Reviewed: November 24, 2010
Released: September 28, 2010
Over the past fifteen years, I can safely say that I have clocked in more hours playing soccer video games than any other sports gaming genre – and in that time I must say that I have seen more progress and development in EA Sports’ FIFA franchise than in any of the other competitors. Always first in presentation values, FIFA has had to constantly evolve its gameplay to meet the growing demands of the gaming public, who simultaneously expect a fast and intuitive soccer experience with as little hand-holding as possible. The result is an incredibly complex game that employs layers of context-sensitive button combinations and some of the best AI in the industry, which when mastered delivers rewardingly fluid and exciting gameplay that is unmatched in the sports gaming world.|
Given the complexity of the controls, I must admit that I was a bit nervous about my first foray into FIFA 11 Soccer on the Wii – and indeed, the asymmetrical nature of the Wii remote and Nunchuk is a bit odd to get used to for a FIFA veteran. But now that I have spent a good deal of time playing FIFA 11, I must say that that I am very impressed with EA Sports’ latest footie release, in nearly every aspect.
At this point there is little use in explaining the game of soccer to the readers, other than to say that the game is a tightly choreographed dance between twenty-two onscreen players all reacting to one another, and to the ever-moving ball that connects them all together. What is important is how convincingly a video game interprets this dance, and FIFA 11 does an absolutely fantastic job at delivering a realistic experience on the pitch with top-notch character modeling and animations, fantastic player AI, and some of the best ball physics yet seen in the franchise.
Of particular note, are the new animations that come with players getting catching an errant shot in the torso or head, knocking the wind out of them and leaving them gasping for breath – and the excellent sliding tackles and sideline saves that feature players making more realistic rolls than ever before. FIFA 11’s gameplay is largely indifferent from the typical FIFA fare seen on the other consoles, which in and of itself is apparently is a major improvement from the waggle-centric controls reported for last year’s FIFA release on the Wii. Really, the only waggle controls in this year’s release are a nunchuk lift to bring the ball up into a juggle, shaking of the Wii-remote to give a bit of additional sprint while on offense, or to incite a sliding tackle while on defense – otherwise it is all buttons, baby.
And although the buttons get a bid jumbled at times due to the oddball layout of the Wii-remote and nunchuk, they are manageable. What becomes an issue is when the context-sensitive layers don’t seem build on one another intuitively and minor changes in possession result in major changes in button meanings. For instance, the defensive “standing tackle” button doubles as the offensive “shoot” button, and more than once stealing a ball at midfield resulted in shooting the ball from midfield. This is a problem with the other consoles as well, but mistake shots seem much more prevalent in the Wii version.
New to this year’s game is the metered free kick mechanic, playing a lot like the metered field goal kicking in Madden – a three-button press to start, select power, and select center. Yes, it’s the very same motions that we have seen in just about every bowling, golf, baseball, and football title in the history of gaming –but it feels fresh and new in FIFA 11, and really delivers a bit of excitement to the generally lackluster free kick.
As always with the franchise, the stadiums look fantastic with excellent lighting, realistic set-pieces, and believable crowd modeling. Between the quality visuals and the excellent crowd audio, FIFA 11 captures all the excitement and energy of large-scale arena sports. But this is all stuff we expect from the FIFA franchise. The play-by-play commentary by Andy Gray and Martin Tyler is absolutely spot-on, and even seems to be getting better with age – far fewer repeat phrases are popping up, and more situation-specific observations really seem to make the play believable.
I almost forget to mention the all-new 5 vs. 5 Street Mode that has been added to the bill. Maybe calling it all-new is a bit of a stretch, because in all reality it is simply porting of EA Sports Big’s FIFA Street title from 2005 into FIFA 11 as a separate gameplay mode. Then again, what the heck – it works, and with all of the crazy power-ups it is a ton of fun, especially with a friend. Speaking of friends, the online play is actually quite impressive considering it is running via wireless connections and through EA’s notoriously laggy servers. In almost a dozen games I only experienced one that had any measurable amount of lag, and although the camera is fixed a bit too far away for my liking and the overall appearance is a bit low-res compared to the standard in-game visuals – I really had some of the best online gaming I have had in all my years in the business. Maybe it was because I was actually winning games online for once – but it was a real blast.
With all this fawning over FIFA 11, are there any elements that come up short? Indeed there are. Overall, the features seem a bit dumbed-down for the Wii audience – half lengths max out at 5 minutes, cameras angles are fixed only allow for moderate adjustments in height and zoom, and the sliders to adjust game speed and penalties are all but nonexistent. It does not come as a surprise that the options would be slashed, but it does make an otherwise full-featured game seem a bit hobbled. And like any other Wii title, the lack of HD and the stretched widescreen are less than optimal viewing conditions in this day and age.
In closing, admittedly I am a big fan of the FIFA franchise, but as so I was not expecting a whole lot from this, my first attempt at a Wii version of the franchise. Color me impressed, because FIFA 11 dishes up a good game of soccer without going overboard on the Wii’s waggle controls. The game may be a bit light on the features, but it gets it all right where it counts most.