GOONL!NE Review: 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa

Developer: EA Canada
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Also on: PlayStation 3, PlayStation Portable, Nintendo Wii
Format Played On: Xbox 360
Release Date: Friday April 30th 2010
Age Rating: ESRB: E for Everyone, PEGI: 3+

Steven Gerrard has the ball on the left for England. He cuts inside and plays the ball to the feet of Frank Lampard. A quick turn sees Lampard move away from Cesc Fabregas, and he spots Wayne Rooney ahead of him. A slide-rule pass inside Carlos Puyol puts Rooney in the clear, and he advances on Iker Casillas. A calm side foot finish into the bottom corner puts England 2-1 up, and the fans burst into rapture. A few minutes later, the full-time whistle blows, and England have won the World Cup. Rio Ferdinand lifts the iconic trophy above his head, while Fabio Capello looks on and the fans dance in the aisles. This isn’t dreaming or wishful thinking, this is the official game of the Fifa 2010 World Cup, and it gives each gamer the chance to lead their own country to international glory.

Games based on big sporting events have been around for quite some time, with official World Cup games coming out as far back as 1986 with World Cup Carnival. A lot of the tie-in games in the past have been viewed by gamers as nothing more than attempts to milk as much money from consumers as possible, but in recent years the standards have been improving to the point where the games are worthy titles. That trend looks set to continue with the release of the rather excellent 2010 Fifa World Cup video game.

Created by the good folks over at EA Canada, who are also responsible for the main Fifa games, they have taken the already exceptional gameplay from Fifa 10, gave it a bit of spit and polish, bumped up the presentation to near TV-quality, and wrapped it in a World Cup skin. As you’ve no doubt come to expect from EA, the presentation here really is first class, from the way the menus and options are laid out, the pre-match fly-through of the stadium, complete with tickertape and dancing fans, to the way the managers patrol the touchline, looking happy or pensive, depending on how well you’re playing.

As with previous EA World Cup games, you’re given several ways to experience the action. You can play a full World Cup campaign, complete with friendlies and the full qualifying matches, skip the friendlies and just play the qualifying matches, or skip the whole lot and jump straight into the main tournament. Out of the 204 national teams who started the qualifying campaign, 199 of those teams are included so fans from virtually every nation will have the option to try to lead their heroes to World Cup glory.

Captain Your Country, the mode debuted in the Euro 2008 game, makes a welcome return here, and if you own Fifa 10, you can import your Virtual Pro and use him in this mode. Unfortunately for those out there who’ve spent hours upon hours developing your Pro and turning him into a world class player, your stats will be reset to a default level. This was definitely a little annoying at first, especially when your Pro is much slower and weaker than everyone else, but after a few good performances you’ll notice your stats improving fairly quickly. By the time I’d finished my qualifying campaign with England, not only had I broken into the first team and become captain, my Pro had developed into a real world class player, only just behind Rooney as England’s best player. It’s worth spending the time doing this though, especially if you want to use your player in the other offline game modes. You can only use your newly-improved Pro in other modes if you go through the Captain Your Country mode and win the World Cup with your selected team.

EA have added a very nice scenario mode to the game as well. Using various games from the qualifying stages, including the infamous Republic of Ireland vs France play-off, you’re tasked with achieving various objectives and rewriting history. You may have the whole 90 minutes to get the correct result, or you may only have 20 minutes or so to try to turn around a losing result. Not only do you have plenty of challenges already included in the game, but EA have promised to upload new challenges throughout each day of the tournament, based on the games that are played. So, when England no doubt get beaten on penalties in the quarter-finals, you’ll be given a scenario where you can try to get them the win we all wish they could get in real life.

