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FIFA 10 adds a few new features but concentrates on getting the on-field action better then ever before...
Under the careful gaze of David Rutter, EA Canada transformed FIFA from mid-table mediocrity into genuine champions with last year's FIFA 09. No longer instantly considered inferior to PES, the idea of seeing where FIFA could continue to improve is something we would never imagine admitting to barely a few years ago. Created under the mantra of '30% innovation/70% evolution', FIFA 10 sets out to enhance its predecessor's impressive command over controls, player movement, and matchday experience, while serving up a handful of new gameplay features and modes.
The bewildering amount of content that FIFA 10 offers can't be faulted. Being able to play as a specific player in 'Be-A-Pro' makes a welcome return from FIFA 09, as you attempt to rise through the ranks of the club's reserves and become an international star. Admittedly, it's all largely familiar, but there are a number of worthy additions expected from the annual update. The ability to create your own player down to the smallest, customary EA detail is made a little easier with the ability to upload a photo of your face and add it on to your player. But it's the fact that your virtual player can gain experience by playing in various offline modes (and the Arena) and earn accomplishments, which in turn enhance his playing stats and unlock goodies (untucking your shirt, long sleeves,...) that gives the concept a purpose it never previously had. Your virtual player can then also take it online and join the 10 vs. 10 Pro Club Championship, where players compete together in clubs from 11 regional leagues. The chance to become a Virtual Legend and top world scoring ranks, becoming a sought after transfer target in the process, makes this an alluring prospect once the servers become active.
With 'more then 50 major improvements', the Manager Mode is where the bulk of the offline game stems from. Although we didn't spot each of these improvements, the more natural way in which players develop and the more lifelike grind of the transfer market gives the mode the touch of realism that it's always lacked while results appear to be much more genuine. Interactive Leagues, Exhibitions, and the customary selection of Tournaments round off the selection and should provide enough substance to keep even the most fanatical football fan happy until next season. If EA is to be believed, then over 350 million online matches of FIFA 09 has enabled the team to iron out the flaws and offer the definitive online experience in FIFA 10. Unfortunately, the servers were not active at the time of writing, but the addition of a multitude of new custom filters should at least bring an end to everybody playing as Man United.
On the pitch, it's largely the same case of subtle evolutions over massive back-of-the box bullet point features. Once again, the grasp over player individualities, ball physics, and movement is enjoyable and the first touch control and right thumbstick skill moves are still endlessly gratifying. Excessive bouts of FIFA 09 would draw attention to its few foibles. The AI - although unquestionably good - tended to stick with the same routines, half-line goals (and other cheap techniques) were easy once you knew how, and control over long ball passes that didn't turn into floaters was erratic at best. FIFA 10 makes genuine improvements in all of these areas. In particular, the variety in teammate and opponents' movement and play is immediately noticeable, which makes for less predictable and more genuine matches. A greater level of control over the curve and pace of the long ball is certainly evident, although this opens up an issue that we believe could become a cheap glitch. We've scored directly from a corner on several occasions because of the added ability to put more curve on the ball; this isn't necessarily a bad thing, but watching the otherwise flawless keeper watch in disbelief every time concerns us that this could be a flaw to exploit when you're a goal down in a crucial online match. Generally, FIFA 09 achieved a considerable sense of fluidity and tight controls on the pitch, but it's fair to say FIFA 10 takes it to another level. The improved match dynamics and player movement emphasise the individual skills of each player more profoundly than before. The keeper AI has also been looked at closely, although the scrutiny appears to have come at the cost of last year's occasional superhuman reflexes to provide something a little closer to reality - although thankfully that doesn't mean Ben Foster like slip-ups.
Players attempting to wrestle control of the ball do so with much more variety and many more animations. However, it's not just an aesthetic change as it now feels more like a genuine scuffle which can be influenced. As a result of these changes, FIFA 10 gives the attacking player a greater chance of retaining the ball and making a purposeful run, which is further aided by the introduction of the Skilled Dribbling command. This is the big new gameplay feature for us, which allows you to bring the ball under close control by pressing both shoulder triggers together. It provides a link between controlling a pass before launching into a dribble; facing a defender, and using the skills to skip right past him or tease him into a rash challenge. The ability to dribble with 360 degrees of control seems groundbreaking at first, but is a little misleading. It doesn't provide the Cristiano Ronaldo-drowned-in-suncream-like fluidity that we were initially expecting, but it does bring a subtle layer of added control that increasingly becomes evident and important - particularly if you go back to FIFA 09.
Then there are the little changes and trimmings. The slide tackle has become more effective and feels as though you have a greater level of command, giving a skilful defender more opportunity to perform a last-ditch goal saving tackle that's not automatically adjudicated as a foul. Being able to create your own set pieces is a great feature and allows for a surprising level of control and options, as you guide each player involved, by making individual runs and recording them. Taking a quick free kick is also a neat addition to the match, and provides a real advantage by catching the opponents unaware.
Unfortunately, despite the universal praise we have to knock FIFA 10 down for the complete lack of attention paid to the commentary. Once again, Martin Tyler and Andy Gray provide the punditry, but anybody who has played FIFA 09 will instantly spot the same lines being used again from last year's outing. It's not that it's particularly bad, but if football commentary wants to continue to improve beyond the two-part dialogue between the pair - which it certainly can - then you feel Rutter has to be willing to take a few more risks and show a little more innovation than evolution. Otherwise FIFA 10 is exemplary in the sound and overall presentation. Players call 'man on' and 'down the line'; announcers are heard over the Tannoy and crowds get behind the team with authentic chants. Visuals are once again beyond any competition, with stunningly detailed player models, sublime animation and a nice added depth-blur on close-up scenes.
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