Review: FIFA 11 for iPhone- When Good Games Go Wrong

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For many years now, gamers and sports fans have all come to expect and anticipate the annual release of several different sports franchises from different developers. EA’s FIFA is one of the longest running of these series, dating back to 1993. While EA wasn’t the first developer to bring the beautiful game to the iPhone, they did get off to a pretty good start last year with the release of FIFA 10.

The customer reviews for FIFA 10 were a little rough at first. The decision to use two buttons created some complicated combinations which were tough to pull off on the iPhone’s small screen. There were also some problems with the game saving lineups and team settings in the Manager Mode, which were time consuming and annoying. What FIFA 10 did accomplish, however, was to bring a full handheld experience previously reserved for the Nintendo DS and the Sony PSP to iOS. It packed popular game modes, like Manager Mode, Tournments, Be A Pro, Training, and Penalty Shootout, and Bluetooth and WiFi Multiplayer, as well as its trademark- a huge array of licensed teams and leagues into a reasonably sized package, and at a great price. FIFA 10 included 30 leagues, 570 teams, 20 tournaments and cups, and 12,620 players. Gameloft’s Real Football 2010 had the same game modes, as well as a few more, but FIFA is hard to top with that license portfolio and the experience of playing with the real teams and players. Other competitors had good gameplay or some superior features, but it is hard to compete with the full weight that EA brings to bear.

When I started to see the early screenshots and previews of FIFA 11, I definitely got excited. I won’t hide it. I am a long time fan of the series and I had very high expectations. I had bought FIFA World Cup 2010, and while I didn’t love the more casual direction that EA took with it, I liked the shift to 3 button controls, at least on offense. I also appreciated that they kept the comprehensive approach from FIFA 10, including Multipayer, World Cup Qualification, and even the interesting Captain Your Country mode. Previews of FIFA 11 indicated that the graphics were improved, and that EA had gone with a three button control method similar to World Cup. Looking at all of the available evidence, I thought FIFA 11 was a sure-fire hit.

So, does FIFA 11 have what it takes to move the franchise forward. As it stands right now, I would have to say no. In fact, if I had to sum up FIFA 11 for iOS in a single word, it would be bi-polar. I don’t think I have ever played a game that is as impressive in some respects, while being such a letdown and feeling so incomplete in others. I know these are pretty strong words, so let’s dig a little deeper and see what’s going on with EA’s latest creation.

Let’s start our look at FIFA 11 on the good foot, and make no mistake, this game does excel in some areas. Since I already made mention of the controls, we’ll start there. I saw in the previews that FIFA 11 had changed from the two button control scheme of FIFA 10 to three. What wasn’t mentioned is that there are actually two different three button configurations that you can choose from. In the Casual Control Mode, you get three labelled buttons in the bottom right of the screen.

On Offense, you have Shoot, Pass, and Through, and can determine the power of the maneuver by the length of time you hold the button.

On Defense, you get Slide, Tackle, and Switch. This control scheme is very easy to pick up and play and opens up the game to those who don’t want to memorize complicated button combos, hence the casual label.

On the other side, you have Advanced controls, which somewhat resemble the two button system from FIFA 10.

In this setup, you get buttons A, B, and C, for either offense or defense. On Offense, A is Shoot, B is Pass, and C is the “Combo” Button, for lack of a better term. With this setup, button combinations are much simpler than they were in FIFA 10, as any combo begins with C and then moves to either A for a shot combo, or B for a pass combo. A finesse shot, for example, is done by pressing C, and then sliding your finger to A. The longer you hold A, the more power you get. A through pass is done by pressing C and sliding up to B. Again, the longer you hold B, the stronger the pass. If you flick your finger upward after moving to B, you get a lobbed through pass.

The Defensive controls are a little more simple and straightforward. A is for tackling, B switches players, and C calls for a second defender. There is actually only one defensive combo. By pressing C and sliding up to B, you can call the goalkeeper off his line.

