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TVG tests out if the hotly-anticipated new FIFA title lives up to expectations...
At first, listening to David Rutter, the lead designer of the FIFA series, throw about phrases like: "new collision avoidance systems" and "improved reflex traps", it's easy to mistake his terminology for PR spiel dreamed up to hide the inadequacies of FIFA 09. He is, after all, just talking about players not running into each other and being able to intercept the ball. However, his arm-length list of jargon demonstrates that, if anything, Rutter is actually a bit of a perfectionist. In fact, he's such a perfectionist that in the 13 years he's been making football games, he's yet to make one that he was happy with, including the hugely successful FIFA 09.
The Devil Is In The Detail
At our eagerly-awaited, first hands-on with FIFA 10 he reminds us of the improvements that we looked at earlier this year and it's clear to see that this year is all about the detail. For instance, this year, better defenders will position themselves more accurately to intercept passes and are more likely to react to intercept a poor, nearby pass. These are the kinds of improvements that when working well are difficult to notice, but in the end make for a much more authentic experience.
Towards the end of this rather long list of improvements, more and more heads began to stir - snatching looks at the consoles lined up behind us, anxious to play the result of all this fine-tuning. However, amidst all the tweaking, EA has also had time to develop two considerable new features. The first is a Create a Set Piece mode, in which you can direct set pieces from five sectors around the box. In this mode you can take control of up to six players on the training ground, and individually map out their route during a set piece. If you're feeling puerile, which I was, you can also make them waltz with each another, or draw silly shapes with the trail that each player leaves behind them. When you're finished, you can allocate your genius set piece to the D-pad and trigger it in game. Of course, you still have to get the delivery right in the actual match, but this really blows the dust off of normal rigmarole of set pieces. You can even use this mode to recreate famous set piece goals, as Rutter proudly demonstrated.
The second new feature unveiled was the addition of a multiplayer practice mode, in which you can set up your own match parameters to create your own games - cue five-a-sides (albeit on full-sized pitches) and dozens more games that the community is likely to create. Both of these innovations are likely to turn the heads of even the most fervent of PES devotees. Finally, before letting us loose on his baby, so to speak, Rutter took us through the improvements to manager mode designed to make the whole experience more immersive. Without boring you with the finer details, in essence, EA has gone to great lengths to make the calculations and decisions outside of gameplay more akin to a real football season to the extent that they actually emulated Kaka's transfer to Real Madrid before it happened.
With the teams at this stage as they were at the end of this season, Real Madrid's Galaticos weren't an option, so instead I settled for, Arsenal. Immediately, the most noticeable thing about the new FIFA, is just how similar it is to the old FIFA. Hushed grumbles from around the room of "it's just the same" confirmed it wasn't just us. From the menu, to the staging area, to the visuals of the pitch and players, you have to squint to notice any differences (although conceivably there could be later changes as our build was 75% complete).
Five minutes into our first game a few of the new improvements were beginning to show themselves. The most apparent change is the effect of the new 360-degree dribbling. Gamers take it for granted that in football games you can only move in eight directions, so it's natural to only point the analogue stick in those directions. However, when we attempted our first probing run from midfield we realised there's a much more refined range of movement available to your player. As well as making long runs a hell of a lot more fun, it also accentuates the differences in players ball controls skills. Whether or not it's truly a 360-degree range is hard to tell, but it's certainly makes bypassing defenders less prosaic.
The next noticeable difference is the speed of the long balls. Previously, trying to pass the ball to the opposite wing would result in watching it agonisingly float in the air, giving the entire opposition's team time to readjust before intercepting your pass. Now, the balls have a sense of urgency through the air and are no longer a toothless mode of attack. Although difficult to pull off, thanks to the new increased error rate, they can now be used to effectively pick out lone wingers, who are now also less likely to control the ball on their first touch.
Another nice touch is the improvement in player jostling. Where previously a defender would catch a forward and hold on to their shirt for dear life until he could muscle his way in front, now, depending on your approach and strength, you can run straight at a player and shoulder them off the ball. Or if you meet a player ahead of the ball, your player will satisfyingly shove them out of the way. Weight isn't everything though, as well as grabbing shirts players now push off one another realistically rather than staying glued together as they used to, so with a burst of pace smaller quicker players can occasionally sprint ahead after being pushed away and keep hold of the ball.
Defenders have also benefitted from some smarter AI for intercepting passes. Better defenders now clearly take up better positions to intercept passes and unexpectedly lunge across to cut off through balls and shots destined for goal. Meanwhile, defenders still seem characteristically dim-witted to loose balls. In what can feel like a lifetime, players will gawp at loose balls crawling by them while a quick-witted striker nabs the ball and goes for a stroll towards your goal (yes, it happened to me and no, I'm not bitter, much).The urgency of both the defenders and goalkeepers is something that Rutter has pledged his team working on up until release, and although it is an improved from the FIFA 09 it is a blemish on an otherwise pristine build.
The Beautiful Game
Towards the end of our hands-on session there were still mutters that this was still the same as FIFA 09, but there's little doubt in our mind that this is a subtle but effective refinement of what was already a very strong game. Everything just seems that little bit better. Gameplay seems faster, defending plays more realistically and the entire experience feels more authentic. Improvements such as the ball physics and new shooting system were a little hard to pick up on in this short space of time, but they'll undoubtedly be important factors in mastering the game.
FIFA 10 is a testament to Rutter and his team's perfectionism. The improvements to the game have given the series a good foundation to build on while the new features move the genre forward, leaving the arguably stagnant PES series in its wake. For fans of the genre and FIFA this is likely to be an even bigger landmark than its predecessor, and it's definitely one we're looking forward to.
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