only ever reversed if the opposition wins the ball. For the AI controlled teams the advantage rule often seems to be ten seconds or two passes meaning that going in for those 50/50 tackles is essentially penalised with a brief period of non-participation.

So FIFA 11 is far from perfect, there is plenty of room for improvement in next year’s inevitable release. When it does all click, though, it’s magical.

A series of well-directed one-touch passes, when you get the strength of those passes correct, are extremely satisfying. Tie that in to a flat-out run down the wing and a perfectly timed step-over and you will be grinning from ear to ear. Finish the move with a pin-point cross from the by-line and a powerful header into the back of the net and you will need to pause the game and run around the house with your shirt over your head. When you fulfil your side of the bargain, FIFA 11 is simply brilliant.

Tactically FIFA has stepped things up a notch too. Player’s strengths now play a much more important role in how they perform within the team. You can effectively mark the opposition’s star players out of the game so playing hard and tight on Steven Gerrard makes Liverpool all but impotent going forward. Transversely, this means that you will actively try to involve your own star players whenever possible (and suffer the same problems if they’re marked out of the game).

The online modes work in much the same way as previous years. You still have ranked and unranked matches, a lobby mode and that award for playing in a fully human online team. There is still no method of reprisal for sore losers who disconnect rather than lose a game and the matchmaking doesn’t seem to care all that much if you’re not very good at the game. It’s welcome for those moments when you want human opposition but don’t have friends in the room but FIFA is still at its best when played against a human opponent on the same sofa.


  • Masses of licensing makes for the most “finished” football game.
  • Presentation is unmatched.
  • New tweaks to game modes and game-play are improvements.


  • A refinement rather than a big improvement.
  • Some issues with supporting AI and opposition skills.
  • Online modes still don’t discourage abuse.

There is a lot to like about FIFA 11 and fans of the series will no doubt fawn over the multitude of minor improvements. It would be dishonest to ignore the, mostly minor, flaws that are definitely present though. Not that those flaws will spoil many people’s enjoyment of the game, they just give the franchise room to improve next year.

Score: 8/10

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  1. Joe
    Since: Aug 2009

    Good review Peter.

    i find attacking very frustrating at times in this game… the ai defense is certainly at its best…

    Comment posted on 08/10/2010 at 09:09.
    • Bilbo_bobbins
      Since: Jun 2009

      I agree, but this is more realistic. I found it frustrating at first, but they have made the game so you can’t just take on all defenders by running (more realistic). Therefore you have to use different tactics to try and open up the defence, this is what happens in real football. I personally think it’s much better, and that this gives the game a more fluid feel to the game. It’s harder to score, but it always is in the real game.
      Personally I think the review is a bit ropey. Yoy say there are minor flaws, which personally I think are a good addition, but then give it an 8? Pes is no where near this and has been getting the same scores. I was a massive PES fan until this year where I decided, based on the demo, that it wasn’t for me any more.

      Comment posted on 08/10/2010 at 09:50.
  2. bajere
    Since: Aug 2008

    i bought this on the weekend, went half’s with my brother as we both only play it now and then. not worth £40 but for £20 its alright. Not much different from 10, even some of the commentary is the same!

    Comment posted on 08/10/2010 at 09:10.
  3. shrim
    Since: Jan 2009

    Great review but no mention of the new handball feature you can turn on. That while incredibly annoying at times really adds another level of realism to the game.

    Comment posted on 08/10/2010 at 09:12.
    • ghost5
      Since: Oct 2008

      I did not know about the hand ball feature, I will have to look for this

      Comment posted on 08/10/2010 at 09:37.
  4. igotmy9milli
    Since: Apr 2010

    I think this game is much improved on Fifa 10. It plays faster, and is overall a lot more fun. However I do only tend to play with friends and not against the CPU.

    Comment posted on 08/10/2010 at 09:15.
  5. tonycawley
    Pint! Pint!
    Since: Feb 2009

    Lowest review score i’ve seen yet. I’ve got to say that i agree with you though, there’s a lot of talk of all the differences from last year’s, but having played the demo it seems remarkably similar to me. Thinking i’ll now avoid spending the cash on this.

    Comment posted on 08/10/2010 at 09:29.
    • Bilbo_bobbins
      Since: Jun 2009

      the full game really is different to the demo, i’m not sure what it is, but it feels slightly quicker and more easy to score IMO.

