Be a soccer lifer in FIFA 11

7:00 PM on 07.27.2010

If you followed the World Cup this summer, you may have seen Argentinian manager Diego Maradona, who came to the position after a storied career as a player. In most sports games, player and manager modes are kept separate. I always thought it would be cool if, say, you played through a two-decade career in a hockey game and went on to be a team’s GM. In FIFA 11, you can finally do that.

I recently got some hands-on time with the upcoming soccer game at an EA showcase in New York, and I’m here to tell you about it. Follow me to the jump!

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FIFA 11 (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 [previewed], Wii, PC, PSP, PS2, DS, mobile)
Developer: EA Canada
Publisher: EA Sports
To be released:
September 28, 2010 (NA)
October 1, 2010 (EU)


Until now, the FIFA series has had separate player and manager modes, “Be A Pro Seasons Mode” and “Manager Mode.” But the franchise is in the second year of a planned three-year restructuring of the setup. According to the developer I spoke with, tinkering with the Manager Mode without screwing things up was getting increasingly difficult, since it was still running on a foundation of last-gen (i.e., PS2/Xbox/GC) code.

In FIFA 11, EA Canada is combining Be A Pro and Manager into a single 15-year Career mode that will allow you to play as a single footballer on a team, retire from the field, and then become a manager. If you’re only interested in being a manager, you can do that from the start, and you’ll even have the option of being a player-manager. In creating Career mode, the developers have implemented a new statistical simulation engine so the better teams will actually do better in the standings. They’ve also designed a new HUD so navigation is more intuitive, and improved transfer logic as well. It sounds like a major step forward for the series, especially when you consider that managers will be able to set up strategies from the new web-based Creation Center.

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On the gameplay side, the effects of Personality+ will be evinced in player actions on the field. If you’ve got a brilliant passer on the pitch, he’ll be able to make passes that other guys could only dream of completing. (If you’re playing against a CPU team with that kind of player, you’ll notice that he will tend to pass instead of shoot.) Speaking of passing, 360° “Pro Passing” is new this year, so you can finally pass in any direction. When that’s combined with Personality+, you’ll see that your better passers will have a much better trajectory on their passes: with the Pro Passing controls, you’ll be able to put backspin on a lead, for example, so it doesn’t bounce away from the target -- assuming that your player has that ability.

Personality+ also has an effect on dribbling and defense. Players possessing more skilled feet will be able to pull off ankle-breaking dribble moves, while lesser players will simply lose control of the ball. Better defenders might have a wider tackle radius, for example. And thanks to the new 360° off-the-ball jostling system, everybody will be fighting for possession at all times.

The challenge in implementing a feature like Personality+ is this: How will players be aware of footballers’ skills? I can’t even legitimately call myself a soccer fan, so I certainly don’t have any idea of who might be an accurate shooter or a strong tackler. EA Canada is experimenting with visual indicators -- I saw a prototype of a “badge” icon next to a player’s name in the menu’s roster -- but they’re not sure about it yet. It reminded me of the icons under skaters’ names in NHL 2002 on the PS2, where you’d know if someone had a high-powered slapshot or was a big hitter. Another idea is doing it through commentary: for instance, if you controlled a particular player, the commentator might point out what he’s good at.

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The FIFA franchise is renowned for a reason: EA Canada always does its best to make significant improvements upon the past year’s game. This year’s Career mode seems like a great way to let gamers trace a path through the soccer world and enshrine themselves in virtual history; I’m excited to try it out for myself in a couple of months.

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