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FIFA 10 Review

November 19th, 2009 by

Want to know a lesser known bit of gaming trivia? Over the last 16 years, EA has brought the world over 40 football titles. With all that practice, you would have to assume that the company is getting pretty close to producing the ultimate version of the ‘beautiful game’. But while this years title is thoroughly accomplished and well presented, it isn’t without its faults, and there really is still no clear cut decision for those wondering whether to roll with FIFA or Pro Evolution Soccer for their football title of choice this year.

If you’ve been around the FIFA series or any EA Sports title over the last 5 years, you’ll know that presentation is paramount. Ironic then that you are dropped into an incredibly raw and rootsy feeling one-on-one between you and the ‘keeper, at night, in a random stadium. Whilst initially off-putting it’s actually a rather thoughtful and brave move on behalf of the developer, and serves as a visual metaphor for what the team has aimed to achieve with FIFA 10. The theme this year seems to be portraying not just a great game of football, but the inherent ‘feelings’ behind the world’s favourite sport. Dumping you into a playing field in a South American ghetto comes across at first as a bit of a waste of the FIFA license (an excuse for pomp and ceremony if ever there was one), but it’s actually very fitting, as it’s environments like this from where true passion for the sport comes from.

Likewise, the animation isn’t particularly flashy, but through modesty comes it’s inherent brilliance. The game never feels it needs to show off particularly, yet on the pitch, players move and react incredibly realistically and from afar, with the oh-so-officially branded HUD removed, you could be forgiven for thinking you were watching a real match. Players call for passes, indicate that they’re open, jostle for position, and generally move very convincingly across the pitch. Sound also plays a key factor, and once you’ve managed to tune out the commentators prattling on about things that may or may not be occurring on the turf, the atmosphere of football is beautifully captured. Something instinctual occurs at the back of your mind when you hear a fellow player shout ‘MAN ON!’ and it’s this that FIFA captures so well. Likewise, sound changes depending on the kind of environment you are playing in and the team you’re playing as, which all lends to the feeling of verisimilitude. Player models themselves are a little disappointing, still retaining their mannequin-like appearance, but to be honest you need to be pretty close to the action to notice.

With the aforementioned lack of visual flair, the player at home is left to focus on formulating strategies, spotting weaknesses in their opponents’ game, and capitalising on them, because if you don’t, your opponent will. The game doesn’t mess around, even on the default settings, and if you haven’t played a football game for a while, you quickly realise that brushing up on your skills is the only way to progress. Which brings me very neatly to my first real complaint, accessibility. This was my first FIFA title since 2001, and for all the criticism that is laid at the door of EA in its approach to sports games, it has to be said that this is nothing like those earlier titles. If you’re new to the series, the game doesn’t do a particularly good job at telling you how to play it, it simply assumes from the offset that you know what the offside rule is, why you’d want to field a 4-4-2 formation, and why playing at home is better than playing away. For those reading that feel that these are common knowledge, go and pick up a copy of Madden 10, and you’ll experience what I’m talking about, it’s exactly the same feeling of bewilderment, frustration, and apathy that any gamer faces when a title doesn’t explain how to get the most from it. The sheer number of options you are given will most likely put off newer players, and as always the game is best when it’s at its simplest, two players, on a couch, in an exhibition match.

The ultimate test of a sports title is whether you can draw, or even lose, and still feel as if you’ve had a good time, and I’m glad to say that FIFA 10 is definitely one of those titles. A 0-0 result can often feel just as satisfying as administering a whitewash, especially when it’s a hard won fight to the ninetieth minute. In fact the greatest praise I can give is that the game made me care about the team I was playing as, I genuinely felt emotionally invested, at least on a very basic level. There’s a Manager mode, Create A Pro mode, and Live Season, in which real world happenings affect the virtual world game, but this latter option comes at a price, and you’re not missing out on anything spectacular if you do decide not to lay down the space bucks. Additionally, it highlights a very prominent conundrum. For all the realism portrayed here, a true sports simulation is almost antithetical to design conventions in gaming. Some teams are simply better than others, so when I stand up to Manchester United with Bristol City, it’s always going to be an uphill struggle, with my team simply not having the statistics based skills to regularly beat such an opponent. It leaves you wondering whether the interception to the pass you just made was your error, or an inevitability. But, if I’m honest, most people interested in picking this up are probably after that level of authenticity.
FIFA 10 is not a ground breaking title because it simply can’t be, it is always going to be anchored to the sport it is representing. What it does bring is a product that feels honest, a corporeal representation perhaps of the changes EA has made to it’s general design philosophy. The big question now is quite simple, but a design nightmare: where does the series go from here?

MLG Rating: 8 / 10

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