Review: FIFA 10
November 4, 2009, Author: Stephen Jacob
When conversing about football game franchises only two immediately come to mind, EA’s FIFA series and Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer. Since the early part of the new century these two giants have annually locked horns to see who gets bragging rights to be named the best football game. Konami were arguably triumphant every year until 2008 when EA Canada made an overdue comeback with FIFA 09. Since the start of the current console cycle neither developer had created a game worthy of ‘next-gen’ quality until 09 boldly showed how it’s done. Gameplay mechanics were finely tuned, player physics became more realistic, and online modes possessed lasting appeal. EA Canada had managed to raise the bar in this fierce rivalry.
Let’s FIFA 10
The first FIFA title I ever played was FIFA 98, which was a decent effort when I look back in retrospect. The gameplay was enjoyable, the graphics weren’t terrible and the soundtrack (Blur’s Song 2) was one of the best I’ve heard in any game. Due to EA Sport’s failure to improve on its successors, my interest in FIFA dwindled after its 2003 adaptation. Visually it was impressive but I found the gameplay to be non-responsive and repetitive which ultimately led me to abandon the series completely. I, like many fanatics of the ‘beautiful game’, began to find more appeal in Konami’s depictions.
After several years of rejecting EA’s efforts, I gave FIFA 09 a chance to rekindle my love for the series and didn’t regret the decision. It was certainly the most engaging football game I had ever played. Manager Mode was polished with new options such as scouting players and manually developing their abilities. The online features were also improved with modes like Be a Pro team play making a positive impression. Despite these much welcomed changes, the gameplay was the most eye-catching of all improvements. The physics were incredibly fluid with players having the ability to do feints and other skilful tricks.
The AI also seemed more aware than the zombie-like players of previous games. My attempts to dribble into the opponent’s danger area were often met by authoritative tackles while a sense of urgency was evident when teams were trailing in matches. In the months leading up to the release of FIFA 10 I wondered how EA Canada could possibly improve on this redefining game. Although I didn’t expect a terrible effort I also didn’t expect one that surpassed its predecessor in everyway.
It’s in the game-play
It is well known that for years Manager Mode has been the driving force behind all top football games. The chance for me to manage and play as Manchester United has always had pulling power. FIFA 09’s version of the much adored mode was the most impressive I had ever came across. The ability to scout the globe for young prospects was refreshing, whilst manually developing players was useful. FIFA 10’s Manager Mode makes an even bigger attempt to live up to the name. There is a visible role-playing feel to the experience in general. More responsibility is put on you to manage the club, and the board of directors will debrief you about your performances after each game. There are reputation and board confidence meters, which will both increase or decrease depending on how many games you win or lose. If your board has lost faith in you then, just like in real-life, you’ll get the sack. The higher your reputation is, however, the more appealing your club will be to your transfer targets.
One particular thing I found frustrating about FIFA 09 was the unrealistic transfer system. During one playthrough I sold a certain loathed Portuguese maestro to Everton for £80 million. No disrespect to the Toffees but they’re unlikely to ever possess that kind of money in reality. The transfer code seems to have been rewritten, resulting in more realistic deals. Clubs are more reluctant to sell players to their rivals even if colossal amounts of cash are involved. Players will also take every single detail into account before signing for you. Money is the least of their worries when there is tough competition for places within your squad. It is extremely rare to see big name players sign for unattractive set ups like Stoke City (sorry, fellas). The option to choose a transfer difficulty level at the beginning of my career added spice to the progress; however the harder option isn’t for everyone due to the consistent refusal of offers.
The new form system in Manager Mode was one of the few disappointments in the game. I found the system to be more rewarding towards attackers than midfielders and defenders. Strikers who frequently scored goals were given major boosts in attributes while their more defence-minded team mates got decreased form even after clean sheets. Another downer thanks to the form system is the exclusion of the much loved player growth system of 09. In FIFA 10 a player will only improve depending on his age and form. I understand EA Canada’s eagerness to make a realistic experience but clearly not enough was done to replace the old mechanic. The form system is an excellent idea but it needs to be better utilised in FIFA 11(I thought of it myself).
The most distinct difference between FIFA 10 and its precursor is the new 360° dribbling system. Players now have the ability to get out of tight situations in a believable style as every inch of space can be used to cause serious damage. This new feature also allows certain players to move like their real-life counterparts. When playing against the CPU, I discovered that Lionel Messi was almost impossible to dispossess while Kaka was unplayable when in free flow. The developer balanced this new dribbling feature with an authentic physics system. The truth about FIFA 10 is that size matters, which is an accurate reflection of modern day football. Brutes such as Michael Essien and Zlatan Ibrahimovic will easily dispossess physically inferior players when only a small amount of pressure applied. Body language is also more detailed as players will react with irritation when a team mate doesn’t give a pass in time.
Referees jump over the ball when it approaches them; although some attempts fail rather comically, furthermore goalkeepers will respond in a beastly manner after making a great save. The impressive AI from FIFA 09 has seen further improvements this year. Players will now do more sensible things like let the ball run out for a throw-in or stop chasing a lost cause. Goalkeepers are more commanding in one-on-one situations and aren’t as easy to beat compared to previous games. I had to work for every goal I scored and never got bored as a result.
