Flicking through past issues of XBW revisiting our final verdicts on FIFA 09 and PES 2009 was a curious, revelatory experience - we even slag off our cult hero Dirk Kuyt in one of the captions. For shame. Still, it goes to show how much things have changed in both real life and virtual footy during the course of a season. (Just ask lucky Man City or despairing Toon fans.)
Principally owing to verging-on-violent peer pressure from Messrs Pellett and Gapper, we've since substituted lunchtime PES o'clock sessions for a more FIFA-flavoured light bite. And while this exceptionally well-groomed writer maintains Pro Evo still offers the most bang for your hardcore multiplayer buck, even he's come round to the delights of single-player and the overall qualities of the super-slick FIFA engine compared to its increasingly
(c)rusty Konami equivalent. When it comes to playing on your lonesome, FIFA 09 just gets better each fresh time we boot it up.
So much so, in fact, that the office resounded to the most raucous cheering in yonks (well, since Arkham Asylum - call it one yonk, maybe a yonk and a half) when the preview version of FIFA 10 dropped through our letterbox. Unlike the resigned, slightly embarrassed way we tiptoe around fallen PES idol Seabass Takatsuka at Konami events nowadays, we'd trust David Rutter and his FIFA team with - if not our lives - then our treasured Istanbul 2005 match programme at the very least. How times change.
Firstly, a quick disclaimer. It's sometimes a pain to judge just how proper a representation of the final product these preview versions are, as even the slightest bit of tinkering with AI or ball physics often has a drastic effect on the way matches play out. That said, even with a few blatant bugs, FIFA 10 - while unsurprisingly opting to tinker rather than revolutionise - is already showing a good deal more promise than even last term's mighty effort.
Evolving the template first pioneered in FIFA 08 - in which elements like the height and pace of the ball, player position, favoured foot and momentum all affected the way players shot and trapped the ball - FIFA 10 feels remarkably realistic. Don't be surprised to see your full-back badly mis-control a back pass under pressure from a winger, or your winger wallop a cross out of play if being jostled by a full-back. Critics might argue that they want to be the ones making mistakes rather than the AI, but it adds an interesting element of unpredictably to the action.
But that's only one of the manifold tweaks and changes, so take a deep breath as we rattle through more observations. It's much easier to dispossess your man with the barge tackle; in fact, sometimes the ball will change possession numerous times in the blink of an eye. The heading is totally kaput in this build - it's impossible to keep corners and crosses on target.
The accuracy of composed shots seems bizarrely toned down (heartbreaking for us, we've come to depend on it in 09), players make patently more intelligent runs and provide more logical pass options, long shots are finally dangerous and there are fewer irritating offside calls. Whack difficulty up to Legendary, disable assists and you've got a brilliant sim, too. All things to all men. God, we love you FIFA.
There's little doubt that this is now the footie king. Rather than overhaul their engine, it seems EA are more than content to consolidate this season - and who are we to complain? 10 is all set to be the best kickabout ever, and Konami have it all to do now...