FIFA Soccer 10

The latest addition in EA’s FIFA series


Release date:
Sports Simulation
Electronic Arts
Electronic Arts Canada

FIFA 10 – The Beautiful Game?

It sucks to be a Liverpool fan in FIFA 10.

I’d imagine so, anyway. I’m a Newcastle lad myself, which is probably more depressing in the real world. Liverpool are chasing titles once again, while the once-mighty Magpies languish in the Championship. But make no mistake, if you’re a Liverpool fan plodding through a season in FIFA 10, playing as anyone other than your favourite club, it sucks to be you.

This has been the case for a while now. Despite their excellent squad, with players whose stats outweigh the vast majority of others in the league, they just don’t seem to win matches when controlled by the omniscient god of virtual results. They let in goal after goal to low-end sides, crashing out of tournaments and struggling to reach even the top half of the table. Coming up the mid-way point in my current season, Portsmouth are top and Hull are fifth. Liverpool haven’t yet pushed out of the bottom three.

The new set-piece creator can prove useful.

Yes, once again, FIFA is riddled with silly inconsistencies. If it’s not Liverpool exploding every time they touch a ball, it’s West Brom signing Ronaldo, or the league’s top goal scorer being a defender, or commentator Martin Tyler spouting the most ridiculous nonsense you’ve ever heard. The banter between Tyler and sidekick Andy Gray is better than ever, with delightfully natural conversation breaking up the game’s slower portions, but when it comes to actually reporting on the events of a match, they can’t get it right.

“He’s lucky he didn’t get booked there – he’s already on a yellow,” says Tyler, repeatedly, as one of your defenders makes a clumsy but innocuous challenge, having not been cautioned at all for weeks.

Lucky the game’s not bad, then…

That’s for a few reasons. Most obviously, FIFA is once again chock full of official licenses, with a plethora of real-world teams, leagues, tournaments and players littering the game. Player likenesses are better than ever, with some straying worryingly into uncanny valley territory. EA Sports’ Wayne Rooney almost looks more like Wayne Rooney than Wayne Rooney does.

Goalkeeping seems a little more natural this time. Cech, for example, will have had to really work to reach this shot.

The whole presentation is inescapably slick, with a super-cool training session starting automatically upon launching a new game, and fading neatly into the new scene when you begin a match. Its instant accessibility is nice, and encourages you to keep practicing, but the gratuitous flair begins to grate. At one point, FIFA took great care to mimic sports coverage on the television. Now, it seems, it’s often trying to mimic overblown Hollywood cinematography, which feels at odds with the hugely more realistic playing style.

For all the flashy front-end suff, this is the area EA have refined the most. The new iteration of FIFA employs a full 360 degree control mechanism, finally putting analogue sticks to proper use. That might sound like a minor alteration, but the second you try it you’ll see why it’s important. Minutes later, you’ll wonder how you ever dealt without it.

It means you can take advantage of every inch of the pitch, using precise movement controls to direct passes, shots and runs. The pacing is a little more pressured, with opposition players pressing, closing you down and working as a cohesive defensive unit more than ever before. So you’ll have to make use of the new control system rapidly, ensuring you’re always on your toes, always looking for space, and always looking for that metre-wide gap to knock the ball through.

Players really fight for balls in the air.

Tackling has been revamped too, and works gloriously. Instead of mashing a button and watching your player miraculously win the ball, as has been the tendency in previous titles, you now have to battle for posession. Indeed, there’s no longer even a specific tackling button; instead, you need to position yourself, put pressure on the opposition, and wait for mistakes. Carefully timed interceptions have never been so important, and cohesion goes a long way in keeping the ball out of the back of your own net.

A slide tackle button still exists, though its use isn’t as advisable as before. FIFA 10 understands that it’s a tricky move to get right, and it shows in the inevitible result of too much time skidding on the floor: plenty of bookings. Lunge in and miss the ball, and you’re pretty much guaranteed a yellow card. Do it from behind, and you’ll probably be slunking off the pitch for an early bath.

But this is also part of an odd problem that FIFA still seems to suffer from, despite all its organic freshness. There’s a slightly too regimented feel to various aspects of the game. Fouling is one. It’s always fairly predictable what the referee’s response will be, as if context isn’t even slightly important. Bring someone down in a goal scoring oppurtunity, for example, and you’d expect to see an automatic red card, as per the rules of the sport. FIFA 10 will do this if you used the slide-tackle button, but not if you clipped someone’s heel while pressing for possession. In the real-world, this wouldn’t matter – it’s a straight red either way. In FIFA, not once will you be shown a card should you not launch in at ground-level.

Playing in the snow is a whole new experience.

Not only does this detract from the game’s credibility, with referees sticking to the same set of pseudo-rules at all times, it also makes things seem somewhat unfair. I was through on goal, y’know? I was about to slot it past the goalkeeper. He should be sent off! Yet he’s not. And that’s no one’s fault but the game’s.

Elsewhere, certain AI patterns remain predictable, and FIFA 10 seems troublingly obsessed with chip shots. They’re a new feature – in their current form, at least. It’s as if EA couldn’t resist showing them off at every opportunity.

But FIFA 10 remains a mightily strong title, and Konami’s Pro Evolution franchise is going to have to train hard to keep up with EA’s new front-runner. Its inconsistencies and occasionally artificial feel hold it back, though, and for all its irrefutably high quality, Unless Pro Evolution 2010 does something hugely special later this month, it looks like there’s another year to wait for the truly beautiful game.

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