Preview

FIFA 11

A winning eleven?

No, FIFA 11 does not allow you to commit serial adultery, even if that does seem to be a footballer's primary activity off the pitch. Instead, EA Canada is focusing on the core gameplay tenets that made FIFA 10 such a critical and commercial success, converting some die-hard PES fans (us included) in the process. Every year, as yet another yearly update arrives like clockwork, we're presented with an additional new innovation or feature and of course FIFA 11 is no different.

This year's big back-of-the-box features? 'Be A Goalkeeper' joins FIFA's deep and involving 'Be A Pro' mode, giving players a chance to stand in the box and stare out into the field waiting for the opportunity to spring into action. It's a bit of a weird one, offering up to 15 seasons of goalkeeping, should you so desire. This essentially boils down to a lot of standing around and barking orders at your team by pressing various face buttons to suggest that your teammates pass, put in through balls, crosses or shots.

It all works perfectly fine with the default camera positioned in a way that allows you to get a good overview of what's going on further down the pitch while enabling you to get the best view of an incoming strike when you need to prepare to make a save. Controls are nice and simple, so punching the ball away or rushing out to grab it from under a player's feet is mapped to the Xbox 360 controller's X and Y buttons respectively (using the 'alternate classic' control scheme) and holding the left bumper draws you back to the game's recommended spot, as denoted by a circle and arrow in the box.

Diving to attempt a save is mapped to both analogue sticks, so the left is used to move around - being in the right position is key - and the right stick allows you to make dives, which have to be impeccably timed to perform a a successful save. There are a couple of visual aids to help you out, the most useful of which is a line that plots the projected trajectory of the ball when it's heading towards the onion bag. When the line's white, it's a predicted path, but when it turns red, get ready to make a leap at the right time or you'll suffer the humiliation of letting one get past you. Keeping a clean sheet is a tough challenge, but a rewarding one.

Be A Goalkeeper, despite being well put together, is still an incredibly lonely and uneventful endeavour, unless you happen to be lucky enough to be involved in a match where shots are constantly rained down upon your goal. Otherwise, you'll spend much of the simulated 90-minutes doing exactly what real goalkeepers do. That is standing in the cold, waiting for something to happen, and when it does you'll need to have your wits about you if you want to make a save. It's certainly an interesting perspective to play the game from, but whether you'll be able to persevere with Be A Goalkeeper for one season, let alone the full 15 will depend on just how much you want to play as a goalie and whether you have the patience to do very little for the most part.

Of course, you can play the game your way and you're not restricted to staying in your area. Take our first match playing as Wolves keeper Marcus Hahnemann. Going 1-0 down to West Ham after 60 minutes, we decided to rush up the field like ex-Manchester United keeper, Peter Schmeichel in a bid to score a heroic last minute goal. Amazingly, we managed to put in a good shot to challenge the opposition's goalie, but ultimately failed to make an impact and our match rating plummeted to a lowly 4.3. Apparently, racing up the pitch in an ill-advised effort to score is a bad idea for a goalkeeper. Lesson learnt.

Playing as a goalkeeper also extends to FIFA 11's online multiplayer, which now supports a full team of 11, which includes keepers for the first time. Hence the 'we are 11' tagline that's been wheeled out for this instalment of FIFA. Unfortunately, our preview code crashed (despite being 95% complete) whenever we attempted to get an online match going, so we were unable to find out whether being the goalkeeper in a multiplayer game is like effectively drawing the short straw, but we can't imagine it being as immediate and enjoyable as getting stuck into a match as one of the other ten players battling it out on the pitch.

Everything else in FIFA 11 is much the same as FIFA 10, albeit with the refinements, visual touches and gameplay additions brought to the table in 2010 FIFA World Cup, such as the new penalty-taking system. For those who missed 2010 FIFA World Cup, the new penalties now involve a little more than simply picking a direction and then pressing a button. Now you need to stop an oscillating needle in the green area of a composure bar, hold down the shoot button until you get the power right and then aim with the analogue stick. It makes for a far more tense round of penalties than previous.

Obviously, there are other more subtle refinements that combine to make the game feel slicker and more polished than previous FIFA titles. At present however, FIFA 11 still feels like a small step forward rather than a giant leap, and elements like the interface and presentation remain mostly unchanged. But then EA don't need to be making sweeping changes to what has proven to be a highly successful formula, so perhaps the addition of a new mode, some new gameplay options and an overhauled Career Mode is all that FIFA 11 needs to do this season to retain its supremacy over the competition. FIFA 11 looks as though it'll be another high watermark year for the series then, as it both plays better than ever and looks superb.

FIFA 11 is due for release on September 28th, 2010 in North America and October 1st, 2010 in the UK and Europe.

PS4 Review
The Evil Within
Can Shinji Mikami's twisted new world revive the fortunes of triple-A survival horror?