FIFA Soccer 11 Hands-On

The developers of the world's biggest sports game are listening to your feedback, as evidenced by our first look at their next project.

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In a sports series as large as EA Sports' FIFA Soccer series, the changes that happen from one year to the next occur at many different levels. Naturally, there are new features to be added and tweaked, as well as gameplay elements that the development team has worked into the game. During the past few years, however, the development team at EA Canada has been listening to the huge FIFA community more and more--involving the hardcore contingent into the development process, with the result being a soccer series that has flourished both critically and commercially. That same approach has once again informed the upcoming FIFA Soccer 11, which looks to address many of the concerns FIFA fans had with last year's game.

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Perhaps the most noticeable change to this year's FIFA has been made to the player models themselves, which, according to producers, have been rebuilt to look even more like their real-life counterparts than ever before. For casual FIFA players, the difference might not be noticeable, but when compared to the players in last year's game, the change is obvious and for the better. In general terms, players have been reshaped slightly to give them a more athletic appearance, with larger, more rounded shoulders and more powerful-looking legs. The most important shift in appearance has been made with the introduction of accurate body types in the game. There are four main body types: short, average, tall, and special (for the Peter Crouches of the world), as well as three subcategories for each body type: lean, regular, and bulky. More variety in body types means players will be more recognizable on the pitch.

The new player models are just one part of the approach that EA Sports has dubbed "Personality +" for its players. Responding to criticism that the FIFA franchise has lacked personality, the team has looked for ways to inject more realism and life into its players. Consider some of these changes:

    1. Individual dribble styles--Some players will keep the ball close to their feet and run with short steps; others will dribble with longer kicks and more lumbering strides. Elite players, such as Ronaldo or Lionel Messi, will feature dribble animations that are a based on their real-life style.

    2. Customized celebrations--Carlos Tevez bent over and shaking his rump; Fernando Torres sliding on his legs, his arms in the air--these user-controlled signature celebrations will be found in FIFA Soccer 11, and players will also be able to interact with teammates after scoring a goal. Producers told us the team is aiming to have more than 90 trademark celebrations in this year's game.

    3. AI teammates act like the real thing--By adding an attribute known as "work rate," EA is able to better emulate how players that are not being controlled by the player act on the pitch. When you aren't playing as Wayne Rooney, you'll watch as the notoriously busy striker works up and down the field for the entire game. His teammate Dimitar Berbatov, by contrast, is relatively sedate and will move to the ball only when the situation demands it in FIFA Soccer 11. As a result, knowing the work rate of your surrounding players will help you understand how to make the most of your team.

    4. Skills--Players in the FIFA series are rated by more than 30 separate attributes and a similar number of traits (which determine ability for special moves like long passes, specialized passes, and the like). According to producers, the team has gone to great lengths to tune, test, and tweak these attributes for all the players in the game, with the end goal being players who behave and play more like their real-life counterparts than ever before.

While adding personality to the game was a result of fan demand, it wasn't the top wish of the FIFA community. That honor fell to so-called "ping pong passing," a phenomenon in FIFA Soccer 10 where players could execute precise upfield passes in rapid succession to quickly move the ball up the pitch and, often, end up with the ball in the back of the opposing team's goal. A new passing system--known as "pro passing"--should help to alleviate that problem. The idea is to add a bit more user skill to the pass; in previous years, holding down the pass button for longer would result in a more powerful kick.

Thanks to a new 'work rate' attribute, your AI teammates will act more like the real thing than ever.
Thanks to a new 'work rate' attribute, your AI teammates will act more like the real thing than ever.

This year, however, there will be an "ideal" kick power (indicated by a line on the kicking meter) that will get the ball to your intended receiver quickly. An underpowered kick will still reach your target but at a slower clip (opening you up to the possibility of an interception), while an overpowered kick might either sail past your target or be a difficult ball to trap for your teammate. What's interesting about this system is that the "ideal power line" will appear only after you have kicked the ball; as a result, there will be a bit of trial and error as you get a feel for how to achieve perfect kick power based on the distance of the pass.

Adding more depth to the passing game is the idea of "contextual error," a concept that EA previously introduced to the shots in FIFA. A myriad of factors will now contribute to the success or failure of an individual pass, including obvious things like player skill, as well as direction of the kick, nearby defensive pressure, degree of the kick, and the like. As a result, first-time passes that demand a high degree of skill will be more challenging, just as they are in the real world. All of this feeds into another goal for FIFA Soccer 11: ensuring that highly skilled players are represented as truly elite on the pitch.

Goal keepers seem to be a perennial focus in the FIFA series, and that's no exception this year. One important change for FIFA 11 will be an increased reliance on momentum for keepers--when an opposing player takes a shot, the keeper will have to deal with his own body's weight when trying to get to the ball and make the stop. If he's moving in one direction and needs to change directions, his momentum might make it more difficult for him to make the play.

Corner kicks have also received some attention. Producers told us that in last year's game, players in the box had an uncanny ability to predict where the ball would land once the ball was in the air; this year, players will follow the ball's trajectory in the air and will have to make judgment calls on where they think the ball will land. Players with better awareness will be able to judge the ball's trajectory more quickly and get in position to make a play.

In addition to the above, there's a myriad of smaller gameplay fixes that the team is working on for FIFA Soccer 11 for things like top spin shots, analog sprint, more accurate net shapes, handballs (which will be included in this year's game), defensive pressure, and much more. The game will also let you save your replays to your hard disc, customize your soundtrack, and even customize and add your favorite team chants to the game. EA is currently playing all of this and a host of brand new features close to its collective vest. Stay tuned for more coverage of the game throughout the summer.

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