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For some of us, the World Cup just can't arrive soon enough, which is something that EA clearly understands...
While we fear that Fernando Torres' injury proneness and Didier Drogba's, err, proneness may be as consistent in this summer's World Cup as they have been all season long in the Premiership, one thing that certainly won't be as repetitively tiresome is EA's customary World Cup instalment in its FIFA series. As it has been doing since the publisher's first World Cup game in 1998, EA Sports is once again looking to offer a jam-packed game for the tournament that builds upon the successes of the year's full season release (in this case, FIFA 10) and then goes on to experiment with some new ideas where possible as well - a FIFA 10.5 if you will. And the publisher has managed to nail this remit once again, with a game that's as appealing to hardcore FIFA fans as it is casual football followers who only ever bother to tune into the footie during the greatest tournament on earth.
Gameplay has been stepped up since FIFA 10; not to any great deal, but enough for fine details to be noticed. A wider range of animations - evident when players stick out a trailing leg to block a cross or slide to reach a ball that's slowly rolling into touch - as well as smoother transitions between these animations have been developed by the EA Canada team. Player jostling, which was introduced in FIFA 09, also continues its march towards perfection. Players appear to be balanced more evenly between their weight, strength, and skill now, so that Lionel Messi doesn't get muscled off the ball easily even though he is the smallest man on the footballing planet. All of these improvements mark growth in an area that the FIFA team has been working hard on for the last two years, but such is the pace of this refinement that it's clearly evident in the six month gap between FIFA 10 and 2010 FIFA World Cup.
With its UEFA Euro 2008 instalment two years ago, EA Canada introduced a heightened level of presentation for matches that now continues through into 2010 FIFA World Cup. From the pre-match firework and confetti displays, to impressively rendered cut-scenes of team managers shouting from the touchlines and samba-style footie fans in the crowd, visuals are at an all-time high for the series. The likes of Fabio Capello, Vicente del Bosque, and Maradonna are animated with freakish lifelikeness, although admittedly only a minority of the world's international coaches have been added to the roster. Still, with 199 international sides available to play as or against, it's hardly surprising that EA hasn't rendered every single coach. The sheer breadth and reach of this team roster also compensates for the lack of international sides in FIFA 10 as well, even though an asking price of £49.99 RRP for the right to play as them is perhaps a touch on the steep side (then again, official licenses do cost publishers an absolute packet these days).
That's not all you get for your money though, as a range of returning modes from Euro 2008 as well as some new additions make for a formidable range of game types. There is, of course, the opportunity to play out the World Cup tournament with all of the official South African stadia from this year's competition. The option to either start from the qualifying rounds or kick-off straight from the World Cup finals then adds depth to the mode as well. Unlike Euro 2008 though, an online multiplayer tournament has been added to the fray this year that allows gamers to choose any of the 199 teams on offer and drop into a full World Cup tournament with all the bells and whistles attached.
The game's online features are then bolstered by Battle of Nations' return from Euro 2008. Essentially a variant of the popular Interactive Leagues feature from EA's main FIFA game, Battle of Nations rates your performance as a specific nation or player and then tallies these performances alongside other gamers online to form a global ranking board for international sides. Unlike Interactive Leagues though, the ranking isn't pulled from specific online games but from a variety of modes in the game played both in the online multiplayer and against the computer. Individual gamer rankings are then catered for with the World League Ladder, which boasts an online league system of 10 divisions filtered through promotion and relegation, as well as post-season tournaments for extra ranking points. All in all then, if you're the sort of gamer who's taken advantage of FIFA 10's multitude of online modes, then 2010 FIFA World Cup will be right up your alley too.
Captain Your Country also makes a welcome return from Euro 2008 (where it was the first mode to properly run with EA's Be-a-Pro feature and bring it to life). This time around the offerings are much the same (chose a player and bring them up through the ranks in qualifying rounds to lead their nation as team captain at the World Cup finals) even if enhanced menu options do present a more appealing front-end. In reality though, the most valuable new feature is the option to upload your Be-a-Pro player from FIFA 10 into the Captain Your Country mode, which will be a welcome reward for those of you who've put endless hours into FIFA 10's Be-a-Pro mode over the last few months.
Our personal favourite mode is Story of Qualifying though. Much like its forerunner in Euro 2008, the mode serves up historical scenario challenges from the World Cup qualifying rounds for players to pit their wits against. Examples include taking charge of the England game away from home against Croatia playing only as Theo Walcott, with the challenge of both winning the game and scoring a hat-trick with Walcott. The pick of the bunch, though, has got to be rallying the Irish to make a comeback win in extra-time against the French following Henry's now infamous handball. You even get specific commentary lines from Clive Tyldesley and Andy Townsend expressing their disgust at Henry's actions, which is a neat little touch. Story of Qualifying is set to be joined by Story of the World Cup scenarios as the tournament plays out, and EA is even promising that these scenarios will be delivered as a free service.
Speaking of the commentary, Tyldesley and Townsend make a welcome return from their tour of duty on UEFA Euro 2008, and EA has certainly written them a healthy dose of new lines for this tournament rather than merely pounding out the same content from two years ago. Unfortunately we can't say the same for FIFA 10's commentary duo, Martin Tyler and Andy Gray, where Gray in particular often recites lines that are quite simply out of date, referring to managers of teams that they've long since departed and alike.
As we mentioned earlier, EA Canada often uses its World Cup games as an opportunity for some experimentation with the FIFA formula, and this year's game is no exception. As with Euro 2008, 2010 FIFA World Cup tinkers with the penalty taking formula a bit (what better time to do so than the World Cup?) and comes up smelling of roses for it. In short, a composure meter has been added to the system, challenging players to stop a reticule in the middle of the meter while also dealing with shot power and direction, or even adding in a couple of trick shots if they're really confident (lobbed penalties and stutter-step run-ups). Not only that, but shot direction has also been tweaked to rely on timing - gone are the days of simply holding your desired corner of the goal on the thumbstick. It's a new setup that runs the risk of being a touch gimmicky or overly complicated, but thankfully manages to avoid both of these pitfalls. Fan reaction to it will determine whether it makes the jump to FIFA 11 and we're hoping that it does.
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