It’s time… time for that annual FIFA update. But is it really worth it for you FIFA fanatics out there?
The game of soccer (or football here in the UK) has remained the same for eons. Sure, there have been a few tweaks here and there with the rules, technology, fitness levels and of course the players over the years, but essentially it is the same game that was played by men in flat caps and long trousers back in the mid 19th century. It works pretty much the same with the video game editions of football too. The technology has improved for more realism, and control pads have evolved further, but essentially they play the same, which is to run little men down the pitch with a joypad and hit a button to shoot at goal.
The FIFA licensed games from EA have been around for what seems as long as the beautiful game itself, and every year a new edition is released on consoles. Mainly this is to update the teams, players and locations. But also each year EA strive to improve the game with not only a visual improvement, via state of the art Mo-Cap technology, but with added features to make you feel more involved and not just a god-like puppeteer in the sky.
It now looks like this is happening with the iPhone editions too. Last year EA released FIFA 10. It was somewhat disappointing in both terms of graphics and gameplay, falling short of the Real Soccer series from Gameloft (itself a clone of FIFA) and the impressive X2 series, considered the best soccer game yet. But then EA released FIFA World Cup, a vast improvement with fast flowing gameplay thanks to intuitive controls. Now it’s time for FIFA 11, just in time for a simultaneous release on all consoles, and EA have created a game that is leaps and bounds above FIFA 10 in almost every respect.
The first thing you’ll notice when playing the game are the vastly improved visuals. On both 3GS, iPhone4, the 3rd and current generation of iPod Touch (sorry no love for you older iPhone and iPod Touch owners) the game out performs every soccer game on the AppStore thus far. Full player likenesses, realistic mo-cap motion, authentic stadiums and environmental lighting create an experience, similar to that of a PS2 and PSP, that will knock your socks off!
The iPhone 4 boasts slightly better lighting and shadow, it’s barely noticeable (see comparison screenshots embedded in this review), but the higher resolution and high processing power and memory allow for more detail and smooth anti-aliased edges.
In my play-test of the game running on both the 3GS and iPhone 4 I noticed that despite the slight improvements in picture, the iPhone 4 version suffered from some slowdown during the close-to-camera views of players during replays and goal kicks etc. I can only assume that the extra visual effects and resolution take a toll on the processor. In the gameplay however, where a smooth frame-rate is paramount, both devices hold up perfectly (restart your devices for optimum memory allocation).
Only the FIFA series on the AppStore has done a good job of reproducing an atmospheric aural experience so far, and FIFA 11 doesn’t disappoint here either. It’s the commentary that steels the thunder of other games, with Real Soccer’s sounding awful and both X2 and PES not offering it at all. But here we not only have Clive Tyldesley offering up his usual classic one liners and wisdom but also the melancholy tones of Andy Gray. Add to this authentic crowd and player sound effects and it’s easily the best sounding soccer game to date.
FIFA offers the usual game modes of leagues and cups which can be fully played, simulated or mix of both. The manager features of the latest console editions are not here, nor is the star player mode, but it’s debatable that you’d want all that on a handheld game when all you want is a quick game of footie on the bus. You do however have full control over your team’s formation and which player plays where.
After playing FIFA World Cup I was surprised to find how much higher the level of difficulty is with FIFA 11, even on the beginner setting. Unless you are playing one the lower league teams, you’ll be hard pressed to pull off consistent winning results. This of course is a realistic element of the game of soccer, with many real world games ending in 0-0. But, some casual players out there might find this frustrating. For me, it’s only the more sweet when you do win!
It would be all to easy to blame this on the controls, but FIFA 11 features some of the best controls thus far, including setups for both casuals and hardcore players (in line with the console editions).
They have done away with the visual cues of Fifa world cup, such as player available offscreen for passing, but overall it feels a lot more focused and tighter. Passing can be pulled off by both tapping on an available player (allowing for more precision), or by tapping the pass button (passes to nearest player but not necessarily the one you want). You can also pull off special moves by double tapping the screen, and you can drag over other players to instruct them to run in for passes or for through balls. Once you get the hang of it, it becomes second nature, but occasionally you will find that the nature of the touch screen means that your touch gestures may be covered by the button overlays at times, though this is a problem with all soccer touchscreen soccer games, and not just FIFA 11.
At the end of the day, despite some shortcomings, and with the promise of multiplayer to come, FIFA 11 feels like the most complete version of soccer to hit the AppStore. The visuals are truly a thing to behold and for me are half of the experience. Combine this with great controls and a challenging learning curve and I’d say the AppStore now has a new soccer king, particularly for the soccer hardcore. I can see the license only getting better, and with the competition constantly trying to out do each other, we really are spoiled for choice in the soccer genre.