FIFA 10 cemented the return of giant, as everything finally came together for EA Canada, the developers of the FIFA franchise. Being on top isn't a position they've been used to for a while though, so this year's game was probably a bigger test for them as they had to further strengthen their position at the top. It's because of this that FIFA 11 perhaps didn't do as much as it could have, but that doesn't stop it from being the best footballing experience of 2010.
On face value, FIFA 11 might seem quite similar to the previous year's instalment and that's because it is. The developers have opted to consolidate their efforts and make tweaks to the winning formula, as opposed to making dashing and bold changes. You can't fault them for it, either, especially as their engine is currently the cream of the crop.
So what are these tweaks? Well, the first is Pro Passing, which attempts to make passing even more realistic. It gives the player a bit more control over the direction, but the game also attempts to modify the accuracy of a pass based on things like, how much pressure the player is under, or what the state of the pitch is. There is also a new attribute for players called Personality Plus, which gives players a much more accurate representation of their real-life counterpart. For example, someone like Wayne Rooney will have a "perk" which will give him clinical finishing inside the box, while someone like Frank Lampard will have one which helps him to shoot better from long range.
Other refinements have also been made in the field of animations, and the physics behind play. Tackles, shots, saves and passes feel much more natural now as there are so many different animations to choose from.
The bulk of your FIFA experience will probably be in one of the career modes. The main mode has been refined slightly. It's now possible to be a player manager, combining both "Be A Pro" and "Manager Mode", although it's still possible to play both of those separately if that's your cup of tea. The mode lasts for 15 seasons, so the game will have some serious legs for those who wish to invest the time.
The interface has been slightly changed to make things easier to navigate, and it's also now easier to compare your performance with other people who're on your friends list.
What is perhaps FIFA 11's biggest addition this year is the ability to play as a goalkeeper, something which football games have struggled with for years. The closest anyone really got was playing a keeper in a penalty shootout, but now it's possible to control them in a full match, both online and offline. Surprisingly, it actually works well and can be a whole lot of fun - even just mucking around in the practice area. The game provides an interface which allows you to see what the angle is like for shots, and where would be a good position to stand. It uses EA Sports' two-stick approach too, as movement is done via the left stick and performing saves is the right stick.
It's also possible to play through career mode as a goalkeeper, although at times, it can become a bit boring. Winning a match depends entirely on your outfield players, although as normal career mode, it's possible to give players commands, so there's at least some element of control.
The game's presentation is much the same as last year's iteration. The only real changes come with the animations, as previously mentioned, which do help to give the game a bit more authenticity. The commentary team of Martin Tyler and Andy Gray also produces fantastic results, as always, and they certainly help to bring matches alive.
There's no denying that FIFA 11 has some great replay value, and although very little has been added to the online from the perspective of modes, the interface and reliability of the online service has been improved significantly. It's a shame more couldn't be added though, especially as some of the modes in Road To The World Cup were very well received.
FIFA 11 is a game that was more about consolidation than moving to the next level and that's apparent all the way through. After all, the biggest addition this year is the ability to play as a goalkeeper in full matches. There have been refinements to the core engine though and they do enhance the gameplay and the presentation is solid as always. FIFA 11 is the best footballing experience of 2010, but hopefully they can push on from here and wow us in 2011.