About a year ago, I called FIFA 2009 one of the greatest sports games ever made. I was absolutely in love with that game. Improving on that experience and making the game even better without screwing up something along the way is a task that many sports games fail to accomplish (Madden, it took you five years to develop a game as good as Madden 2005). It has been my long-held belief that ESPN's NFL 2K5 is the greatest sports game ever made, and I was convinced that no sports game could ever top that title, but FIFA 2010 has made an incredible case.
If you've been around the FIFA series for the last few years, the biggest change you'll notice is the speed at which the game takes place. Compared to previous years, the speed has really been kicked up a notch, and everything on the playing field unfolds a bit faster. It works wonders here, as the action is never fast-paced enough to be unbelievable and enter the realm of arcade soccer, but it is fast enough to heighten the game's intensity. At any moment, things could quickly turn around. For instance, you could be on offense driving near the penalty box but suddenly find yourself defending against an odd man rush and panicking to keep men between the ball and the goal. The collision physics also seem to have received a significant upgrade; when two players hit each other, you can see and feel the impact a lot better than in previous editions. The fights for the ball seem more intense, and the ball can easily be knocked away from the initial battle, though not so far that it's unrealistic.
The other reasonably big change to gameplay was the major overhaul of how trying to cross the ball works. In soccer, this term means that somebody is trying to pass the ball from the edge of the field to a shooting position. When these plays work in an actual soccer match, it often looks spectacular. FIFA 10 has made crosses significantly more realistic in their execution. If you're under pressure or moving at all, the ball will often hook, arc, and do all kinds of things that you don't want it to in FIFA 10. This is unlike last year's edition, where you could at least get the ball into the goalie box without any problems. This change is for the better, as it forces most players to think a little harder about where they're going to put the ball to get it into the box; many players, myself included, abused the heck out of the cross in previous editions and used it as a primary means of scoring.
Of course, all of these little changes are for naught if the game isn't fun to play, and the FIFA series continues its astounding climb from the bottom of the barrel to being one of the greatest sports franchises. FIFA 10 plays a wonderful game of soccer, with a healthy dose of single-player modes, robust online features, and plenty of challenge. Among the neatest little touches to the presentation is a feature that analyzes your hard drive for a save file from FIFA 09. If it finds one, it analyzes your statistics and determines the settings you'd like to play with, as well as the AI difficulty that would best suit your play level. Features like this help make FIFA 2010 an even better game than its predecessor.
The big new mode in this year's iteration of FIFA is Virtual Pro, which is essentially a glorified player creation mode. It shouldn't seem new to anyone who has ever played a sports game, but the mode's execution is incredible. You start by creating a player, which is as robust as any sports game should be, with one key difference. With your computer, it's possible to load photos into the game and have them converted to in-game assets. As with other EA efforts like Fight Night, you can actually get a reasonably accurate representation of yourself (or any number of celebrities) into the game. The neat thing is that this player can now be extended into any of the other game modes, and he evolves and improves as you play more. When starting up a new Manager mode, the game will ask if you want to place your virtual pro on the team, and he can even be taken online. There are dozens of challenges for your player to complete, and he will improve from someone who's barely deserving of being subbed into games to becoming an international superstar.
Virtual Pro mode is significantly more entertaining than EA's previous similar effort, Be a Pro mode. While it still exists as Be a Pro and Be a Pro Seasons, it's just more fun to play as the entire team and watch your player evolve. While Be a Pro still has its benefits, forcing you to play as one player for the entire match is more of a novelty than anything else. In Be a Pro, you spend a significant amount of time away from the action; you run around, following an arrow that tells you where you should be on the field, and you receive a grade after the match that indicates how well you played (it's largely determined by whether you were where the game told you to be). It quickly becomes tedious to deal with only being close to the action for a few minutes out of the 90-minute soccer match.
As far as the single-player gameplay is concerned, many players will spend a lot of time in the meaty Manager mode. Players can take any team they want and guide them for the next 15 years, assuming your performance is up to snuff. You have fans to please, sponsors to please, and, most importantly, the board to please. The amount of information handed to you in the menu systems can be a little overwhelming at times, but it's nice to see it all there. Everything is controllable, right down to ticket prices on home games. If it all becomes too overwhelming, there's an Assistant Coach option that can be activated to take care of most of the background work for you, allowing you to focus on playing a good game of soccer.
If playing by yourself isn't your cup of tea, you could choose to play multiplayer with four local players, or you could head online for more options. There's the usual ranked and unranked stuff, but you can band together with up to nine other people and go against other teams. Every member of your team can take his respective virtual pro online to join clubs, join leagues and play against other teams. It is possible to play a 20-player game of FIFA 2010 without using a single real-life player, only the creations of other people around the world. It's a wonderful extension of the 20 player Be a Pro matches that were found in last year's online component, and robust online options like this really help extend the replayability of the title.
For the most part, the visuals look quite good. Things have been touched up and improved upon over the last year, and the art style and animations seem to be a little bit smoother around the edges. Big guys collide with the little guy in the right ways, and player reactions to the ball look almost seamless; it's just wonderfully done overall. To me, the two biggest improvements are the almost complete absence of stuttering that has plagued the series in the past and a dramatic improvement in load times when a match begins.
The sound is pretty spectacular. FIFA 2010 is one of the first soccer games that I've played where the roar of the crowd and sheer noise levels of a full soccer stadium actually sounded right. It's still a little on the quiet side, when the crowd needs to be loud, they certainly are. Andy Gray and Clive Tilsley do a great job as commentators. Games like Pro Evolution Soccer have suffered from announcers who spend a lot of time not actually saying anything. Gray and Tilsley usually have plenty to say, and it sounds great, and only rarely do they miscall a play. The soundtrack is pretty standard fare for soccer games, largely pulling from European artists that most people in the U.S. have never heard of. (I recognized two songs on the entire soundtrack.)
FIFA 2010 has outdone its predecessor and taken up the mantle of the greatest soccer game ever made. It's a meaty offering in both single- and multiplayer content, controls great, plays great, and is all wrapped up in a very sharp presentation. It still has some issues that need to be worked out, if you have even a passing interest in soccer, you owe it to yourself to try out FIFA 10.
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