Having played a fair few football games in my life, I can safely say that none have come very close to matching the fun I had when I played International Superstar Soccer: Deluxe on the SNES as a lad. That game pretty much formed my sense of what I found fun in a game; thanks largely to the commentator (“OH NO, OWN GOAL?!?!”) and the superbly ridiculous goals you could score. When I installed FIFA 11 last week, I expected it to follow the path of its predecessors, which couldn’t quite step up to the mark set by ISS:D. Happily, I have been proven wrong. So very, very wrong.
FIFA 11 is the best football game that PC gamers have ever been graced by. Previously it had seemed that EA were quite happy to give a second rate port of the console’s current version to our grubby, keyboard-sullied mitts. And while it is true that once again the PC version has received far less content compared to the console versions, it doesn’t make it a bad game at all.
I haven’t owned a FIFA game in about three years, so most of the features that were available to me upon starting the game felt fresh. The selling point of FIFA over close rival PES has been that it’s able to provide a more authentic experience. Whether that’s down to having licensed players or subtle details, such as the silence of the crowd and increased audibility of your heart rate and rapid breathing as you race in on goal during Be a Pro mode, FIFA delivers authenticity by the bucket load, fully capturing the drama of the sport.
FIFA 11 offers you plenty of modes. Be a Pro, as mentioned before, makes a return to the series, allowing you to take control of an existing player or make one in your own likeness. However, as a 6’4” lad weighing just under 10 stone, I figured I’d be better off living my footballing life through Tottenham’s Jermain Defoe. My fear before playing it was that the rest of the team just wouldn’t be up to scratch and that I’d see none of the ball. Luckily this isn’t the case. The AI are pretty intelligent and as long as you can get yourself in the right position, your teammates will notice your defence-dissecting runs. Manager Mode offers a much more macro approach to the game, allowing you to take charge of a team, buying players, handling sponsors (à la Race Driver: GRID) and guiding them to glory. It’s nowhere near the same depth as Football Manager, but it serves as a healthy sub-alternative. Finally, the multiplayer nicely allows for 5v5 matches online. Just don’t mention the console version with its 11v11.
Subtle details and the responsiveness of the controls all add up to provide a very fulfilling experience overall. The ball acts almost exactly as a ball would in real life, every touch from a player will change the trajectory or speed of it. Deft little first touches will be made with pinpoint accuracy that can make or break an attacking move. Players who are off balance will not be able to strike the ball cleanly and goalkeepers seemed to have evolved beyond their neanderthallic state of previous FIFA iterations and know when to come and collect a ball, rather than hopelessly watch his defenders flap at a bouncing ball on the edge of the box.
But where there’s realism, there is also great fun. Yes, it’s satisfying to pull off a lovely, flowing move that culminates in a through-ball into the penalty area for your forward to smash home, but it’s also hilarious to watch the man with the iron boots, Mr Vedran Corluka, performing step-overs and rainbow flicks before hapless opposition. Interrupting one of Andy Gray’s speeches on the joys of referees playing advantage with a thumping header into the top corner will not get old for a very long time either. Even if it is just me extracting pleasure from the little things in this game, it doesn’t hamper my enjoyment of it at all.
However, just as every team has their Emile Heskey, this game has its flaws. Firstly, despite this being the PC version, playing without the Xbox 360 gamepad is the sort of thing that induces arthritis and nightmares. The sheer amount of moves on offer mean that the more complex tricks are pretty much ruled out on a keyboard during the heat of the action, so if you don’t own a pad already, the game may end up being £20 more expensive than you’d hoped. Also, the refereeing in the game is sometimes appalling, although, as bad as it can be, this seems fairly consistent with real world officiating. Sadly the same can’t be said for your AI-controlled defenders, who sometimes seem to forget what colour shirt they’re wearing and who the bad guys are, especially at set pieces.
These errors are forgivable though, and overall FIFA 11 provides us with not only the best football sim we’ve ever had on PC, but the most fun I’ve had in a football game since my childhood. Kudos, EA. Just give us the same toys as the console players next year. Please?