FIFA 11. It's FIFA 10, but better. After playing this year's version of EA's blockbuster football sim, that's the best I could come up with for an opening. It's true, though. FIFA 10 was by far the best football game I'd ever played, and this latest iteration is that game with a smattering of new features, tweaked and refined where needed. As such, you can probably stop reading now if you want. What follows is about 1000 words on exactly what's new, what's changed and what makes it a better game, but it's still essentially a trumped-up version of FIFA 10.
On the pitch is where the changes matter most, so I'll jump straight in to how this year's game feels to play. At risk of sounding like a broken record, FIFA 11 initially feels very similar to FIFA 10, but after a few games the differences in player physicality start to become abundantly obvious. Whereas in 10 you could somehow wrestle the ball away from a giant even if you had control of a player barely big enough to go on the rides at Alton Towers, now it's a whole lot more difficult. Player size and weight will determine if you can hold off a pursuing defender, or snuff out danger by simply pushing away the oncoming attacker.
Other changes are less immediately obvious. Pro passing gives you more control over where you're sending the ball, but unless you're an expert it's unlikely you'll even notice; such is the help given when played with assists turned on. It's worth persevering with no assists, though: Whereas it seems that you can ping the ball about as you wish using the default settings, with manual passing it feels as though the stabilisers have been taken off and you're playing properly for the first time.
There's also a revamped penalty system, with a gauge for composure, a power meter and fully analogue aiming. Stop the bar in the red on the composure gauge and you'll fire wide or over the bar; use too much power and hold a direction for too long and you'll miss the target. It's a fiddly system at first, but definitely better than the overly simple penalty mechanic we've had in the past.
These changes have made a more realistic virtual game of football; one in which it's harder to break down defences, where skilful players are worth their weight in gold, and careful build-up is key. The best teams put you under pressure as soon as you receive the ball, and frustrate with their ability to retain possession, but they can all be ripped apart if you use the right formation, utilise the required tactics and have the skills. Timing is the key to everything, whether simply passing or trying to hammer the ball into the top corner, as a player off balance or being harassed is incredibly likely to fluff his shot or end up passing to the opposition.
One of FIFA 10's most high profile problems was the ease at which you could chip onrushing keepers. This appears to have been solved by making chips harder to pull off and keepers a bit more intelligent. As every player now has his own personality, some keepers are more likely to go crazy and rush you than others, but on the whole even the Almunias of the football world try to cut down your goal scoring options.