The FIFA Soccer series on the Wii has been filled with lots of big changes year after year. The 08 version tried to take full advantage of the motion control scheme, and while it was daring, it wasn't exactly practical. FIFA Soccer 09 brought with it full use of Miis and a simpler control scheme that alienated Wii owners who were looking for an experience similar to what other consoles were getting. The 10 version brought back an experience with sim elements but went overboard with the dramatics of an arcade game. Like clockwork, EA Sports has changed things up again with FIFA Soccer 11 as it tries to retain what worked and add elements to give it more depth. The result is a good soccer game that could be the foundation for future Wii iterations.
There are a good number of modes in FIFA 11, with a nice balance of new and familiar. Hit The Pitch is your standard 11-on-11 game, and aside from updated rosters, nothing has really changed. The AI for both sides remains aggressive and has a good sense of clock awareness. Gameplay is still good for up to four players, and just about every soccer club from every league is available to place into a match. While the core of the game is the same, one thing that has been removed is the flair used for shots and other moves. For example, the removal of slow motion for a majority of the shots helps the game run more smoothly and brings it closer to what sim fans expect.
Hit The Streets is one of two new additions to the series, and it fits in rather well with the rest of the game. If you're familiar with the FIFA Street series from the previous console generation, then you'll instantly know what this mode is all about. While you can still pick any of the available squads, only the top four players and goalie from each team will play in much smaller arenas that range from an indoor gym to a Brazilian neighborhood. Matches can either be timed or goal-based, where the first to reach the target number of goals wins. Aside from scoring rules, no other rules or penalties exist, and since every area is walled in, you can expect to use the walls to your advantage, such as bouncing passes from it. The game doesn't reach the level of FIFA Street, though, where you have gamebreakers or an extensive trick system. However, you have the ability to use randomly given power-ups, such as shrinking your opponents, gaining super-speed and taking more powerful shots. It all makes for a more exciting arcade version of the sport, and the inclusion of this fast-paced version adds more value to the game.
Streets To Stadiums is the other new addition to the game, and it is just as intriguing. Like the Be A Pro mode from the PS3/Xbox 360 versions, you create your own character and take him through his career. That's where the similarities end, though; here, you start out with street soccer matches before going to the big leagues. Even then, once you enter that level, you're immediately playing in every match instead of starting out with the reserves. It's a simple mode that works out well since you'll have more time playing meaningful moments instead of non-essential ones, and it makes up for the fact that, despite a deep leveling system, you don't get to carry out the career for as many years as in the other version of the game.
Battle For Glory is the managerial mode, and it plays out just as you would expect. You still get to play a whole season as the team of your choice, but you can also hit some managerial goals for bonuses to help your team through the season. It plays out well enough, despite lacking any pomp and circumstance when you win your respective championship. Those expecting to see any differences or additions to this mode compared to last year's version will be disappointed, as there are no visible differences at all.
The Wii isn't normally associated with online gaming, but that didn't stop EA from giving it a whole host of online options. Standard 11-on-11 games can be played online with both one-on-one and two-on-two configurations. Both ranked and unranked matches are available for play, and while the game makes use of the infamous Friend Code system, you also have the ability to use your EA account to find friends and view leaderboards. What's more surprising than the modes is the fact that the online play is free from lag, which still plagues some recent Wii games. Despite the number of months that have passed since the game's release, there's still a healthy online community. If there's one complaint to be had for online mode, it would be that you can't play street soccer online. For such a big addition to the game, seeing it restricted to offline play is a bit disappointing.
Of all of the modes in FIFA 11, the Training mode ends up being the most unsatisfactory because of what it fails to do. There's the ability to play against the CPU, but since it's just you performing what you want with no instructions, you never feel that you're learning something valuable that you didn't know before. The rest of the mode is simply comprised of static shots of what the buttons do in every control scheme, but since this information is always displayed during loading screens, it may have been better if the mode had been omitted.
Speaking of controls, there are plenty of options, and it becomes clear that some schemes work infinitely better than others. Classic Controller support is here, and if you've ever played a FIFA game using traditional controls, then you'll know exactly how to control everything from the get-go. It even uses both of the Z buttons for actions, thus explaining the omission of GameCube controller support. Nunchuk and Wii Remote support works well, though with fewer available buttons, each one pulls double duty for shot and pass types; it's cumbersome for those who are just learning how to play the game. While IR controls aren't there, motion controls are used for slide tackles, but the game doesn't read your shakes every time you try to perform the move.
If Classic Controller support represents the pinnacle of game controls and the Nunchuk/Wii Remote combo works well, then Wii Remote-only controls are the worst possible way to control the game. Utilizing the All-Play system of the older EA Sports games, player movement is completely automatic as you take control of when players end up shooting, passing or tackling. Despite being a simpler control scheme, it feels like you're barely doing anything but button-mashing in hopes that something good will happen. Oddly enough, this control scheme also exposes some AI flaws, as your player often either runs in place or, in the case of street soccer games, gets stuck in the environment before being wedged out by opposing players. Unless you don't have the necessary equipment to use other control schemes, there's no reason for anyone to use the Wii Remote-only option.
If you're familiar with the general look of any EA Sports game on the Wii — with the exception of the Tiger Woods series — then you'll know what to expect from this game's graphics. The character models go away from the more realistic look in favor of a slightly cartoony-look instead. Muscles are more pronounced and so are limbs but the faces are still modeled well enough that big-name players are instantly recognizable. Elsewhere, you'll see arenas with well-animated crowds and bright, but flat, grass and nets with a decent amount of movement when hit. The street soccer arenas are more interesting to look at because of the details, and the textures for arenas and uniforms are sharp enough that there's only a little bit of blurring.
The camera could use a bit of work, though. The camera in the traditional games is pulled back far enough that players may be small but you'll see more of the field. Since it matches the angles seen on TV broadcasts, the level of zoom is acceptable. What isn't acceptable, though, is the zoom used for street soccer games. Despite having less space to play with, the camera zoom feels the same, so the playfield on-screen is much smaller because the bottom half of the screen isn't being utilized. A more zoomed-in view for this game mode would have made it look more exciting.
The sound helps create an immersive experience in FIFA 11 thanks to its abundant use of the Dolby Pro Logic II codec. Street games use it well for wall bounces, but you really appreciate it when you play in pro stadiums and hear the crowd's roar of approval — or disapproval — clearly coming through your sound system. The other sound effects, such as tackles and ball hits, are exaggerated in comparison to the other console versions, but that's not a negative when you consider how well it fits with the game's style. The music is the same licensed soundtrack you've come to expect from the series, with a heavy influx of European rock coming through during every menu. The commentators retain the same qualities as before, although one of them has changed. The audio experience doesn't suffer at all.
It feels like FIFA Soccer 11 has found its way in terms of how the series should evolve. Toning down the flashiness in regular gameplay makes the experience much smoother while the addition of street soccer mode, while not exactly new, feels like a worthwhile addition. Its online mode is excellent, and both career modes provide just the right amount of depth for the target audience. There's still room for improvement in some areas, but for the most part, the elements come together to create an enjoyable game. Wii-owning soccer fans will do fine to pick up FIFA Soccer 11 for their systems.
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