Modelling unpredictability is a difficult proposition at the best of times, but as the magical ingredient that allows sights such as these to entertain every season, it’s arguably the core appeal of our national game. FIFA 10 – whilst still having room to improve – displays a hitherto unseen understanding that, as fans, we’d rather have a game that allows for the likes of this, or this, in place of the clinical accuracy and reductive routine that videogame football traditionally provides. Make it ugly, make it beautiful, but whatever you do, make it feel alive.
Whilst promotional activity has centred on sparkling buzzwords and ‘all-new’ features, the list of tweaks and minor additions are what really turn this edition into a title of substance. Ball movement – previously the bane of the series in comparison to Konami’s efforts – finally feels right, with fewer physics abnormalities tearing at the visage of authenticity. Lofted passes zip around the pitch at Premier League speed, precise through balls reward accuracy and vision, and tweaked stats finally allow for crashing long-range piledrivers – previously the domain of PES alone.
In concert with that, the much-vaunted emphasis on physicality that chewed up the box art of FIFA ’09 is finally delivered. Players like Rio Ferdinand are routinely able to barge the likes of Aaron Lennon off the ball (with badly timed interventions often resulting in a quick free kick), but with an increase in acceleration and the ability to move in 360 degrees, intercepting a skilled opponent can be a difficult task. Defending relies on timing and precision as a result, and that’s quite the sea-change for a series usually dependant on holding down a single button and hoping for the best.
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New additions to the animation library further enhance the sense of living, breathing football; as players stumble and slide into a degree of situational variety that – thus far – has helped to stave off any hint of pattern-forming. Defenders are able to stretch and lunge as if the ghost of Stuart Pearce’s playing career compels them, goalkeepers now back-pedal, dive at any angle, and also sport a far less predictable range of deflections– although that might be a consequence of ball velocity rather than any grand design. Whatever the intent, it feels as if EA Canada has torn down that final link to FIFA circa 2002, and let’s be frank, nobody will miss it.
With the presentational trappings as well-produced as ever, an improved (if still somewhat unconvincing) manager mode, and the introduction of GameFace bolstering the ability to play as your custom pro in offline or online modes; longevity is also unrivalled. Last year’s online-ruining custom tactics have been wisely limited to offline play only, and exploits have thus far been conspicuous in their absence. Shooting from the centre circle is now redundant, and we’ve yet to encounter any formations that feel particularly cheap. Servers are still full of whiny 12-year-old kids of course, but outside of getting all Michael Douglas on the entire community, the mute button is your friend.
Outside of the qualities listed above, perhaps the most telling summation of FIFA 10′s advances stemmed from an opening-day seven-hour multiplayer session. “The players are actually doing precisely what I want them to do”, my opponent stated after a box-to-box one-touch move and finish. And that – as any fan will tell you – is pretty much the holy grail of any football simulation.