Even though annual sales are showing that football is still among the world's most beloved sports, the FIFA series has been looked upon in recent years with growing disdain by PC fans. That’s because this version was always the "Cinderella" of every release, while the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 editions boasted features that PC football fans could only dream of. But this year, Electronic Arts decided to bring the PC version of FIFA up-to-speed, using (for the first time) the same engine that empowers its console brethren, minus some features that were “lost” along the way and still remain exclusive.
For this reason, the first thing you’ll notice will be the graphics, EA focusing heavily on this aspect. Thanks to the engine switch, players look a lot better, especially when it comes to facial details, but this only holds true for the superstars, because the reserves don’t have the same amount of detail. They also paid more attention to how each player celebrates after a goal, from Drogba's dance to a simple hug with the teammates. Stadiums are different from last year as well, worked in more detail to better resemble their real-life counterparts, but during the replays or in any of the close-ups you’ll still see the sprite-based fans in the stands.
Sound wise, Martin Tyler and Andy Gray continue to do their job well, with some remarks that will steal a smile when you first hear them, but on occasion they will still talk about something completely different in several important moments of the game. The songs that make up the soundtrack are well chosen, fitting better with the overall game than the 'madness' of previous years. However, the sounds from the field are kind of dull, a powerful shot being represented audibly like a simple pass, but the hoots, applauses or shouts of encouragement from the public and from the stadium announcer are excellent.
On the other hand, I didn’t really understood why the graphics settings can only be accessed through an external configuration utility, being impossible to change the resolution or level of detail once you start the game. Also, configuring the keyboard control scheme can be a real adventure, since the standard one is… let's say debatable. Firstly, because the actual settings need to be done from the tool mentioned above, and secondly, because you have to memorize the buttons of the Xbox 360 controller.
In other words, you can bind Space for X or Shift for A, but you aren’t told what is actually X or A in the game; either you already know, as a fan, or are about to find out, as a novice, by reading the Xbox 360 Controller section in the manual. Either way, EA gets a black eye in this regard for their "interest" in porting the game. What’s ironic though is that dribbling is more difficult when using a keyboard, as well as controlling the players in certain situations, so ultimately you’ll need to use a controller if you want to play properly.
Although producers should learn from experience, FIFA 11 still hasn’t escaped the problems that are already famous in this series. The teammate AI is poor and no one will move a finger to get a pass that was not meant for that player, but will be intercepted by the opponent if they don’t do anything. In addition, when they don’t have the ball, no one will bother to try pressing the opponents, being content to keep their hands in their pockets. On the other hand, the differences between Professional, World Class and Legendary are quite pronounced, so opponents can really pose problems if you are looking for a challenge and play with all the assists off.
The referees, however, still have some way to go, because some of their decisions are absolutely ridiculous. For example, I once managed to score, but the goal was revoked due to a foul and my goalkeeper received a red card. And aside from the obvious fouls which aren’t called out, sometimes a player will receive a yellow card, but it will be registered to another.
In single-player we have Manager Mode (where you, uhm, manage a club, taking care of aspects such as transfers, players' salaries, developing new talent in the football academy and meet the management's expectations, because if you don’t have results, you’ll get fired), Tournament Mode (you pick a team and participate in a competition that you need to win) and Be A Pro: Seasons (you create or take an existing player and lead him to the ultimate goal of becoming the best), with the mention that the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 editions let you choose a career as a goalkeeper in Be A Pro: Seasons, which is not featured on the PC.
Another missing element is the Creation Center, where you can create and edit your own team, from the home stadium to the players and the type of shirts they will wear. This is very interesting and fun, giving you complete freedom in any decision you want to make. Unfortunately, we must be content with the thought that, maybe, in FIFA 12 we will have it on PC as well. The other two innovations that have remained exclusive to the console versions this year are Personality Plus (for a more realistic behavior) and Pro Passing, which forces players to pay more attention to the passes, not only to press button and continue the attack, knowing that the ball will always reach its destination.
On the bright side, with the new engine came a new physics simulation, and players really have weight now. This can be easily observed when you suddenly stop a runner like Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo. They need only a few steps to stop the ball, while a player like Puyol will react more slowly.
It may not sound like much, but when you start to play and see how players interact with the ball, clashing with each other, fighting in aerial duels or changing the direction, you will realize that the whole experience is… different from what you knew, in the best sense of the word. Another benefit brought by the new physics is that you can more easily see which players must be substituted because they are tired, as the difference in a duel between a defender without lungs and a fresh striker is clearly visible.