Here we are again. The annual battle between FIFA and Pro Evo has, since 2008, been less of a tussle and more of a habitual thumping. Even the staunchest Pro Evo loyalists packed in the charade after FIFA 10 hit shelves and it’d take a brave man to bet against the gulf widening this time out. So, as you buy your ticket and head on through the turnstiles, how, exactly, has your loyalty be rewarded?
What’s good about it? At first (and we mean before you’ve managed to score a goal), jumping straight into FIFA 11 feels like someone’s taken your favourite footy sim and made it more… sensible. It’s harder. Your favourite skill moves from 10, wired into the muscle memory of your fingertips, require adjustment. Defenders don’t just rush out to the halfway line like mad dogs and you have to more than just furiously press your opponent to win the ball. It’s harder, but that’s only because it’s cleverer. There’s a new, robust randomness to midfield clashes and goalkeepers are no more vulnerable to the chip-shot than their real life counterparts. So when you do piece together your first goal, it’s feels good. Really good.
What’s new about it? Let’s get specific about where this newfound authenticity comes from:
Pro passing: No more pinging the ball around like Spain when playing with lower tier sides, the new passing system takes in your own timing, player skill and surrounding pressure from opponents to calculate how accurately you can string moves together.
Personality +: The flagship feature, christening players with individual characteristics and attitudes to add a new flavour of authenticity to their on-pitch behaviour. There are 36 attributes and 57 traits, put together by a staggering 1700 scouts. The result? Dimitar Berbatov’s a stroller and Didier Drogba’s prone to strops.
Goalkeeping overhaul: As the cliché goes, goalkeepers are different. But sometimes it feels like developers take this a bit too literally. They might like it between the sticks, but that doesn’t mean they should behave like they’ve just escaped from the circus. Luckily, that’s largely in the past now. Put it this way: they’ve developed some brains.
Awesome graphics: EA have got a whole new player face animation and movement database. The sophistication is baffling; especially when you’re half cut and bleary eyed. Seeing Carlos Tevez smile when celebrating a goal is as Beetlejuice-y as it is in the flesh.
Career Mode: Choose between being a player, player manager or manager across an epic 15 seasons. Transfers involve separate fee and wage negotations, while the coaching feedback makes sense and works. It’s a solid - if unspectacular – arrangement for those who like playing the long game.
What’s not so good about it? EA have done a lot of bleating about the ‘Be A Goalkeeper’ mode and 11-versus-11 online, but try as we have, we can’t get excited about these modes. It’s like asking us to sit in a room and listen to Jo Wiley on the radio. NO.
Verdict? Still the best. But winning the title four years in a row is a big ask, especially if people mistake more authenticity for less fun. Like all good rivals, Pro Evo will surely smell blood.
FIFA 11, on PS3 and Xbox 360, is out now