The introduction of Live Season in FIFA 09 was given much praise and Live Season 2.0 takes FIFA 10 one step further. With Live Season you could upload your favourite team’s weekly form onto your game. I saw it as another measure towards achieving better real-life and in-game integration. New tweaks such as team summary have been added to give you more information about leagues and team form. The inclusion of My Live Season is the real winner however. With this fresh feature you can follow the progress of your favourite club team and have the power to rewrite their history. Each week your team plays, no matter what their result, you can also play the match and create your own outcome. I found this option to be very well done as I could change any defeat of my beloved Manchester United into satisfying victory (bet you would want to change that Liverpool defeat wouldn’t you? – Andy).
Virtual Pro allows you to create an in-game version of yourself which can then be used in ‘Be a Pro’ season mode, online team play, the Pro Club Championship and even Manager Mode. You can customize the look of your virtual self and in addition create a ‘gameface’ through EA.com. Your virtual pro’s qualities will improve as you complete various challenges which lead to accomplishments. These can be done almost anywhere in the game from the Be a Pro season mode to the 1 on 1 arena. I felt Virtual Pro was yet another option which further allowed me to gain the full FIFA 10 experience.
Amongst the many new additions in FIFA 10 is Practice Mode. A major letdown in FIFA 09 was the lack of a mode for practicing set pieces or just a friendly kick about with the AI but with this new feature players can do exactly that. Once you load up the game, you now have different options besides the classic 1 on 1. FIFA 10 allows you to practice set pieces such as corners, free kicks and penalties. An advanced version of this is its ‘Create Set Pieces’ alternative which is precisely as its name suggests. You can do all the same things like in Set Pieces, but with some added effects like controlling where you want players to go. Another bonus is the ability to use the set pieces you have practiced during matches, but only if they are saved. You are also able to choose the amount of attackers and defenders you want in each of the practice modes. Overall I felt this new element gave an already solid game that extra dimension.
Spot the ball
When you’re debating with friends about which simulator is better, PES or FIFA, one arguing point that always arises are graphics. For years Konami’s PES has boasted superior visuals compared to its EA counterpart and unfortunately this year is no different. EA Canada hasn’t changed much of the graphics from the last game. Noting that this is supposed to be a ‘virtual simulator’, players still look cartoonish and are too ‘game-like’. The graphics aren’t bad at all but considering how far FIFA has come they could do with a makeover. That being said, the detail and level of effort put into stadiums make them look credible. There’s visible freedom when players are dashing across the green turf, and they move in a believable manner. FIFA 10’s biggest flaw is the way it looks and if its developers can improve on that come next year then it’ll be a near perfect football simulator.
Sounds better than sixty-six
Screaming fans, loud whistle blowing, top commentary and plenty of crunching tackles allow FIFA 10 to sound like all good football sims ought to. The virtual fans deserve all the credit in this section. They never cease to make themselves heard in every match; they roar all types of chants depending on what teams are on the pitch. Deep cries of ‘Rooney, Rooney’ will be heard if you’re playing as the Red Devils, while shouts of ‘Argentina, Argentina’ are audible when you choose Los Albicelestes.
The commentary duo of Martin Tyler and Andy Gray make a much welcomed comeback in FIFA 10. The veteran commentators are still as hungry as ever for football and it’s easy to hear in the game. Also making a return from FIFA 09 is EA Trax with a new selection of international hits from different genres. Once again you’ll be able to manage your playlist and change tracks that you don’t want. Fidel Nadal’s ‘International Love’ is a good example of how catchy and pleasant some tracks are. I hope at this point that EA Canada is considering an option for players to upload their own tracks in the next FIFA title; it doesn’t hurt to dream, right?
Be warned, screamers will be scored!
The multiplayer features of FIFA 10 are undoubtedly its most appealing. Players have many modes to choose from such as classic Head-to-Head matches and online team play. Head-to-Head matches are still an enjoyable way to test general skills against others. I was, however, frequently frustrated by bad connections with some players which usually led me to leave the game prematurely. Modes such as Pro Club Championship and online team play are best enjoyed with friends because most strangers don’t care about teamwork. The ability to use my virtual pro in these modes was a nice add-on although his attributes weren’t up to par with regular players.
There are regional lounges where you can find players who live in the same country as you. Again the developer’s had their hearts set in the right place but the execution holds it back. Matches are easy to find but connecting with other players is very difficult on some occasions. EA Canada has improved the FIFA 09 formula with Live Season 2.0. The added ability to use your virtual pro online will be seen as a big plus amongst players. With modes such as the Friends League, online team play and Head-to-Head, most people will spend the majority of their time in online modes.
How big can FIFA get?
FIFA 09 redefined the football simulation subgenre as a whole having set the benchmark for how all games succeeding it should be made. FIFA 10 has met those standards and surpassed them with ease. The new 360° dribbling is nothing short of revolutionary, Virtual Pro is another stride forward and the revamped Manager Mode is the best in any football game thus far. I’d like to say there’s not much work left for EA Canada to do but that is not the case at all. The graphical side of FIFA games have been too similar for the last few instalments and needs to be completely redone. Apart from that it generally needs to stay on point and not rest on its laurels. After many years of playing second fiddle to PES, the series now certainly has the advantage and must continue to build momentum. Following two fantastic games in as many attempts, FIFA can only get better in the capable hands of EA Canada.