What a difference a couple of years make. Who could have guessed that the FIFA series, which was once looked down on in scorn by diehards as the football title with all the correct colours and stitching in the right places, but not the substance to back it up, could now be the flag bearer of all that is football simulation. EA Canada threatened an unlikely overthrowing of Konami’s stronghold on the genre with 08 and for the majority confirmed its dominance last year with 09. FIFA now finds itself in the unfamiliar position of being the favourite going into a new season and with that power comes almost all the responsibility of taking the genre forward.
And EA Canada’s attempt at doing just that comes in the form of 360 degree dribbling. As it implies, this new system enables players to be dragged and turned at the most acute angles; doing away with the maximum 16 directions of old. It’s a subtle but very definite change – something that may only start showing its importance as previous FIFA games become even more of a distant memory. This new sense of flexibility coupled with some truly impressive animation makes darting in between defenders, cutting in from the wing at a smoother curve, or just keeping possession as free-flowing as it has ever been.
Living the Dream
One of FIFA 10’s biggest features is the ability to create a player or Virtual Pro to use in a Be a Pro career, online with a club or in any other game mode. As well as an in-game creator, players can upload their own faces and it all comes with a Merlin-esque sticker book of accomplishments such as scoring a certain amount of goals that go towards improving your pro’s stats and abilities.
Even other areas you perhaps didn’t realise needed seeing to have been tweaked just a little bit more. Passing is quicker, lofted passes are only lofted by name as the ball now shoots through the air making switching of play to the opposite flank a far more legitimate tactic. And shooting from distance also carries a genuine threat should you allow an opponent too much space from 30yds out, which is not to say that scoring is any easier – quite the contrary especially from close range. The blueprint for scoring in 09 is now outdated information in FIFA 10 and what once ended up feeling like going through the motions now feels like a Filippo Inzaghi-style release of ecstasy regardless of a goal’s importance.
But football of course isn’t just about bombarding the opposition’s penalty box for 90 minutes and now that the shackles have been unlocked in that regard, defending becomes evermore significant and more often than not, it succeeds in being the immovable object to the unstoppable force that is the forward game. Tussles for the ball now have an added sense of physicality; to the point where it can seem needlessly over-extravagant at times. Heading has seen the biggest overhaul, however, with a greater emphasis on timing and positioning under the ball. It’s not perfect though – switching between players is fiddly even with the settings toggled to within an inch of its life and the A.I. has an unfortunate habit of straying out of position on occasions.
While it’s sublime on the field, off it FIFA 10’s execution of its premier offline distraction, Manager Mode, isn’t at all matched by the good intentions it was built on. Much the same as last year in structure, it is held back by a large number of bugs and glitches that have still yet to be fixed. Signing anyone can be a nightmare at the best of times, not least when your negotiator decides he doesn’t feel like doing his job anymore. Players in your squad will literally vanish only to be found later wearing the strip of another club in a gross simulation of tapping up. Have the gall to lose your season long unbeaten streak and the powers at be will have you packing all your stuff into a small box by the end of the week.
Be a Pro mode isn’t much kinder either. Chosen to go down the glamorous career path that is the right back? It doesn’t matter – match objectives will require players to score numerous goals from wherever you decide to play and anything less than a perfect 10.0 match performance is usually a quick way to get on the wrong side of your employers. Your teammates will not rally round to help you complete tasks either and the mode sometimes feels it’d be more appropriately titled ‘Be Steven Gerrard’ as you time and time again pick up the slack and carry the team over the finish line.
Straight From the Playbook
Anyone wanting to standout or score goals just that little bit more emphatically can now create custom set-pieces, which can be edited to meticulous detail. Its usefulness in the long run is debatable, however, especially as scoring direct free kicks the old fashioned way this year is much easier – no doubt aided by the option to practise them with a wall this time around.
Online has no such problems. Games are a lagless joy almost all the time and small touches like being able to immediately play someone again or filter the star level of the opposition if you don’t fancy the bores that use Real Madrid and Barcelona means that it’s not hard to find a comfort zone or niche in FIFA 10. Setting up and organising games in a club for up to 10-versus-10 remains once again not just the highlight online, but of the entire game. Taking part in a match with like-minded, organised human players with no hitch in performance is an example of just how far EA Canada has taken the football genre forward.
Despite its problems outside of the core game, these largely (and one would expect in the future) fixable issues do very little to diminish the fact that from a strictly footballing point of view, FIFA 10 has once again cemented the series’ position as the football game of choice by succeeding in taking the genre forward as EA Canada – seemingly by themselves these days – comes ever closer to capturing what is so alluring about The Beautiful Game.