This time, I’m exploring the flaws with FIFA’s keepers. To see all previous articles, click here.
One way or another, the goalkeeper is involved in every goal, and almost every failure to score a goal in a football match. The goalkeeper is the most important person on any team — therefore it is absolutely paramount that the goalkeepers in FIFA work well. If they are represented unrealistically, it is detrimental to FIFA’s believability; if their mechanics are unbalanced, it is tremendously damaging to FIFA’s balance as a whole.
I’ve believed for a long time that FIFA’s goalkeepers are neither realistic nor well balanced, and I think that this is one of the core factors behind the unfairness of FIFA’s gameplay that I elaborated on here. I also think that this failing is a major contributor to the muted excitement of goalscoring in FIFA.
Like with much of the AI in FIFA, the goalkeepers in FIFA react inhumanly fast. This is a problem I highlighted briefly as an example of the lacking anticipation within FIFA’s AI:
There is no sense of an ‘anticipation’ save in FIFA – keepers are always reacting to what happens as opposed to working on what they think will happen. We all know how this is balanced out – keepers have lightning reactions which all too often mean they save shots which they wouldn’t have got to, but then struggle with much easier shots. It would be better if keepers actually did anticipate shots when closer in. If the striker is really close and he pulls back his leg why shouldn’t the keeper react to save at that point, rather than reacting to save it after the ball is hit?
It’s a small generalisation, but keepers in FIFA react too fast to almost everything. It’s most obvious when you are hitting a laces shot from close in, where typically the goalkeeper will react immediately as the ball is hit to make a superb save.
It’s particularly noticeable when playing on manual, as you get a much greater variation of shot placement. It seems that there is almost a flat out guarantee that shots which aren’t towards the very corner of the goal will be saved, and this simply isn’t how football works in real life.
This problem is pretty apparent at almost all levels, but when playing against the very best keepers it can become almost impossible to cleanly score a laces shot.
To solve this problem, the reaction speeds of the keepers need to be dropped. A number of measures would be necessary to counterbalance this: first, as suggested here, true anticipation saves need to become part of the goalkeepers arsenal, and second, the accuracy of assisted/semi-assisted shooting needs to be toned down.
Together, these changes would mean that more goals in FIFA are scored cleanly, without rebounds, as well as decreasing the reliance upon cheap goals such as the pass-across. As an added bonus, the variety of goals scored in FIFA would increase too, because it would be much easier to score goals which aren’t perfectly placed.
I said above that keepers in FIFA react too fast to pretty much everything. Sometimes though, this doesn’t seem like the case. It’s often the slowest shots which creep around the goalkeepers reach, whether they are badly hit but well aimed laces shots, or finesse shots. I don’t think this is actually down to reaction rates though, I think this is down to how the keeper moves if he’s not close enough to dive. As opposed to a mad dash launched into a dive, I’m treated to my keeper slowly waltzing across, and often then pausing briefly before diving.
EA need to speed up the keepers movement across the box, as well as make the transition between moving and diving more fluid. It’s possible that in doing this, finesse shots in FIFA will become too difficult to score. If that was the case, I’d suggest increasing the maximum power that can be put behind a finesse shot, while reiterating that accuracy for shooting on assisted/semi-assisted absolutely must be reduced.
Rebound goals are very frequent in FIFA, and have been for a long time. I think there are a few different reasons for this, and to some extent, reducing the reaction rates as suggested above would solve much of the problem. Because keepers get to so many shots which they shouldn’t do, they parry a lot more difficult shots than they probably ought to, and this leads to a lot of the rebound goals.
However, I don’t think that is the end of the issue, as even then I don’t think keepers (particularly better ones) hold as many shots as they should. In addition, when keepers do parry, they don’t seem to parry very well. If a keeper has to parry in real life, they will intend to make sure that the ball is not put back into danger, and so they will attempt to parry the ball around/over the post, or otherwise to safety. That type of intelligence is either missing, or very much understated in FIFA 12.
A totally separate area where goalkeepers could be improved is in how they come out (or don’t) to get loose balls. The first thing is that EA ought to ensure that the goalkeepers make their own decisions on whether to come out or not in these cases. Typically, you cannot actually see your goalkeeper when you need him to start moving, and so it’s not really fair to expect the user to make this decision.
Secondly, I think EA should make it so that the keeper can be switched to in this situation. The current system often puts you in a very difficult situation when it switches at the last moment, leaving you no time to react. If you were switched on as the goalkeeper is running out, you could then react to clear as you would with any other player on the pitch.
The keepers in FIFA have been quite bad for a pretty long time, and though there are small improvements each year, I see no reason why they couldn’t improve a lot for FIFA 13. Issues like positioning, which I have not covered, may be more difficult to solve, but improving the balance of how keepers react and deal with different types of shot shouldn’t be.
Between the suggestions I’ve made above, I think FIFA’s keepers would be improved immensely, having a significant effect on the enjoyability of playing FIFA: improving its credibility as a simulation, reducing how frustrating the experience is, and also increasing the variety of goals that are scored.