While the Casual Controls are perfectly functional, and quite necessary on a platform like the iPhone, the Advanced Controls do a nice job and add additional depth for the player who wants to put in a little more time on the practice pitch to gain more control. The change to three buttons makes both modes easier to master, allowing you full control of the action on the field in the heat of the battle.

No matter which button setup you use, there are some other new control wrinkles that are interesting. First, you can actually use finger strokes on the screen for a couple of functions. On offense you can tap a teammate on the field to pass him the ball. You can also swipe over a player to get him to move forward on a run up field. On defense, you can touch a player to switch to him. I like the fact that EA has added these touch and swipe controls, as they give you another way of interacting with the game and are a perfect fit with the iOS platform.

Another of FIFA 11’s strong points is the comprehensive settings, allowing you to customize many aspects of the FIFA experience.

The first page covers general game settings. You can choose among 5 different difficulty levels, you can enable or disable either Injuries, Offsides, or Bookings, and you can set the sensitivity of player Auto Switching.

Page Two covers Display Options. You can turn the time and score display on or off, choose between six different camera angles, as well as adjust the height and zoom, turn the player radar on or off, and determine how player names will be displayed.

Page Three contains toggles for Audio Options. You can enable or disable the Commentary, Sound Effects, or Music. There is also a toggle for Device Music, but it could actually use some explanation. If you back out of the app and start any device audio, either from the native iPod app, or from any streaming app, the Device Music tab will automatically turn on. You can’t turn it on yourself, and there is no music interface built into the program. It’s nice that EA accounted for this scenario, but the implementation could be better.

Page Four of the settings focuses on controls, and there are a lot of them. First off, you can turn the aforementioned Casual Controls on or off. You can also decide whether you want a Floating or Stationary Joystick, Right or Left Handed Controls, or Large or Small Joystick or Buttons. Last, you can also turn Action Feedback or In-Game Tips on or off.

The other notable feature of FIFA 11, and in my humble opinion its strongest feature, is the graphics. They are definitely the most impressive graphics I have ever seen on any mobile device.

From the menus, to the cut scenes, to player animations, to the field and crowd detail, EA went all out to make FIFA 11 easy on the eyes.

Some of the more critical gamers out there, who have been conditioned to the latest console generation’s high definition graphics, may find things like the player focused cut scenes to be less than impressive, but looking at everything in the context of mobile devices, I don’t think anyone can deny that FIFA 11 stands out in that crowd. They are high enough resolution, that they still look good when played at 2X on the iPad. Even most iPhone apps with Retina display support cannot make that claim.

As impressive as the graphics are, they definitely come at a price, though. First off, weighing in at a hefty 858 MB, FIFA 11 isn’t the biggest app, but it might be the biggest game in the App Store. For those with iOS devices that are already loaded with other content, the better part of 1 GB is a lot of space to give up for one game.

Another issue that seems to be tied to FIFA 11’s enhanced graphics is limited device compatibility. The app requires iOS devices with OpenGL ES 2.0 compatibility, which include the iPhone 4, 3GS, iPad, iPod Touch 4th Gen and iPod Touch 3rd Gen 32 and 64 GB models. While there is a compatibility list on its iTunes page, at the time of my testing there was no mention of this compatibility issue on the FIFA 11 App Store page on the iPhone.  I confirmed the issue when I tried to load it on my wife’s iPhone 3G for testing on an older device. I got an error message saying that the app required OpenGL ES 2.0. Since I had already purchased FIFA 11 for my iPhone, I didn’t notice a problem. However, upon reading over customer reviews in the App Store, evidently FIFA did not set up restrictions to keep you from buying the app on an incompatible device. Those unfortunate enough to make this mistake got the error message after forking over $4.99. EA ran into this same type of fiasco earlier this year with its release of an iPhone 4 retina display only version of NCAA College Football. EA eventually fixed the issue with College Football by combining the two separate apps into one version for all devices, but there is really no excuse for them to make a similar mistake this soon after. Most iOS users tend to buy apps directly on their devices, so not thinking to mention device requirements in the App Store App’s page was very shortsighted. As of today, a compatibility notice has been added to the App Store page, but this was still really poor customer support from EA and they must take more consideration with their future releases.

