The Backpage with Darren Cross
As Mondays go, Monday August 2 definitely ranks in my Top 5 Mondays ever. I can’t remember what happened on the other four days on the list to compare it to, but this particular Monday has got to be up there anyway. It was that good.
At least, it was until Carlos Tevez ruined it. Let me explain…
Minutes after I arrived at the MATCH offices for a day’s work, three things landed on my desk and each new item trumped the one before. For starters, the new Arcade Fire album came through and they’re one of my favourite bands ever, so I was more than a bit chuffed about that. (It’s excellent, by the way).
Then I signed for another package that turned out to be an iPhone 4. I had absolutely no idea how to use this, but it looked better than the brick I used to have and automatically tagged a ‘Sent from my iPhone 4’ signature to the end of each email, so I obviously spent the next couple of hours sending ‘Hello. Sent from my iPhone 4’ messages to all my friends who haven’t got one. I think they liked that.
Soon after, I got another email from the postroom telling me I had a third package to sign for. Thinking that my day couldn’t possibly get any better, I wandered off to pick it up expecting it to be something far less exciting than the album and the phone, but I was wrong.
It was FIFA 11.
Now I’m not the sort of person who spends his time at work waiting to go home then jumping out of his seat as soon as the working day ends, but with FIFA 11 in my hand and my debug 360 console 30 miles away, I wasn’t planning on hanging around any longer than I had to on this occasion. As soon as the clock struck 5.30, I was out of there and on the road, looking forward to seeing how the game had progressed since the last time I played it at EA’s FIFA headquarters in Vancouver, back in May.
After going through the loading screens – which were all just placeholders in this version – I arrived at the main menu and quickly selected kick-off, which was actually my only option anyway as none of the other game modes were available in this build.
As is customary with the FIFA series now, the game asked me who my favourite team was (Man. United) and my level of experience. With hindsight I definitely should have selected ‘complete amateur’, but more on that in a sec.
Off I went into a derby match against big-spending local rivals City thinking that I’d try out some of United’s new boys and youngsters, so Chris Smalling came in for Rio, the Da Silva twins started in the full-back positions and Javier Hernandez made his debut up front alongside Wazza. We were all set.
And we made a comfortable start. Keen to see how Pro Passing had progressed, I started moving the ball to my players in space, paying particular attention to the pass bar. As you may already know, you now have far more control over the weight and pace of your passes by choosing how long to hold the short or lob pass buttons down for, and the game gives you feedback by putting a marker on the bar to show you which point you should have let go to execute a better pass. It’s a very clever feature and that marker, combined with the visual feedback you get from watching the ball, really helps you identify when you’ve got it right – and wrong – so that you learn for next time. Very clever.
So we began to keep the ball and play some neat and tidy football, which was highlighted by the in-game stats that popped up and were commented on by the, err, commentators, but at no point did it feel ping-pong in any way. That’s not to say it’s not possible to put a series of nice, quick passes together and advance on your opponents’ goal, because it is. The difference now though is that you have to work harder for it, making sure that you’ve got players with good passing attributes in the right positions to receive the ball and move it on or have a pop at goal. The result, when your efforts do pay off, is a real feeling of achievement because you’ve just done so much more than simply hit the pass button five times in a row. Ping-pong passing is definitely a thing of the past.
The other thing that really stood out for me was the initial visual impact of Personality+. Anyone with a decent knowledge of football will be left in absolutely no doubt about which player they’re controlling when using a team they’re familiar with. On top of the way the players look, you can also tell who many of them are by the way they move, which was the first thing I thought as Carlos Tevez muscled his way past my centre-backs and slammed the ball into the back of my net.
To make matters worse, Carlos decided to show me how good another of FIFA 11’s new features is by running over to the fans and performing his trademark hands-behind-the-ears celebration, just like he did when he bagged in the Carling Cup game against United last season. Although that stung a bit (Tevez was my favourite player when he was at United and I’m still gutted we sold him) it did make me sit back and appreciate the work the team at EA have done on celebrations. It looked amazing and got even better when Tevez’s team-mate Adebayor ran up behind him and picked him up, all still within the in-game camera – there was no cutscene. I almost stood up and clapped.
I played the game for a good few hours after that, and got my ass kicked pretty much every time – the AI seemed much more aggressive in defence and far more intelligent going forward – but that’s a good thing as it promises some real challenges offline when playing on a high skill setting.
Considering my version is far from final, it plays really well and the new features I’ve briefly talked about above make it feel more like real football than any other version of FIFA ever has. I can’t wait to see how much further it has improved by the time we see the final version on October 1.
See you next week.