By Matt Carey
Another year, another annual release of one of EA’s cash cows. FIFA has been around since some beardy bloke decided to build a big boat because it was getting a bit damp, and as such, each year sees a title released by EA, safe in the knowledge that millions of people will lap it up, irrespective of what they actually do. Step forward or step back, it doesn’t matter. The game will shift.
In truth, since the 360 launched, the FIFA series has gotten steadily better each year, despite the evil EA money-making antics. Once upon a time, there was a regular war during the last 3 months of the year as Konami would release its rival title, Pro Evolution Soccer. And every year, critics and football purists alike would describe it as the better game. FIFA had the licences and graphics, Pro Evo had the tactics and the game-play. The past couple years have seen Konami slip up, and such is FIFA’s dominance now that reviewers the world over have stopped making reference to the war altogether. For the moment, the battle has been won.
At first glance, there is pretty much no difference between 09 and 10. The opening menus are much the same, there is a little spit and polish here and there, and your load screen is a practice arena. Even the game-types are nothing new. It’s not until you delve a little deeper that you can find the improvements this year.
All over the place there are videos for this, that and the other. To be honest, Martin Tyler’s voice gets very irritating, and most are skipped as soon as possible, although the ‘Controls’ one may be worth a view. You would be surprised how many little things you have missed here and there over the years.
Once past the incessant videos, you can start to explore. The obligatory exhibition modes are there, as are the online quick play and leagues. Basically, everything you would expect as standard. But of the modes that are the real meat, well, there’s plenty to talk about.
Manager mode has been well and truly beefed up. Your season runs a lot more believably now. Gone are the mad transfers made by other clubs and the easy signings made by you. Upon starting as lowly Notts County, I had a torrid time trying to sign players. Annoying? You betcha, but realistic? Most defiantly. It still isn’t perfect. All signings made this summer can be bought if enough cash is stumped up, for example. I’m also not a fan of negotiations, namely because there aren’t any. I gave up counting how many times I tried to sign a better player for my squad, only to have him reject me on the grounds that he didn’t think he would command a starting place in the team. One simple option to allow re-negotiations, and more clarity on their proposed role in the team would have been a godsend. A great deal of this is down to the fact that you have an option for “negotiations” that can be increased on the same screen that you would find the shooting, midfield and goalkeeping coaching levels, as we have seen in previous years. This is unrealistic, and down-right irritating. I want to negotiate, not have the AI do it for me. Aside from this, the mode does everything you would want it to, and offers a wealth of options to tinker with.
Be A Pro mode is much the same as last year, with one massive difference; now it is called Virtual Pro, and instead of just creating, well, yourself, you can, via the EA Football World website, scan your face in and download it into the game. Whilst it is a nice feature, and makes things a lot more personal, the end results are never perfect. Still, that is what practice makes, and I would rather the feature be there than not. And your virtual self doesn’t just reside there. In fact, he can be used across all offline game modes, earning “accomplishments” along the way.
The biggest overhaul of a game-type this year is the Live Season mode. Last year, if you recall, you got to play each week as your own team, online, against someone playing as their team. So, if you team was Liverpool, and on one particular week they were playing Everton, for the week of that match you would play the fixture against opponents, and the results would all be stored somewhere to have something done to them.
This year, things are much more straightforward. The same basic concept applies, but this time you play against the computer. Whereas last time round, you could play the fixture multiple times against multiple opponents, this time you get one shot at it. Sure, you can have practice matches all you want, tinkering with tactics and line-ups, but when it comes down to the one that counts, just one attempt is all you get to alter (or sustain) history. The mode is great, and certainly a lot clearer than last years’ effort with regards to what it sets out to achieve. The biggest downfall is that for each league you want to participate in, you have to pay for it. I cannot explain how much I am appalled by this. As if forty quid isn’t enough. I daren’t tell a friend of mine about this. I know I will get a half hour tirade about EA. Unfortunately, I can’t really disagree with him.
But you all want to know how it plays. What is it like when you finally get onto the green stuff? I’m very happy to report that the little blurb on the back of the box that brags about the realism isn’t lying. EA have done a sterling job of throwing in about as much extra ‘oomph’ as possible in every aspect. The most noteworthy is a sense of weight and strength. Unlike before, players now feel like they have a physical mass. Have Michael Owen run head-long at Sol Campbell, and you will see a little fella get dumped straight on his ass. This leads to some epic struggles as your wingers streak down the pitch trying to get past the backs, or as your striker tries to hold up a lofted ball before turning and slotting in the bottom corner. This sense of physicality is much needed, and, along with the expert physics engine, and the beautifully realised animations – of which there are more – the game literally ‘feels’ more than it ever has.
AI has been ramped up too. No longer can you find the same sweet spot to slot the ball in the net. Neither can you easily slither through balls past the defence. This time both the opposition and your team mates know what they are doing. They will identify spaces that have opened up and plug them. Similarly, they will also work to try and create space. There are thought processes at play here, and it is good to see.
There also seems to be some element of ‘human error’ thrown in, and I don’t mean by me. At times I have witnessed players attempt to curve balls into the box, only to see it whistle behind the goal, and attempt to pass a ball to the wing, cocking up the attempt, and watch as the ball trickles into touch. Sure, we’re are not talking Ferdinand-gifting-the-ball-to-Bellamy levels here, but it’s nice to know there is an element of unpredictablility from the AI.
I could rabbit on about this game for another thousand words quite easily and still leave something out. So far, I haven’t even mentioned online clubs, the free kick editor, or the finally obtained Dutch national team licence. However, I have to call it a day somewhere before I reach my word limit. EA. have really hit their stride now, and whilst this is a bad thing in some ways – we may never see a major overhaul of the series until next gen consoles are released – it says a great deal about just what amazing work they have done over the years to get to this point. EA have always had the bells and whistles nailed, from presentation to sound to licences. The last couple of years have seen them steadily improve the most important thing of all, namely the matches themselves, and this year is no exception. Whilst not a light year improvement, it is an improvement nonetheless, with the much publicised 360 degrees of control being the main reason for this. It is hard to believe just what a difference it makes to proceedings. Konami had better start re-thinking things if they want to keep up because at this rate, EA are winning the Champions League regularly whilst Konami are struggling to stay in the second division.