FIFA 10 brushed PES aside once and for all and left the former champion lying on the turf clutching its shin. With detailed animation, the precision of 360 dribbling and a move away from set animated responses to a physics based reactionary engine, it was hard to see where FIFA 10 could improve. It seems, however, that EA Sports are on a roll, because they've managed it.
Let's get some of the formalities out of the way first. This is FIFA, there are certain things that you can count on. Players' character likenesses are uncanny (although detail depreciates lower down the ranks) and the graphics and animations have had a touch up, making the game visually more vibrant and detailed. All badges, kits, South African stadiums and managers are present as you'd expect and, yes, the commentary from Tyldsely and Townsend is good enough to make your mum think it's real if she's in the other room.
But this isn't just a facelift of FIFA 10 minus the club teams. There are some important changes here that make 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa a forward step in the FIFA evolution rather than just a topical novelty.
The fact remains, however, that with FIFA World Cup, EA aren't just targeting hardcore footy gamers. They're also (perhaps more so) targeting football fans in general, with a passion that hasn't necessarily been translated to videogames but, coupled with World Cup fever, will be just enough to make them think, "I want to beat the Germans over and over again in my own living room and, if I can't do that, pixels are good enough."
The most obvious accommodation for the casual gamer is the new two button control system. This limits your button options to A to pass, B to shoot and RT to sprint with the left analogue stick controlling movement as usual. This doesn't take away the through ball, long pass, lob or finesse shot completely but they are triggered by context. If you aim for a player who's making a run, for example, and press A, the game will intuitively know that a through ball is your best option and do it for you.
The two button system will inevitably frustrate experienced players as it's not always as intuitive as it should be. It's an odd criticism, but it can't read your mind (obviously) and so gets it wrong on a number of occasions. It is, however, a good way to draw in the casual gamer, who can take part in a great looking match having a good understanding of football but not necessarily FIFA games. Importantly, it lets you modify your play fully by using the controls in the normal way without changing the control system so as casual gamers start to be inevitably drawn in, they can add more sensitive techniques bit by bit.
A BURST OF PACE
The other move towards the casual market is the overall speed of play. Oddly enough 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa feels closer to Pro Evolution Soccer than any of its predecessors thanks to a bigger emphasis on speed and one touch football than before. Players are more explosive and it's easy to build up a frantic pace of play.
Referees seem more lenient too and there are more instances where a shot will ricochet all around the goal mouth before bouncing out again. All of this makes FIFA World Cup the kind of football sim that drags a group of friends around the screen all sharing in the angst and celebration.
It's something that PES did perfectly at its peak and, despite FIFA's current reign, EA Sports haven't managed to create that kind of experience until now. It's something that recognises the way people are going to be watching the World Cup and it'll cash in on that.