I’ve followed the evolution of football games since they came to home consoles in the early 90′s, titles that stick in my memory are Super Kick Off and of course, Sensible Soccer. Although short on graphics by today’s standards they were hugely playable and kept me occupied until FIFA International Soccer came out – this was EA’s first football release and was highly anticipated not least because of the massive graphical and audio leap with the psuedo 3D isometric viewpoint and the crowd chants.
Sadly, like its forerunners it was incredibly easy to score from, simply by getting the ball to the right area just outside the box and making a diagonal shot into the far corner – this was a afault that was to dog the FIFA series for many years. Since then I have owned every single FIFA game on a SEGA or Sony system right through to arguably the best footie game ever, FIFA 09. FIFA 11 is already my most anticipated game of next year, but I’m getting ahead of myself now so how does this years edition, FIFA 10, shape up? Can the best be made better?
Realism is a word that has been bandied around footie games since, well… since forever but FIFA 10 seems to have taken everything EA started with FIFA 08, which was then greatly improved upon in FIFA 09, and somehow added to in FIFA 10. With established franchises that are on the annual update treadmill, new features or mechanisms are order of the day rather than wholesale changes to gameplay. This year is no exception with a host of changes almost as long as your arm: 360 degrees dribbling, a set-piece creator, Create a Virtual Pro, Game Face, new game modes and lots of changes to the management mode’s structure. In past years I’ve fell into a rut with FIFA and have only played Manager Mode and online 1v1, so reviewing the game and checking out all it has to offer has been quite an eye-opener.
The main game-play addition is the 360-degrees dribbling. When this was announced I was a bit confused because I’d been playing FIFA for years and never felt there was anything wrong with directional controls, and when I first got hands-on time with the new control method I struggled to feel the difference from previous incarnations, sure there was slightly more directional control but it didn’t really seem to add much to the game-play. This all changed when I dived into the settings and set all of the assistance settings to manual, and it was only then that the full benefit of the 360-degrees control becomes apparent, the differences in the angles you can run at first seem subtle, but end up making huge differences to the gameplay.
I know manual settings have been in previous iterations of FIFA but it is with the advent of the 360-degree control that these manual settings come into their own. Making the switch to manual is not without its downsides however because you need to re-learn everything you knew about FIFA, and it could take a considerable amount of time to become as good as you were with either semi or full assist on, but I believe doing so allows you to break through a performance ‘ceiling’ and maybe, just maybe become an even better player.
Game-play tweaks and improvements aren’t just limited to dribbling though – the AI model is tweaked further – now when attacking it simply isn’t possible to have a striker run on to a lofted through ball and rely on pace alone to run on through to goal. Instead you need to move the ball around and tease a defender out of position before playing that killer pass. AI controlled players seem to have a greater sense of urgency than before, for instance if you’re attacking the opposing defenders don’t just drop off to their ‘pre-programmed zone’ – they will actively press you, this makes passing more challenging and that all important game changing through-ball pretty much a one off, just like a real game.
Manager mode sees a whole raft of tweaks and improvements which make the experience better than previous outings, but those expecting an experience akin to a full management sim will still need to get their kicks from Championship Manager or FIFA Football Manager. The tweaks if listed would seem really minor and insignificant but when added together create real noticeable improvements, such as the feedback given during transfer negotiations or the wealth of improvements to players stats. Another new addition for players who like to go through a season but can’t be bothered to change their team line up every game because their over-paid striker is fatigued, should welcome the ability to hand over player selection to an AI controlled assistant coach, meaning you can get into the action even quicker.
It’s not just tweaks and minor improvements as this year sees the début of Virtual Pro, here you get to design a player including their every aspect and attribute, you can even utilise something called Game Face from FIFA’s website which gives you the chance to upload a digital photo of yourself, and then map it to your character creation, although why they just didn’t use the PS Eye is a bit of a mystery. Once created you can take your Pro in to almost every single game mode, even online in ranked matches.
It’s not all a bed of roses however as the seemingly perfect title isn’t without its annoyances, glitches and bugs, some are minor and some really ruin what should be a wonderful sporting experience. Simple things like when the game boots up it asks you to select a language – every single time – surely that can be saved in your save file? When you venture into Manager Mode and it asks to load your save file it leaves you with a message that loading a saved game leaves you having to press the back button to continue, joining any online game asks if you want to download the latest squad update – when its not possible to play online without doing so, it then asks if you want to save the update, then when you join another online game, even if it’s immediately afterwards and it asks you both questions again… errr what happened to the save I just did 2 minutes ago?
However, where it counts the action on the pitch is generally solid and devoid of exploits and glitches except annoyingly, attacking players always seem to come out on top in what should be 50:50 situations – for example if any attacking player runs into a strong tackle from a defender the ball always seems to land in the open space behind the defender leaving the attacker generally a free run at goal, or at the very least the defending team are effectively a man down.
For a title which has sold untold many millions around the globe and one which has been on store shelves for a while now it seems far too prone to crashing: on the three occasions I’ve tried to play in Lounge mode the game froze every time leaving me having to restart my PS3. Similarly the title seems to freeze intermittently when joining online head to head games, this seems to happen most frequently when downloading and saving the very same squad update you downloaded just a few minutes previously.
Before I disappear into a pit of despair the title’s great moments outweigh the negatives: the ball physics are perfect, matches have a realistic ebb and flow to them where both teams have spells on top or sometimes you can’t seem to get the ball out of a midfield scrap, that may sound bad but it isn’t – it’s real, that’s what happens in real games and it’s what happens in FIFA.
As always match commentary is top notch with Martin Tyler and Andy Gray making the match seem even more real. The on pitch graphics are great, absolutely faultless in fact, but the crowd is still dreadful seemingly having only two frames of animation and the same three characters multiplied hundreds of times around the crowd. Celebrations and replays have an appalling framerate and at time it looks like someone is showing you a Powerpoint presentation, none of this really matters though as the game is great where it counts and processor cycles and memory is put to better use making the AI as good as it can be.
- Beefed up AI makes the game ever more realistic.
- New features and additions all combine and morph into something great.
- The best footie experience you can have, short of rounding up a load of your mates and actually going outside.
- A host of annoyances and bugs which if past years performance is to go by won’t be patched.
- Extremely difficult to get a game online with someone who doesn’t pick Real Madrid/Barcelona.
- With no real penalty by EA, online is plagued by quitters, both in Head to Head and Be A Pro.
- An over-riding sense that the whole product doesn’t quite add up to the sum of its parts.
FIFA 09, a title which battered the competition in to the ground and danced on its grave is probably the most rock solid a foundation any game could wish to be created on. In the main all of the tweaks and improvements work a treat, with only the Set-Piece Creator needing more work. FIFA 10 really is the best footie experience you can have without getting outside and actually doing it yourself, but as a gaming experience it is dragged down by a host of annoyances and bugs which really impact your enjoyment. If the annoyances were listed, then individually they sound minuscule, but much the same as a list of tweaks they add up to make a big difference.
With many games this wouldn’t be a problem but FIFA is famous for not being patched, as they team are most likely already working on FIFA 11, and it is that release which some will say is FIFA 10, but patched. As it is though FIFA 10 is currently the best footie game you can buy but not by as wide a margin as in previous years, and I’m left with the sense that EA should stop adding minor game modes that can surely only have limited appeal and get to grips with some of the oddities which stop a great game being even better.