Now, as we look into another apparent cost of its enhanced graphics, we also start getting into the areas where FIFA 11 falls flat. The graphics may look amazing, but they start to pale once you play for a while because of the pervasive lag that affects all areas of the game. Even on Apple’s latest and greatest flagship device, the iPhone 4, the game shifts from moving at a brisk pace, to lagging terribly at a moment’s notice. The lag is especially noticeable in cut scenes, instant replays, and when you play with the camera zoomed out. It takes what could be the best soccer gameplay and control combination on iOS to date and really puts a damper on it. This was my experience on my iPhone 4. When I tried to play FIFA 11 on my iPad, the situation actually got worse. The game chugged along in slow motion all the time. It was almost unplayable. I didn’t have a 3GS or Touch to try it out on, but I can’t imagine it not being even worse on older hardware. I rebooted and manually shutdown other apps on both devices, and even resorted to deleting and reloading the app on both my iPhone and iPad. Nothing changed. Considering that EA already tacitly admits the fact that they didn’t complete FIFA 11 before launch, with the “Coming Soon” tag applied to Multiplayer on the main menu, this is just more proof to me that FIFA 11 was rushed out the door to hit a deadline, and it suffers BADLY for it.

Unfortunately, the lag isn’t the only problem weighing FIFA 11 down. It seems that in their attempt to create the best graphical experience in mobile gaming, EA left out just about everything else. One of the things that really made FIFA 10 a strong offering, despite its flaws, was that it delivered a comprehensive soccer experience that rivaled or exceeded what you could get on any mobile phone, and even the Nintendo DS or Sony PSP. The combination of licensed content and game modes gave players enough material to keep them coming back for more for months after its release.

However, EA has taken a very different approach with FIFA 11, leaving out Manager Mode, Be A Pro, and the Penalty Shootout. They have also removed the “International Tournament” from the game, even though 39 national sides are still included for single game play. EA also removed many necessary features from the still included League and Cup modes, which allow you to choose a team and play a single league season or Cup tournament with the players assigned to that roster. For some reason, there is no way to manage your chosen team, except for right before a game. Even if you do make changes, those changes are not saved for the next match. There is also no way to view your team’s upcoming Fixtures or Tournament Tree.

All of the features that I mention here were included in FIFA 10. It would be one thing if this were EA’s first attempt on the iOS platform, like for example Konami’s PES 2010 release, which left out some common features and modes to focus on core gameplay. But this simply isn’t the case with FIFA 11. What EA is doing here feels a lot more like bait and switch. Maybe that is overstating the issue. In reality, the omissions are probably either an attempt by EA to pander to the casual gamer market with graphics alone, or a result of EA under staffing the development team and rushing FIFA 11 out the door to meet a hard release date. Whatever caused this situation, however, doesn’t excuse it. EA has left soccer fans and hardcore gamers who want a full mobile experience out in the cold. I took some time to read through the customer reviews on the App Store and if EA thought these decisions would sit well with their target audience, they have badly misjudged them. The graphics draw high praise, but even many three and four star reviews mourn the loss of Manager Mode.

I frankly don’t like writing reviews this negative, but the fact is, EA’s advertising of FIFA 11 brings the negativity on itself. At least the Main Menu communicates that Multiplayer has been delayed, even if the App Store page doesn’t. Unfortunately,  it also didn’t adequately communicate to potential issues with device to many early purchasers of FIFA 11. Even though that oversight has been corrected, you still won’t find anything on that page to let you know that modes you may be expecting from FIFA 10 have been gutted. I personally find that to be completely disingenuous on EA’s part.

