Soccer is not wildly popular in the United States as compared to the rest of the known world. Our Major League Soccer, the first matches of which were played in 1996, doesn't garner the same fanatical supporters that football leagues in England or Germany do. Even though many of us play soccer growing up, that schoolyard activity rarely translates to a love of the modern sport. U.S. audiences show a glimmer of interest every four years when the World Cup is held, but that spark quickly dies. When was the last time soccer was mentioned in your office or school? Probably when someone said that FIFA 11 was coming out.
Any lack of interest in the sport itself shouldn't preclude you from enjoying a well-made videogame. And FIFA 11 is just that, a good game, but it doesn't push the boundaries into masterpiece. It builds off the success of the series, especially the well-received FIFA 10, and further modernizes the game with slick animations, more responsive controls and a plethora of gameplay formats.
The controls remain largely unchanged from previous FIFAs. Passing depends more on the player's skill; pressing and holding the pass button makes your kick that much stronger. This allows a finely tuned offensive attack, but it can backfire when you want to make a quick but strong pass. If you hold the button for a longer kick, you might miss the passing opportunity.
There was a lot of hype made about how different soccer stars behave in the game, as opposed to the general mooks who play for lesser known teams, or in the U.S. (Zang!) But if you're not a fan, and don't know Fabregas from your fart gas, the feature falls a bit flat. I'm waiting for the inevitable update from EA which will allow you to kit out your Virtual Pro with one of the personality types like Finisher or Playmaker. Otherwise, it feels like a wasted feature for those who don't follow soccer religiously.
I enjoyed crafting my Virtual Pro, giving him a huge afro and the name Bob Jingle. In the career mode, you can be a player, a manager or, new to FIFA 11, a player-manager for any soccer team in the world. Your pro gets hired and signs a contract with certain demands. These demands, for the player, are all performance based and are not necessarily easy. For example, when I was signed as a reserve to a good team, I only played 1 in 3 games and was eventually let go at the end of the season because I didn't perform very well.
Thankfully, that didn't end Bob Jingle's career. I had several lesser teams offer me a contract; I signed as a key player for the Norwegian Kongsvinger team and I'm currently leading them in scoring. It's cool that I want to play well in order to try to secure a more lucrative contract in a better league. It feels like I'm roleplaying as a sports professional.
I was impressed with the ease of online multiplayer in FIFA 11. Searching for a ranked match sets up a game with up to 11 players on a side, including the goalkeeper, and each player needs to perform their position well in order to win. That can get boring when the ball doesn't seem to bounce your way, but I could see it being cool when you have a core group of friends that you play with together.