Review: FIFA 11S

This is the third FIFA game since September 2009. It's the 19th game in the FIFA series. You'd be forgiven for looking at FIFA 11 and thinking "I am getting bored with this".

Football fans with attention deficits are being looked after, then, with FIFA 11 adding a new passing system, more noticeable player "personalities", playable goalkeepers, a life-long career mode (go from player to manager) and even, finally, a creation centre for those who like to spend more time designing kits than they do kicking shins.

Why Should I Care?

FIFA doesn't just have a reputation as being the best football game on the market, it's got a reputation as being the best sports game in the world, regardless of publisher or market. The last few have been that good.

Review: FIFA 11
This could be you (if you've got the patience).

So What's Got Better Since FIFA 10?: Off the pitch, the front-end menu is new, and mercifully faster than its sluggish predecessor. The manager mode appears to be better-organised and more realistic in its transfers and simulations, which should save a lot of singleplayer users from tearing their hair out. On the pitch, there's a great new passing system, and in multiplayer, you can now see at a glance how often someone ragequits, something this franchise has needed for a long time.

That Passing Thing Doesn't Sound That Important...: No, it sounds like just another boring bullet-point feature, but it makes a real change to the way the game's played. Because players can only effectively pass in the direction they're facing, and results will vary wildly depending on the quality of the passer, it makes moving the ball up the pitch a lot harder at first, but a lot more rewarding when you get the hang of it, as it both feels and looks a lot more like a real game of football.

So What's Got Worse?: Nothing has gotten worse, but boy, the "Be A Pro" mode continues to be a source of frustration, as it still can't judge a performance properly and still penalises you for doing perfectly acceptable things like putting a cross in. The creation suite is also a massive disappointment, as while you can finally create your own teams (complete with official kit designs), you have to do it online in a web browser, not in-game like Pro Evo has managed since, oh, forever.

Do The Players Still Look Like Balloon Men?: Sadly, while those players with custom-built faces are looking better than ever, the stock player faces look even more like action figures, particularly since this year's player models seem a little "shinier" than last year's.

Hey, I Can Play As The Keeper Now!: Yes, and once the novelty wears off - around five minutes in - you'll likely never do so again. It's not the fault of the controls, those are surprisingly effective; it's the boredom, as you'll spend most matches standing around doing nothing. Which is fine for real keepers, but in a video game, it's boring.

FIFA 11 In Action

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Buy It

If you like football and play video games, and you're not morally against buying a sports game that's updated on an annual basis, there's been enough substantial improvements made to FIFA this year to warrant picking it up, even if you bought FIFA 10 and World Cup.

Don't Buy It

If you're a casual fan who only buys one or two FIFAs a decade, and the last one you picked up was the outstanding FIFA 10. Goalies and "real" passing aren't as big a deal as the 360-degree movement introduced in that classic, so you could probably wait a few more years before you upgrade.

The Bottom Line

FIFA 11 should serve as an example to EA's other major franchise, Madden, on how to pack enough improvements and updates into an "off year" (ie one without a major upgrade) to make what's essentially the same game as the previous year's model feel fresh enough to tempt you to grab it.

FIFA 11 was developed and published by EA Sports, released on September 28 in North America for the Xbox 360, PS3, PC, Wii, PS2, Mobile Phone and DS. Played Xbox 360 version, which retails for $60. A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for reviewing purposes. Played all singleplayer game modes and lost more multiplayer matches than I'll ever feel comfortable telling you.