I used the word bi-polar to describe FIFA 11, and I absolutely stand by it. As much as I have ranted about the obvious problems, the graphics are really eye-catching, and the controls are a big step forward from FIFA 10. If you took these two strong features, and simply tacked them on to FIFA 10, then you would have one heck of a soccer game. Unfortunately, that is not what we got from EA, and that is another reason for my disappointment.

If EA will at least take the steps of  limiting purchase from incompatible devices, enabling Multiplayer, and fixing the awful lag issue, then I could recommend FIFA 11. At least I could to those who don’t care about the game modes and features from FIFA 10 that were left out. For those players, even after EA releases necessary patches, I would say you should hold off on FIFA 11 until they either add back the missing modes, or until it hits the sale bin at $.99. If you have an older device, or are interested in having a plethora of game modes, then I guess Real Soccer 2010 now becomes your only viable choice.

No matter what your gaming tastes are, or how big a fan you are of FIFA 10, I honestly can’t recommend that anyone purchase this game until EA is willing to step up to the plate and fix the glaring issues. Once they do, FIFA 11 will at least become a beautiful and fun casual, but ultimately superficial, soccer experience. If EA really wises up and adds Manager Mode, Be A Pro, Penalty Shootout, and the in-season management features from FIFA 10 to an already patched FIFA 11, then I think it instantly becomes the best soccer game on the iOS platform, hands-down. Unfortunately, I have my doubts that we will see any of these features make their way back to FIFA until next year. If EA proves me wrong, I will gladly eat my words and change my recommendation. I sincerely hope that they do.

FIFA 11 for iPhone is available for $4.99 in the App Store here.

This app was independently purchased by the post author in the iPhone App Store. For further information regarding our site’s review policies, please see the “About” page.

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  • Amir

    My Fifa 11 one week old from the app store loads up on the screen and just as the players start running it switches off!! and takes me back to iphone apps page…wats happening…pls help!

  • jhrogersii

    It is more than likely an issue with having too little available RAM. I have not experienced this much on my iPhone 4, but have on my iPad. I believe it is also a common problem on the 3GS and older iPod Touches.

    If this is the problem, then you can try closing out all of the apps in the multitasking bar of your iPhone. If that doesn’t work, then try turning your iPhone completely off and restarting it. Try opening FIFA 11 before you do anything else.

    If you have your iOS device jailbroken, then you can also use SBSettings’ Processes feature to free up more RAM. You can also download an SBSettings shortcut to kill all background apps, rather than doing that manually.

    Let us know if any of the above suggestions help.

  • Jake

    When is multiplayer meant to come out for FIFA 11 ? Iv looked around and can’t find it anywhere

  • http://isource.com/2010/10/04/review-fifa-11-for-iphone-when-good-games-go-wrong/ Da Champ

    Have you got become a legend or Manager mode on the app because I cant find it?

    • jhrogersii

      Nope. That was one of my biggest complaints in my review. EA really screwed up by going too casual on FIFA 11. I won’t even touch 12 if they don’t put it back.

  • zdenko primorac

    same here, unless they give us back the mgr mode i am not buying it

  • don_k

    Is it still laggy with the latest update?

  • jhrogersii

    No, the lag is gone on the iPhone 4 and 4th Gen iPod Touch. I’m not sure about other models, but I think they fixed the app on the 3GS and the 3rd Gen Touch, as well.

    EA also finally got around to adding multiplayer. However, they never came through with a manager mode. Sadly, even though FIFA 11 plays better now, I still go back to FIFA 10 for the depth. I’m a substance over style kind of guy.

    All that said, the app is on sale for $.99 right now, and it OS definitely worth picking up at that price, flaws and all.

  • matthew!

    thnx for the review! but i hve 1 problem doesnt fifa 11 hve a save slot for replays? for the iphone ofcourse. thnx for ur time.