Sometimes it simply doesn't take a lot to become better and FIFA Soccer 11 proves this very well.
FIFA Soccer 11 is a great game, but EA Sports had to do little to keep it at that level of greatness. Last year they pretty much went in and did an overhaul of the franchise. They brought better graphics, gameplay and other huge improvements to make the soccer (football) experience better for the user. Prior to FIFA Soccer 10 it seemed like the franchise was just going through the motions. EA Sports could have 'gone through the motions' with FIFA Soccer 11, but it also could have hurt what made FIFA Soccer 10 great by unnecessarily overhauling the series again.
Thus lies the dilemma.
Let's start out by talking about what's been there in the past, but improved for FIFA Soccer 11. Essentially, you will be looking at the same type of gameplay that you embraced with a giant hug last year. What EA has essentially done with what it created last year was improve it here and there. You'll get more accurate team attributes, so if you want a fast scoring team or a defensive minded team then you can choose the real life version of that and get what you wanted. It's like if you chose the Cleveland Browns in Madden NFL 11 and expected not to score the entire season then you would not score the entire season; which would be accurate as hell. It's the same type of accuracy that will draw you into the game and bring you closer to the true soccer experience. Of course, this is what you had last year, but it's just been tweaked and made a little bit better in FIFA Soccer 11.
Another improvement is the accurate passing game. While I will admit that I was a mediocre soccer fan up until last year's FIFA game, I was drawn in and captured by the accuracy of passing and the improved feel of the controls. For FIFA Soccer 11 the passing game is incredibly smooth and intuitive. When you're on the run down the field and you see a player open and pass the ball you will accurately get that ball in the right place at the right time for your fellow player. Last year that wasn't always the case, but this year it's been improved and it plays perfectly like you think it would play. The game won't allow you to do something that is impossible, such as squeeze a pass into a space that is defended by three people (or at least it won't let you do it so easily), but it will put it where it needs to go when it needs to go there. It's an improved passing experience and that's just how the rest of the gameplay elements truly go.
Now, if you're looking for something new on the gameplay side of things then look no further than controlling the keeper. Be warned, this is potentially one of the hardest gigs on the field. You'll be able to control the keeper for the first time and jump, dive and catch all the wonderful attempts at your goal. It's one of the biggest options/improvements for FIFA Soccer 11 and one that you'll have to embrace as such. I played as keeper once and that was it for me. I don't like the responsibility of keeping balls out of nets in soccer, but I appreciate it from a distance. Still, for you insane, responsibility nuts out there, you will be right at home.
Again, EA Sports didn't reinvent gameplay in FIFA Soccer 11 they just improved upon an already successful formula. Let's talk about something they did add to this year's game.
The career mode in this year's FIFA is a huge addition. The career mode allows you to play as player, manager and player/manager. Looking at this from a distance you can see the same type of mode in a game like NHL 11. You can take a pretty much unknown figure in hockey and propel them to greatness through a series of trials and tribulations. It's incredibly addictive and a mode that will fascinate and entertain any level of NHL fan out there. Well, FIFA Soccer 11 has that same type of mode and it's equally as fascinating and addictive as it was in NHL 11. Starting out as a 'rookie' for all intents and purpose, the career mode allows you to customize your player and take your player through the path you so choose. From choosing their name, number and looks you can literally create your own persona to run through a soccer career. What's great about this is that you must utilize your team's strengths to make your career better. For example, if your team is a quick striking offensive threat then you must strategize how you can get open more and how you can squeeze the correct pass into traffic to get the quick goals on the run. My team, Arsenal, has no particularly strategy, so I have to figure out a way to make my team want to score goals (which is pretty damn difficult). I'm not sure how aggressive Arsenal is in real life, but I am sure that they hate scoring goals. For the first five games of my season our team didn't score a single point. I know what you guys are probably thinking, "Nathan, it's probably the way you're playing." WRONG. I was in position nearly 90% of the time and played a 'team game' almost always. I know this isn't Madden NFL 11 and I'm not trying to be a superstar; I was always in the right place at the right time. My team just didn't play well. Anyway, it's extremely realistic and puts you in the mood for soccer.
Before I move on, let me just say that the other two options in career mode are simply going to make all the fans in Europe as happy as can be. I know that Sega's Soccer/Football Manager is one of the hottest selling titles overseas and fans of that will be delighted with the addition of the 'manager' portion of the game. For me, I just don't get the fascination, but I can appreciate the add-on and know that the Europeans out there will appreciate it too.
Outside of the career mode you also get some other improvements for the game. The presentation in FIFA Soccer 11 is outrageously good. One of the biggest drives in the series is the ability to get 'into' the game thanks to the presentation. While I would love to tell you that the improved animation and the smooth crisp look to the stadiums is the reason to come together and praise EA, the biggest reason I think the presentation has improved is the realistic crowds. In the heat of a tournament when you need your fans to come together to boost your team you can depend on the crowd noise to either put your team in the driver's seat for a victory or to be there to boo the (bleep) out of you for sucking. Hearing the South American drums or the drunken madness of the Brits (just kidding, but I do imagine it) as they cheer for or against you is something to behold. It literally raises the excitement of the match, even if your Arsenal team has a better chance of catching a cold than scoring a goal. Regardless, you will be enthralled and emotionally swayed by the improved crowd reaction/noise that you see in FIFA Soccer 11.
So the big question here is, "Is the game worth the additional $59.95 when you're basically getting the same game as last year's?" That's a tough question and one you'll have to answer on your own. For me, I think the game is worth it as you'll get the same good game, but with improved elements and a new career mode that will probably make it all worthwhile. Last year's FIFA game was the overhaul year for the franchise. They pretty much threw everything out and retooled it all. This year's isn't about reinventing the wheel, rather it's about making the wheel run even smoother. EA Sports delivers that type of improvement without damaging what made the game great last year. I will take tweaked animation, better presentation and a fantastically long career mode instead of an entirely different game. Now, if EA Sports takes this and doesn't do anything major to it in FIFA Soccer 12 I might have some reservations. Right now, the game is improved and made better without doing much and that's good enough for me. It's still fun offline and online and it's still a game that will make you want to fire it up on a regular basis.
For gaming purists out there you need to let go of the typical formula of 'reinvention' every year and just embrace what makes the game fun. Granted, I know that $59.95 is a lot to pay for a game these days, but its well worth the experience and you can come back to this game year after year, even if you don't buy next year's version.