[Games] More Thoughts: FIFA 11

Wayne Rooney in FIFA 11

Wayne Rooney in FIFA 11

A few days ago I wrote a fairly glowing review of FIFA 11. After spending significantly more time with the game, I wanted to share some more thoughts. Thoughts about problems.

Why, for instance, does almost every game on World Class difficulty descend into a fairly turgid affair bereft of chances and likely to finish 0-0? Yes there’s a certain learning curve involved, and yes, there’s no fun to be had from winning every game 10-0. But likewise, what fun is there to be had from grinding out goalless draw after goalless draw throughout a season, hoping for mid-table mediocrity – or a nice cup tie against lower league opposition to set the forwards free?

Why, also, are there so few real world stadiums in the game? Don’t tell me there are licensing issues. The FIFA franchise is licensed up to the hilt, and with the EA corporate dollar behind it, surely there’s no cost implication in terms of getting the rights. In this day and age, after so many iterative releases, is it really acceptable that almost all your games in any given Premier League season are played at the fictional Ivy Lane? I’m not suggesting there should be an accurately modelled Molineux in there, or a DW Stadium, but couldn’t we reasonably expect a Stadium of Light, White Hart Lane or an Upton Park? These are massive clubs, in the most watched league on Earth, and EA fobs us off with the Emirates, Anfield, Stamford Bridge, Old Trafford and bizarrely, St James’ Park – none of which are new this year. How much would it really cost them to get the modelling work knocked off?

Let’s talk about the commentary. Yes it’s pretty good. Andy Gray and Martin Tyler do a reasonable job of bantering back and forth most of the time; but the generic conversations they have at the top of each match repeat themselves all too often. I’m sick of being told this is a clash between two teams with contrasting form. No shit Sherlock. Vary it up a bit. Realise that people will play match after match and the commentary needs to differ. Sony always seemed to manage it with their excellent MLB: The Show series.

Those referees. Really? One of the big new features this year is that there are named refs with “personalities”. And God does Martin bang on about them. For one, they all have stupid names. Hayden Pennyfeather and Derek Millborrow might sound realistic English names at a planning meeting in Canada – but they’re a bit Dickensian in this day and age, aren’t they? And why aren’t they real refs? It really breaks the suspension of disbelief when Wayne Rooney is sent off by someone who sounds like Mr Pickwick’s landlord. What were the licensing issues relevant to giving us a Howard Webb or two? Maybe it was because the game bangs on about the refs’ “personalities”, and the idea of a real ref being lenient or otherwise wouldn’t sit well with the FA or FIFA. Well I for one would rather have real, consistent refs than fictional “personalities”. This is not Street Fighter. I do not need to feel like there’s a line up of two-dimensional match official “characters” with outlandish personal preferences. I do not care that Hayden Pennyfeather is known as “the lenient one”. I’m not playing the game to marvel at the ref’s AI. I want consistent decisions and a realistic setting please EA.

Control. It’s pretty good, for sure. The game is more responsive than last year, and there are more options, manual settings and configuration tweaks than you can shake a custom designed stick at. But at least once a game, a beautifully flowing, crafted move will break down because the game decided the through ball I’d just hit should be played directly behind my attacker, or that I wanted to head a shot at goal from 30 yards out instead of volleying it. This is IRRITATING.

So too are a few minor presentation quirks. Sure, FIFA has long been the best looking, best presented football game. But in recent years it seems Pro Evo’s inability to pick itself up off the virtual bar-room floor and actually stand toe-to-toe with EA’s behemoth has made the reigning champ complacent. Why does my virtual pro get a first name while every other player just has an initial in the team line-up? Why are the goalkeeper kits so prone to clashing with the outfield players? It’s crazy that when I play in Wolves’ all black away strip, Marcus Hahnemman should line up in all black too. It’s even worse when the keeper’s kit is indistinguishable from the opposition strikers. At least this year the goalie kits aren’t the generic rubbish they were in 2010.

This isn’t a damning indictment of FIFA 11 by any means. It’s still a fantastic game and well worth your investment. I just want EA to address some of these issues. The sad truth is they have no need to. They know the game will still top the charts on release each year with nothing more than a shiny new cover and a few squad updates. Konami’s PES now offers no opposition whatsoever, either, and until it does (as it did a few years ago), I fear FIFA will stagnate. Come on EA, you’ve turned a one-trick show pony that was all skirt and no knickers into a genuinely entertaining football simulation, don’t let laziness bugger it all up.

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