Fergie Ain’t Got Nothin’ on EA
Making a sports game shine year in and year out is tough. Amazingly, EA has a stable of developers including EA Tiburon and EA Canada that consistently put out not only a top-quality product, but one that’s even better than last year’s. Sure, there are a few years that buck this trend, but by and large, EA SPORTS puts out great games year after year. FIFA Soccer 10 is yet another gem.
Naturally, the game is similar to last year’s excellent offering, but several tweaks and additional features make this version of the game more important than simply sporting updated player rosters. Perhaps the biggest addition, in terms of bonus content, is the introduction of Virtual Pro. On the surface, this seems a lot like Be A Pro, as you’ll be able to make your own soccer star. But what makes this feature unique is that you’ll take this avatar into any game mode. That’s right; rather than getting stuck playing as just one player out of eleven, you’ll now be able to inject your player into the Manager Mode, online games, custom tournaments, pickup games, etc. Pair this with the vastly improved GameFace feature, which has you uploading photos onto EA’s website, and you’ve got a truly compelling way of inserting yourself into games. Leaving your mark on your favorite club and sticking it to players online in a more personal way is quite rewarding.
Of course, Manager Mode is also of huge importance to FIFA regulars. This year, it’s better than ever. The stat-heavy, post-game screens and the realistic player, team, and club management aspects, complete with sponsor, board, fan, and player pressure really brings home what it means to be a club’s gaffer. What’s more, the transfer window and scouting is simultaneously more streamlined to use while being deeper than ever. Also, player advancement is much more realistic. Rather than artificially boosting scores with drills, players improve through consistent in-game performances. Taking on a 15 year coaching career with your favorite clubs is, for all intents and purposes, perfectly executed. Improved club management and the introduction Virtual Pro are enough to make the upgrade to FIFA 10 worth it… but wait, there’s more!
Billy Mays pitch aside, gameplay is also vastly improved. It’s so good this year, even PES diehards would be foolhardy to continue believing the Konami offering has a lock on intuitive control – FIFA 10 is going to win some converts. EA Canada has gone out of its way to make the game more free-flowing. It’s easier to activate quick restarts, dribbling in 360 degrees lets you shape your runs, and many of the overly-dramatic animations have been done away with or shortened considerably. However, the occasional stumble and over-stepping the ball will still piss you off every now and again. Regardless, the pacing and flow is generally much improved.
Gameplay enhancements aren’t limited to the attack. Closing in on players and muscling them off the ball is a defender’s bread and butter. In FIFA 10, defensive positioning is spot-on, allowing your backs and defensive mids to cut down options quickly. Simply holding down the appropriate button will have the first defender contain the threat, while pressing a second button will give you some back-side support in the form of a double-team. While this was previously featured in FIFA, it feels a lot more natural and satisfying this time around because defenders are allowed to be much more physical. Pushing strikers around with a well-placed shoulder makes defending a snap – as long as you take the right angle of approach, fouling offensive players has been minimized. If you are unlucky enough to turn the ref’s head, typically the call feels justified because you probably challenged the player from a poor position.
Graphically, the game is stellar. The stadiums are perfectly rendered, as is the atmosphere. The likenesses of top players are all nicely captured and many are done flawlessly so. As I mentioned previously, the animations have been improved greatly. Not only does this make gameplay more enjoyable, it also keeps the game profoundly realistic. From a Yank’s perspective, commentating is always top-notch. While I commend American announcers such as John Harkes, J.P. Dellacamera, Max Bretos, and Marcelo Balboa for their enthusiasm and love for the game, they simply can’t compare to a pair of Brits. Heck, EA could have gotten away with hiring a couple moppets off the streets of Soho or a pair of Scousers from Merseyside and it would have sounded like the genuine article. Thankfully, they again went to the reliable, professional team of Andy Gray and Martin Tyler. Though commentary does get repetitive after awhile, it’s typically accurate, amusing, and often educational. If you happen to speak French or Spanish, both languages are also included on the disk, and their all of equally high quality.
Taking it even further, the in-game store allows you to purchase many more commentary tracks in various languages – if you want to hear European Spanish rather than Mexican Spanish, you can. Got a hankering to hear a bit of German? That’s there, too. The in-game store also lets you pick up additional stadiums – the Bernabeu is offered for free at the time of this writing. The best feature of the store is the ability to track your favorite league with season-long, weekly updates. Live Season 2.0 lets you stay on top of your league’s ins and outs and table rankings no matter what happens – this’ll keep your rosters accurate even after the January transfer window. Moreover, you can try to mirror or rewrite your favorite team’s results within that league. All results are officially tallied and tracked, so there’s no going back to rewrite history a second time if you screw up. Also, Live Season 2.0 will give you temporary boosts and dips in player form as well as injury status that parallels their real-world counterparts. This even extends to the Manager Mode. The only downside to the service is that it’ll cost you $10 (800 MS points) per league. Still, there’s enough interactive fun that enhances your immersion in the sport that it’s probably worth slapping down a couple of fins on the leagues your passionate about.
Luckily, playing with friends online is free. Whether you get a group of buddies together to create a virtual club or are just going head-to-head in ranked matches, FIFA 10’s online component is extremely robust and polished. Not only are there all the gameplay options you’d expect, they all play great. Instances of lag are minimal, and getting matched up to players is a snap due to the massive community supporting the game.
If there was one complaint I could level at the game it’s that it’s a bit too complicated for novice gamers or soccer initiates. Navigating menus can often be cumbersome, managing teams takes real-world knowledge, and the glut of statistical information can often make you feel force-fed. That being said, all this detail makes this game so incredibly deep, core players will be treated to a truly multi-faceted simulation of their favorite sport. However, even to savvy players, the menu navigation can be trying. While layout continuity between years does make things easier, there is so much information and options to wade through you’ll likely not experience the game to its fullest for quite some time.
In fact, at times there is so much information overload, it’ll take your platform a few seconds just to render all of the data onscreen. Nowhere is this more prevalent and annoying than at the “Team Management” entry. Trying to get new players into the game is accompanied by a few second wait. What’s worse, just trying to skip past it and get to the other squad management options will also delay your advance. While this is just a quibble, hopefully this can be changed through a software update, because it makes coaching options feel like a chore.
All in all, FIFA 10 is a fantastic game. It improves upon last year’s version in several ways, making this the best soccer simulator to ever hit store shelves. Whether you bought the game or not last year, it’s definitely time to upgrade. FIFA Soccer 10 will serve as the perfect league accompaniment, and it will help keep you tied over till the big dance down in South Africa next summer.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.7 Graphics
Stadiums, crowds, players, and the footie itself all look exceptional. 4.6 Control
The mapping of skills is customizable, and actions come off without a hitch. Player skill is translated nicely to on-field results. 4.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Andy Gray and Martin Tyler are a great duo. The menu music selection is varied and quality. The ambient stadium noises are great, though perhaps occasionally over-the-top. 4.7 Play Value
With so many modes, a vibrant community, and tons of ongoing developer support. You will easily be playing FIFA 10 until next year. 4.7 Overall Rating – Must Buy
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.