Over the last few years FIFA has been a bit like Man United’s tough-tackling, but workman-like, jobber Darren Fletcher. Solid, yet rarely thrilling, it’s been easy to look past EA’s faithful sim in favour of Pro Evolution Soccer’s sexier, arcade-fuelled football. But, just like the uncompromising midfielder, this year’s FIFA has come on leaps and bounds over the last 12 months.
But, before we get into the meat and onion-bag blasters of the review, we thought we’d pause for a moment for any of you who think this is what football’s all about…
Regardless of whether you call the beautiful game soccer or not, or if you’ve never played a sports game, you should know FIFA 10 is still a huge deal. And that’s mainly because it features a new movement system that’s like going from this…
For the rest of you, we preach to the converted, right? So it should come as no surprise that FIFA 10 introduces a 360° dribbling system (the first ever footie game to do so) that takes the series forward hugely.
We know what you think. It sounds like something a bunch of money men have cooked up just so they’ve got something to put on a shiny sticker for the box. But don’t worry. In practice, it’s as important as Fight Night introducing Total Punch Control or Skate’s ‘Flick It’ analogue system. EA going from gimmick-peddlers to innovators. Who’d have thunk it, eh?
Above: The new dribbling is the biggest evolutionary step we’ve seen in footie titles for a decade
So why is 360° dribbling such a massive deal, then? Well, in previous games you’ve always been restricted to players who can only move in 8 diagonal directions. At times, it felt like you were desperately shuffling little Subbuteo men about a Tron-style grid.
But now, nudge the stick in even the slightest direction and fleeted-footed players like Robinho move the ball in precise, subtle new directions. After years of players running on invisible rails, it’s liberating. The vibrant freedom of movement opens up spaces on the pitch you’ll never have exploited, and lets you squeeze into gaps between opposition players that simply haven’t existed before. It’s brilliantly organic and beautiful to watch in motion.
Don’t get us wrong. This doesn’t suddenly mean you’re going to skin an entire team like the pint-sized, but mesmerising Lionel Messi. Try to beat a man – especially on World Class difficulty or above – and you'll find it's still utterly nails. Get to grips with the skill moves on the right stick, though, and you can pull off some amazing mate-shaming moments in multi-player. Still, as you’ll see in the video below, it's hard to learn, and feels unintuitive at first.
FIFA’s other new headline-grabbing feature is its set-piece creator. Part of the new, extended arena mode (which now lets you play practice matches) it gives you the tools to create free-form free-kick routines by giving you control over all your players’ runs.
If we put the new features on the subs bench, the best part of the game remains the beautifully balanced build-up play. More refined than last year (especially chipped through balls), it’s easier to play a pass behind a defence and into space. As ever, shred a back four to pieces with an incisive through ball for a speedy front man to run onto, and you'll be in fist-punching paradise.
Crosses have also been sorted. Spongy last year, they’ve now got real zip about them, especially if you ping in deliveries with good passers like Welsh wizard Ryan Giggs. After playing with FIFA 09’s weak efforts, crosses now feel fierce, which makes flank play more dangerous and exciting.
Shooting has received less treatment. The biggest change? Have a pop from 25 yards and you’ll find shots are far less floaty than last year. There are loads of parameters that affect your shot - position of the player, angle etc. – in this physics-heavy (Oi! Wake up) system. And, just like real life, the power of shots are governed by how your man approaches the ball. Like this...
Scoring screamers is satisfying, but we also love to use the shot modifier to curl our efforts towards the onion bag. Want to really humiliate the keeper? Try a deft Nothing, though, can beat a deft dink or a looping lob. Like this...
With so many shot types at your disposal, this year’s one-on-ones with goalies always feel fresh.
Now, admittedly, this is going to sound weird. But the most immersive thing in FIFA 10 are the ramblings of an old English guy and a Scot who sounds like he smokes 60 a day. Between them Andy Gray and Martin Tyler (the commentators for the UK version of FIFA) enrich matches with their natural, incidental analysis. Even if they do love to slate our shooting skills.
It might not sound like much, but when we hear them make an incidental quip about how Man City are suddenly rolling in money, it always slaps a wide smile on our faces - and, rest assured, we ain’t fans of those pack of millionaire mercenaries. Insightful, and up-to-date, the spot-on commentary really is of a TV broadcast standard.
Sadly there’s always a dark underbelly to our beloved ball-blasting sport. Here, it comes in the form of a strange fault in the game’s cut scenes that shrinks players – regardless of height – down to the same size.
Granted, the incredible shrinking man syndrome isn’t a massive deal. What annoys us more are the bugs in, the otherwise excellent, Manager Mode (essentially FIFA’s career mode). From our time with the game, the league tables are all wrong. None more so than our current season, where we trail to a rampant Bolton Wanderers, who sit pretty at the top of the Premier League after 20 games.
Really, though, these are minor quibbles in an otherwise title-winning campaign for FIFA 10. With comprehensive licensing covering most major and minor European, American and Mexican leagues and incredibly purdy looks, this is the most realistic representation of football you’ll find. Well, short of actually going outside and scuffing up your shins with other folk.
Even if you hate sports title, there’s so much to admire in the game’s presentation. Whether it’s the stadium announcer reeling off the starting 11s pre-game or little details like when players clench their stomachs after they get up from an injury; the whole package has been put together with an exhaustive eye for detail.
Just like Darren Fletcher for Man United, FIFA 10 should be the first name on your team sheet/shopping list this season.
FIFA 10 adding new dynamic dribbling to its already refined passing game is like adding Ronaldo to Chelsea. It makes a winning formula that much better. A brilliant, championship-conquering football game.
FIFA 09? Hells yes. Faster, more fluid and with more incisive crossing and shooting, this is a big step up. Players and teams also feel more individual than FIFA 09. And the new Virtual Pro mode expands on Be a Pro, letting you play with your created player in all of the game’s modes. If last year was a Europa League finalist, FIFA 10 is a Champions League winner.
PES 2010? Right now? Based on our fairly-extensive hands-on with preview code, we say yes. Currently, PES 2010 feels much weightier than it’s predecessor, with more focus on player momentum. Unfortunately, the physics behind this new system feel unrefined at the moment. Its 360° dribbling isn’t in the same league as FIFA’s, either, and feels more like 16 directional movement to us. We love PES, though, and there’s still time to fix these problems, so hopefully it’ll be a close title race when Konami's game is released.
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