2010 FIFA World Cup
Is there any sports tournament more prestigious, more universally anticipated than the World Cup? Maybe, but we're not entirely sure what it is. Perhaps the bi-annual tiddlywinks championships (which we just invented).
It's standard practice for EA to release a rushed tie-in to coincide with the tournament, usually a rehashed version of the main game, in this case FIFA 10. In 2006, we not only had the utterly pointless and thoroughly rubbish FIFA 06: Road to FIFA World Cup, but also the equally not very good 2006 FIFA World Cup.
EA have apparently bucked their ideas up for the 2010 World Cup taking place in South Africa later this year, dispensing with the cynical cash-in nonsense that is the Road to World Cup game to simply focus upon the main event proper.
EA Vancouver has been working on 2010 FIFA World Cup for the best part of a year now, upgrading the existing FIFA 10 engine for the new game. New pitch textures make it look like the stadium groundskeeper has been going mental with the fertiliser, making the grass appear lush and detailed making FIFA 10's seem flat and lifeless in comparison.
Further enhancing the series' advancement towards the Holy Grail of realism, the player modelling has been improved as have the majority of the player likenesses, fixing the slightly dodgy recreations of top names like Ashley Cole and Peter Crouch. This is all supplemented by completely new lighting, which lends the players a more lifelike quality up-close.
Capturing the carnival atmosphere of the World Cup is top of the agenda though, with EA adding camera flashes in the crowd at pivotal moments, as well as flags and banners being frantically waved and copious streamers and confetti falling onto the pitch and remaining there. The amount of activity occurring all around the pitch and surrounding stadium is quite remarkable - there are even passionate fans in face paint and stupid hats dancing around when the camera cuts to the crowd, mimicking an actual TV broadcast.
As part of the FIFA World Cup licence, the matches boast all of the requisite caption graphics that will accompany the televised coverage when the tournament commences this June, making this the most authentic official World Cup game yet. Even the managers have been faithfully captured, walking the sideline and responding to your performance on the pitch. And seeing Maradona prowl around the dugout is undoubtedly a first for any football game.
Taking a trip to Stamford Bridge, home of Chelsea Football Club (for those not in the know), we got hands-on time with the game, which as you'd expect utilises the very same control system as FIFA 10, but features several gameplay enhancements that promise to refine the already slick and accomplished experience.
Chief among the new gameplay tweaks are the obvious improvements to shooting and passing, joining superior chest trapping, enhanced AI and more conservative goalies that no longer steam off their lines like overzealous loons. Loft a through ball to a forward player, and they'll run onto the ball, preserving their momentum as they rush towards the goal, which is also a helpful new touch.
During our hands-on session, we couldn't help but feel that the speed had been toned down slightly, lending the action a weightier feel, which could well change when the final version ships this April. It's an observation that isn't shared by the game's producer, Simon Humber who tells us that our perception could be down to a number of factors, such as the improved animation and added responsiveness. It's certainly possible, but there's no denying that 2010 FIFA World Cup does feel more than a little different to FIFA 10.
What's clearly evident however, is that the same core FIFA gameplay that EA Vancouver honed so brilliantly for FIFA 10 is pretty much intact, and only after a more in-depth hands on with the game will we be able to determine just what kind of impact the tweaks and improvements have on the overall game experience.
From a presentation perspective, there's no confusing just how much extra effort has gone into making 2010 FIFA World Cup a distinctive and appealing game, with an intuitive, interactive globe interface serving as the game's hub, wherein you can pick your team, cycle through the ten fully licensed World Cup stadia and access the game's generous array of online content.
All 199 teams from the World Cup qualifying stages are included and you can take any of them online to ultimate victory. The entire tournament is presented online and you can be lifting the coveted trophy after seven matches or following the group stages and knockouts. 2010 FIFA World Cup's online play is what EA Vancouver is calling, "authentic, bite-sized, but meaningful."
The interactive globe shows a heat map of connected games around the world, allowing you to pinpoint where the most online activity is currently occurring. You can then join a Battle of the Nations game if you like - a popular online game mode that makes a welcome return from Euro 2008. And there's a completely new commentary track from Clive Tyldesley and Andy Townsend to boot, making this seem like more than just an obligatory cash cow.
A cursory glance at the game's main menu shows a list of game modes that have yet to be announced, meaning that 2010 FIFA World Cup has a lot more to offer beyond what we've covered in this preview. Clearly, EA are taking this iteration in their normally lacklustre World Cup series very seriously indeed. Who knows? Maybe the FIFA World Cup fever will be contagious rather than vomit-inducing this time.
Keep your eyes peeled for our interview with 2010 FIFA World Cup producer, Simon Humber.