There is a song by Canadian artist Richard Terfry (a.k.a Buck 65) that details the life of a man who shines shoes for a living. He works at a train station and has been so all of his life and within that time he has perfected a technique called the “Dry-Shine”. It is his method, a delicate process honed over the years working and toiling away, a process of simply cleaning a shoe that has kept him at this work for all the years of his life. It’s a way of working that he confesses takes time and requires his customer to maybe stand around longer than they would have thought to have before. For his craftsmanship to be appreciated he tells how the pace of life is relative to his work. People in trainers are villains. Casual clothes are to be detested, for it is the way of the astute and the officious govern his life. People who take time to take care of their appearance are his bread and butter and it is for those he has tailored his world around, perfecting this one way of cleaning a shoe that suits just them and only them. It is not only about the outward experience but the knowledge that the time they give him is time he gives in pleasure to show off his craft. The chorus of this song “Craftsmanship” simply goes;
“It ‘aint about the Dollar or trying to fast,
Unless you take pride in what you’re doing you won’t last.
Craftsmanship is a quality that some lack,
You’ve got to give people a reason for them to come back.”
The more and more that I play FIFA the more and more these lyrics begin to echo what it is that Electronic Arts are starting to achieve with their title. Of course we all know that they have been going at this football game for some time now, but with each passing title I am beginning to feel that the craftsmanship that they put into a title they are expecting us to put back in.
Just like your humble leather pairs they do need polishing from time to time. Running around like the scamp you are it is inevitable that scuffs, scraps and stains start to appear on their once glistening soles. It is ok though because you know that deep in a box somewhere are your cleaning tools and one damp and dreary evening you can set to work on your delicate shoes.
The same can be said about some games. The more you play a title the more you hammer out its weaknesses. The more you uncover what is lying beneath the more you see its ugly innards and in turn the more you are once again hoping for something to patch it over. Nothing is truer particularly when it comes to playing FIFA. Straight out of the box the game seems indestructible, it is top notch and so up to date and brimming with brands and licenses you might as well be sitting in an Argos catalogue with all the money in the world to spend.
This is the first few months’ right enough, until you uncover the way through. The slight over weighted ability in a player to charge into the box un-noticed to score goal upon goal upon goal. It always seems to be the case. FIFA becomes a game that once screamed authenticity and simulation to only twist over time to become the scuffed box of an Arcade machine that has broken and is now free to play.
Now it is difficult to say whether FIFA 11 will turn out the same as all of the previous incarnations but from initial experiences it looks set to hold its position as the best football sim of its time, and looks to hold onto those honours until its younger brother turns up for adoption.
The first thing you’ll notice about FIFA 11 is that Electronic Arts have finally gone and tidied up their menu system. FIFA has most recently always been a feature heavy title but the menu system has often been more confusing that trying to figure out how to work a Storage Heater. The usual cluttered, messy option screens have been replaced and the slate almost wiped clean. Finally I am glad to say that FIFA is a joy to navigate. It was one thing I truly enjoyed about FIFA World Cup South Africa 2010 was that the menu system was clean and easy to find my way around. The system in FIFA 11 is just as much fun to toddle around and with such sleek, sharp lines and slick presentation it’s a pleasure to spend time nosing around all the options.
In terms of those options FIFA 11 is amply served for stuff to do on and off the pitch. Most of the same playing opportunities are the same as in FIFA 10. Manager Modes, Tournaments a plenty and Be a Pro all have been so well implemented this time around, it is tempting to think that EA have just rebuilt most of this game from the ground up. The small touches in game like the Be a Pro ranking number visually going up and down feels so delightfully touching that it all begins to act like you have a brand new watch on your wrists and you’re spending the day with rolled up your sleeves all day just for people to see your new way of time-keeping .
Alongside all this there is also the new Be a Pro: Goalkeeper mode, which for the first time lets you take control of your favourite man between the sticks. What might sound like watching paint dry in another person’s house actually turns out to be a relatively rewarding experience. There is a bit of hand holding going on in this mode but saving a ball shooting through or letting one slip through your grasp is equally rewarding and devastating and that’s how this approach will be successful in drawing you in for just “one more game”.
Though there might be new playing types and a new swish menu system, the biggest up-grade is the actual football gameplay it’s self. Gone is the whizz bang wallop of the old FIFA, now the play is measured, weighty and physical. Just like the game should be played. FIFA 11 is so downright brilliant to play it almost sometimes feel like you are never going to get anywhere with the ball. The new passing system means you are in total control of where the ball is going and how much pace is going to be placed on it to set it on its way. Gone are the days when tapping “pass” would get you out of trouble in a split second or launch you up the pitch in a blink of an eye. Now you will find you are pulling passes astray, tapping forward to leave sloppy interceptions and there is no complaining cause this time it is your entire fault with FIFA 11.
Play then around the game is focussed accordingly with this new style of passing. Space is the most valuable commodity you’ll get in FIFA 11. You can either hustle your way out of trouble with a new physicality system that is perfectly adapted to each individual player. You can clout it out if you are in doubt, or think intelligently to pass your way out of trouble. It is a style of play and sets of decisions to make that until now have been totally missing from any FIFA game to this date. The new animations and weight added to the players are also so well implemented that all these changes feel like there is no way around them and after months of play there is nothing about FIFA 11 that is going to break its new shiny zeal.
All this new player personality has not only been left to the fluid playing animations but EA have extended it out to shine through at every opportunity in the game. Even the referees now have names and different tendencies when it comes to fouls and game styles. Score a goal in FIFA 11 and your player will celebrate as usual but run into another player and he’ll automatically put his arms around you or knock you to the floor in emphatic embrace. It all extends the feeling that FIFA 11 is the most natural and affirming football game ever made. Everything plays and feels like it should.
Of all the touches though that EA have added there is still the in ability to play a full season with cups included without having the faff of being a Manager and EA still are to sort their problems when organising online servers.
However these are minor bug bears, because for all of EA’s dedicated craftsmanship over the years they have finally made a football title in FIFA 11 that demands you put as much playing it that they put in making it, dedicating your time to get the best out of it other than learning how to beat it. FIFA 11 feels like a title that will grow with your gaming style. A.I is sharp responsive and full of tricks and after a few months’ more of play will stay that way and not have to be covered up with marker pen.
MLG Rating: 9/10
Platform: PlayStation 3 (Xbox 360, Wii, DS, PC) Release Date: 01/10/2010
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a physical copy of FIFA 11 for review purposes by the promoter. The title was reviewed over the course of five days on a PS3. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.