Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Martin [Print without images]

Thursday, October 28, 2010
It's (not) in the game


Admit it: Whether you're a fan of Wayne Rooney or not, the commercial for FIFA 11 featuring Wazza is pretty cool. It was enough to convince me to cough up the almost $60 at my local GameStop for the Xbox 360 version, even though I have last year's edition and despite the fact that I read a respected review that said FIFA 11 doesn't have enough whiz-bang upgrades to justify tossing your FIFA 10 in the dumpster. When it comes to soccer, I'm a sucker.

On my preferred level, easy, I demonstrated some mad dribbling skills and even pulled off a chip as Chicharito to score a goal. But after spending an afternoon going up against a 12-year-old who shall remain nameless, I realized two things:

1. Kids suck. They really do. I have been playing video games since the days of Donkey Kong and Pac-Man, the Atari 2600 and ColecoVision, so I should have the decided edge over a pre-teen. But no, my nephew, er, I mean, this kid not only schooled me, he executed button combinations that would cause my hands to seize up in a fit of carpal tunnel syndrome. Alas, I felt like the Pompey of the video gaming world, about to be relegated out of existence.

2. FIFA 11 is just not realistic enough. As my wily opponent kept finding the back of the net, I kept fishing for excuses. Anything, I thought, that would explain away this shambolic result from a kid who doesn't even play the beautiful game. I settled on the theory that FIFA 11 wasn't up to snuff. The game play was realistic enough -- at times even dazzling -- but it lacked the nuances and depth of storyline that would have turned things around for me so I could have properly concentrated and won.

What are the glitches? Glad you asked.

For starters, there were no halftime cutaway scenes of an angry Carlos Tevez having a bust-up with manager Roberto Mancini. Or, for that matter, no vignettes between games of a home-sick Tevez leaving for Argentina and leaving you, as manager, without your star striker for a week. You can't expect anyone to take a game seriously with such epic holes.

Defenders of the game will point to the franchise's new Personality Plus, a feature where the (mostly) big-name players display authentic emotions and moves (running, shooting, dribbling). It's cool, all right. And the critics over at IGN rightfully point out that FIFA 11 "ratchets up the physical play and allows for even more jostles, bumps and slide tackle variations than the series has ever seen before."

But where, oh where, is the triage unit for all of Nigel de Jong's hapless rabble of victims? I couldn't find it anywhere. Would also be nice if you could execute a jujitsu kick to the chest, too, but I guess the programmers felt that was excessive. Watch football much, EA?

IGN also extols the FIFA franchise for "delivering the most realistic depiction of the sport of soccer." Really. Six games into my season and Robin van Persie hasn't picked up so much as a knock, Nani hasn't put on the flippers and goggle to take a dive and Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard are helping to keep Liverpool in the top five. Before I faced Blackburn, I was shocked to discover that there wasn't a video montage of Big Sam Allardyce telling me that if he was managing my FIFA 11 team, Manchester United, he'd not only win the Prem but also go on to lead England to the 2014 World Cup. Kevin Davies has more goals than fouls. In "Be a Goalkeeper" mode, I played as Manuel Almunia and actually stopped the ball. Well, most of the time. Like I said, the realism is totally lacking.

Other glaring omissions:

•  There's no "tapping up" button in which you can unsettle players on other teams by dangling a contract so disgustingly fat that $10,000-a-night romps suddenly become affordable.

•  Where's the AI automatic override in which your chosen team's board of directors gives you (as the manager) the dreaded "vote of confidence," then deletes your team and season record -- wipes your Xbox hard drive clean, in fact -- when you get the axe a week later.

•  There doesn't seem to be an option where you can choose to play as a supporter, instead of a player or manager, so that you can vent your frustrations in publicly acceptable ways such as torching Andy Carroll's car or putting out a cigar in someone's eye. Think of it as Grand Theft Auto meets the EPL. That, my friends, would be a ratings buster.

Until then, we'll have to wait for a more realistic version of the beautiful game to hit the shelves and I'll have to endure more beatdowns from people less than half my age.