Speaking of penalties, this is one area that EA have made a big change, probably because of how big a part the penalty shoot-out can play in the World Cup. No longer do you simply select a spot to aim at and hit the shoot button, it’s now much more involved. You’re now given an accuracy meter at the bottom of the screen, with a green section being the sweet spot. The better your player is at taking penalties, the wider that sweet spot is. You now have to stop the bouncing meter as close to perfect as possible, then move the left thumbstick to pick your spot. You need to be careful when picking your direction as well, as holding the thumbstick for too long will see you smash the ball past the post. You can also stutter your run up, trying to see which direction the keeper is going to lean towards, though this does at the cost of accuracy. It takes a little practice to become proficient in the new system (a practice mode is included), but it’s a much better system and I hope they stick with it for Fifa 11.

The rest of the gameplay has also been given an overhaul, with a reported 50+ improvements to the match engine. While most of these are very subtle and you’ll struggle to spot them, some are very obvious and also very welcome. Heading is much improved, with more headed goals now scored with much more realistic attempts on goal. The control of the players has improved, especially when it comes to chesting the ball down, something you can now do on the move, and you can change direction while doing so. Players react more realistically to through balls, and should you pull off a great through ball, you’ll notice that the opposition keeper no longer runs off his line like a headless chicken, leaving you with an easy goal as you chip the ball over him.

The game engine didn’t really need a lot of tweaking though, as it was already the best game of football currently available. As with the Euro 2008 game, these small improvements will no doubt find their way into Fifa 11, alongside more improvements, so if you’re interested in seeing how Fifa 11 will play and what changes may be made to the gameplay, then the World Cup game is definitely something you should consider checking out.

Aesthetically, the graphics have also been given a bit of a polish with some player likenesses now being scarily accurate. If you play as one of the bigger international teams, like England, Spain or Italy, you will be able to recognize virtually every player in the team. This unfortunately can’t be said for every team, perhaps understandably, and if you’re a fan of one of the smaller nations you may be disappointed by the rather generic faces your players are sporting. Still, it’s an improvement over Fifa 10 which was already an impressive looking game, so it’s hard to complain too much about it. The audio is probably on a par with previous games, with Martin Tyler and Andy Gray being replaced by Clive Tyldesley and Andy Townsend. Fans bored of the Tyler-Gray partnership may find the new commentators refreshing at first, but like in most sports games you’ll start to hear repetitions if you play long enough. They do a good job of trying to convey the drama and emotion of the World Cup though, which is what you’re looking for here. The crowd noises and chants also do a good job or drawing you in and making you believe you’re taking part of a huge global tournament.

The main question that fans of Fifa 10 will be asking is whether or not the game contains enough improvements and enough variety in the game modes to warrant a purchase if they already own Fifa 10. The lack of club sites will certainly be enough to put some people off, but the improvements that have been made are enough to mark this out as the best game of football currently available, and if you’re a football fan who dreams of cheering on their national team to international glory, this game is the perfect accompaniment to this summer’s festivities. With Fifa 11 still roughly 5-6 months away, I can heartily recommend Fifa 2010 World Cup as the definitive football game around, and worthy of the money of any sports fan out there.

Final thoughts: The World Cup is one of the best sporting events in the world, and this game does a tremendous job of capturing the feel and atmosphere of the event. While the main World Cup mode will be the main attraction for many people, the Captain Your Country and Scenario modes offer plenty of playtime themselves, and with the promise of more scenarios to come, you won’t run out of things to do quickly. The best football simulation on the market to date.

Gameplay – 9: It’s Fifa 10 with a smattering of improvements, and considering Fifa 10 was already the best football action available, that makes this the new standard for football action.

Graphics – 9: Some incredibly life-like players, coupled with beautiful animations and movement make this the prettiest Fifa game yet.

Sound – 8: Great commentary from Tyldesley and Townsend set the scene for the World Cup, but the set list is a pretty average affair. Crowd noises are exceptional.

Presentation – 10: It’s made by EA, so you expect polished menus, and they’re delivered here in spades. Everything about the game screams authenticity, from the loading screen trivia to the way the matches are presented with close ups of the crowd and managers. EA have done themselves proud here.

Overall – 9/10: A wonderful accompaniment to the World Cup, football fans the world over will be able to lead their heroes to glory in the best representation of football to date. Highly recommended.