      Comment posted on 08/10/2010 at 09:56.
    • cc_star
      Team TSA: Writer
      Since: Forever

      Eurogamer gave the same I believe… Edge probably gave a 2 knowing them :p

      Comment posted on 08/10/2010 at 09:57.
  6. bigdon23
    Since: Jul 2010

    im not a footy game fan, but when you can get fifa 10 from play for about a fiver whats the point in spending full price on this

    Comment posted on 08/10/2010 at 09:40.
  7. cc_star
    Team TSA: Writer
    Since: Forever

    FIFA 11 seems to have really upped the ante on ’10 and seems to have the pizazz of FIFA 09 back along with a flood rather than a trickle of tweaks & improvements.

    There is the long standing theory that you should never buy an even numbered FIFA because EA Montreal always divert their attention to the WorldCup or European Championship summer release in even numbered years. Whilst there was nothing explicably bad about 10 it was the closest FIFA I’ve seen to what people seem to describe as a squad & kit update.

    With FIFA12 (even though we know they’ll be focusing on the European championship release) EA really need to incentivise people to:

    a) Play as anyone other than Barca
    You can encourage people to play as a wider variety of teams by using a points scoring multiplier, so a victory with a 5 star team gets it’s score multiplied by 1 so it remains the same, where is a victory with a 1 star team gets its score multiplied by 5 (with a sliding scale inbetween). Or work out a score multiplier based on the difference between the two teams playing

    b) Stop quitting.
    You can encourage people to stop quitting by banning them from joining another game straight away, so if they had to sit out for 15mins it wouldn’t be wroth them quitting just to join another game straight away, and people who have a high DNF% can ONLY matchmake against other people with a high DNF% leaving genuine gamers to enjoy ranked matches between themselves.

    Comment posted on 08/10/2010 at 10:07.
    • tonycawley
      Pint! Pint!
      Since: Feb 2009

      I don’t know whether it’s still possible or not, by always used to change my ranked play now settings so that it searches only for opponents with a dnf% of below 5% or whatever the lowest possible % was.

      Comment posted on 08/10/2010 at 10:45.
      • cc_star
        Team TSA: Writer
        Since: Forever

        yeah, you can filter DNF% but I thought that was only for friendlies not ranked – will find out later… but there needs to be some sort of framework setup by EA which penalises people, because its a shambles online as it is

        Comment posted on 08/10/2010 at 10:51.
  8. tom_lord
    Team TSA: Writer
    Since: Apr 2009

    Personally, while it is small refinements, it’s polishing on an excellent game. This is now the best football game ever made………….surely that’s amazing, right?

    Comment posted on 08/10/2010 at 10:26.
    • colossalblue
      Team TSA: Editor
      Since: Forever

      It’s not even in the same league as Sensible World of Soccer ;)

      Comment posted on 08/10/2010 at 12:00.
      • tom_lord
        Team TSA: Writer
        Since: Apr 2009


        Comment posted on 08/10/2010 at 12:07.
      • jonny_bolton
        Chooses The Impossible
        Since: Oct 2008

        What about Red Card Soccer? With Kammy on commentary duties? Sublime.

        Comment posted on 08/10/2010 at 12:17.
      • Michael
        Team TSA: Development
        Since: Forever

        Yes. Yesyesyesyes. Yesyes. Yes.

        Not that I’ve played FIFA 11, but yes.

        Comment posted on 08/10/2010 at 19:18.
  9. seedaripper1973
    Since: Forever

    Cheers for an unbiased review cc, it ISN’T much of a step up from last years, unlike Pro-evo, nice to see them at the same level…PES will take its rightful crown back next year if fifa keeps up like this ;-)

    Comment posted on 08/10/2010 at 11:01.
    • djhsecondnature
      Since: Forever

      I’d disagree, this is a big improvement over last years release. As for PES, it wasn’t hard for such a huge leap as last years was truly shocking :-p

      Comment posted on 08/10/2010 at 11:43.
      • Danza Di Fuoco E Ghiaccio
        Since: Aug 2009

        10 was decent….

        Comment posted on 08/10/2010 at 12:07.
      • tom_lord
        Team TSA: Writer
        Since: Apr 2009

        I have to say that I agree and disagree. With FIFA 11, after a few hours, you realise that the passing system is completely different and if the play is sometimes scrappy, then so is real football. However, PES 10 was decent and the start of the improvement that 11 has brought, it just took a lot of time to really dig your teeth into.

        Comment posted on 08/10/2010 at 12:17.
  10. StevenHibs
    Since: Oct 2009

    Defensive AI is shocking, it just stands still with lofted through ball over the top, yep thats realism for you, attacking is poor, everyone just plays the same online, boring, and online is buggered, so yeh PES for me this year, at least it does the basics right.

    Comment posted on 08/10/2010 at 11:19.
16 hours ago

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