The World Cup comes along every four years and with it the pageantry that such a great sporting occasion brings. That and the requisite EA Sports game tie-in, which is an opportunity unmissed since 1998. While FIFA games in the past have been hit and miss affairs, right now they are riding high having wrestled the crown away from Pro Evolution Soccer to become widely regarded as the best football game on the block. With an already impressive FIFA 10 available to players, there were question marks about whether this game could improve on the existing formula coming out just a few months after the franchise update.
The nature of the tie-in means the game has less than its club-focused predecessor. Even with 199 international teams it would be easy to feel short changed, especially as the game largely ignores the rich history of the World Cup, turning its back on classic teams and encounters. The game creators seem aware of this and have tried to expand the game with a variety of modes focused purely on the modern day game. For example the option to complete qualifying scenarios for certain teams that either qualified in amazing circumstances, or missed out on their chance to compete on the world’s biggest stage is there for any football fan feeling like they should attempt to re-write history.
In addition to the normal World Cup mode, which can be tweaked to include any permutation of the teams in the game as well as accurately mirroring the real life tournament, there is the Captain Your Country mode. This is a tweak on the Be A Pro mode from FIFA 10 where the player has to control an individual and then try and steer them towards glory both for the team and for themselves. Each player is attributed a rating as they play with points being awarded for accurate passing and shooting, goals scored, tackles made and effective dribbling. Earning a high rating guarantees selection for future games and in time the lofty position of captain can be earned. It is a nice spin on the genre and is at its best when played in co-op, allowing up to three players at a time to be controlling a single player on the field. There is a genuine sense of achievement in combining to create something special in footballing terms, even if it can be frustrating that often the game will give negative marks for beautiful football with no end product.
This incarnation of the FIFA franchise has retained all the fluidity of movement and “pick up and play” simplicity that has made the franchise the gamers football title of choice ahead of the grinding simulation of their closest rivals. It takes absolutely no time at all to get to grips with the playing system - even intelligently offering an option to use the Pro Evolution Soccer control scheme for recent converts - while it still includes a level of sophistication that demands attention. Passing has been made less unerringly accurate and more slight deflections alter the course of the attacking game. Long passing is also now a viable option, the aerial ball being more accurate and easily controlled by the players.
It is also good to see that this update has even managed to iron out some of the more annoying glitches that existed in FIFA 10. There seem to be fewer “certain goal” exploits where shooting from a set position is guaranteed to score, which is something that has plagued FIFA games since their inception. Some still exist but on the higher difficulties they never really seem to be a guaranteed goal. That is mainly down to the improvements of the goalkeeping AI. Their positioning is a lot better and now they resist the urge to come charging out to make a slide tackle if they are the last man. On the harder settings the saves they can make without spilling the ball make clinical finishing a must have skill in order to progress. Credit must also go to the refereeing tweaks. It would have been easy for EA Sports to have ignored this, yet FIFA 10 was marred by over-zealous refereeing that would often see players booked for incidental shoulder to shoulder collisions. These are now a thing of the past and the referees, while all still retaining their own personalities in game (the tyrant, the artist, Mr. Magoo), also look to play advantage and are rarely afraid of coming back to book a player for an earlier challenge so long as the game is flowing. After a few games it is easy to wonder why real life referees can’t do it this well.
The best new addition is the introduction of the “form” rating. Each player has their overall skill, denoted by a number out of one hundred, and a form rating. The form rating can fluctuate based on their previous game and other factors which sometimes means picking a fringe player in red-hot form can be a much better option for the team than going with the strongest starting eleven on paper. In-form players are faster, stronger, more accurate and lethal in front of goal once they get a run of games under their belts and it can make for some unlikely World Cup heroes.
However, not everything new here is welcome. The new penalty system is disappointing, attaching far too much importance to the “pressure” of taking penalties in a World Cup game which seems to lead to the conclusion that international standard players miss more penalties than they bury. The penalty shoot-out becomes a strange experience not because of fear of missing but instead wondering who will manage to score one first. Let’s hope this isn’t present in FIFA 11.
Unrelated to the gameplay, yet a nice touch anyway, is the option for players to choose their own celebration after they have scored a goal. Different combinations of buttons make the player react in different ways. Ever wanted to see Fernando Torres do a moonwalk before busting out a backflip? If the answer is yes then this might just be your kind of game.
The graphics aren’t a huge improvement on FIFA 10 but the iconic players they have taken the time to make look like their real life counterparts have that uncanny resemblance that might be seen in Madame Tussauds. Skin textures appear to have been improved on yet these only seem to be visible on the star names, the lesser known players having a seemingly generic and more simplistic feel.
Again, trading in on the festival feeling the palette is brighter and more vibrant with all the colours expected from a tournament set in South Africa. The weather effects are brilliantly realised and on the rare occasion play takes place in a downpour it looks realistic as the players slog it out in the grim conditions and the pitch tears up slightly.
With some minor improvements to animations to prevent clipping, or strange teleportation’s between making connections with the ball, the game looks incredibly polished and is easily the best looking football title on the market to date.
A lot of effort has gone into the sound of this game and it goes beyond the traditional footballing cliches. Sure, the Brazilians still Samba and bang their drums and each nation has their own authentic sounding chants but for the World Cup EA sports have tried to emphasise the coming together of nations that it represents.
The soundtrack itself comprises of 28 different artists from 20 different countries meaning that there is all manner of sounds here. While moving through the menu system the contemporary sounds from different countries really underline the global theme and it also shatters some of the easy cliches that people might hold regarding certain countries musical tastes. It is a simple yet very effective device that makes the game feel cultured and taps again into that sense of occasion the game is so keen to promote.
Indeed, the fireworks whizz and bang in the expected manner and the slap of leather echoes throughout the stadium as the ball zips from one players boot to another. Screams of agony can be heard above the crowd ambience when a particularly robust challenge is made and there are even people on the touchline shouting advice to the players that can occasionally be heard, as if they had strayed too close to a TV studio’s microphone. All of these touches contribute to a very engaging and immersive gaming experience.
If only the same could be said about the commentary. Always a dodgy area that has let down countless titles, this game still hasn’t found the formula. It does what it is supposed to and that is to find a sound file that roughly matches the on-screen action and then play it, however it is too prone to non-sequiturs. Try and place a ball carefully and Andy Townsend will lament “he’s tried to blast the ball as hard as he can there”. It’s not the end of the world and ultimately after a few games most combinations of commentary have been heard anyway, so much so players learn to tune it out. It is a shame though when so much attention to detail has been paid elsewhere that EA Sports still haven’t managed to deliver an in-game commentary that would make the game shine as something distinct and unique.
A few bells and whistles aren’t always going to be enough to justify the release of a full game and EA Sports have made sure that there is something greater than just the bare bones of their existing football title. Like the World Cup itself this game trades off on the sense of occasion everyone feels during the tournament. Each match opens up to a volley of fireworks and a monologue about the stadium. Cut away shots of crazed fans bedecked in face-paint permeates the action and the celebrations when the team finally lift the trophy run on and on. The game is a celebration of the greatest sporting tournament the world has and it exists between the strange area of top quality football game - if it was the update to FIFA 09 there would be plenty more good to say about it - and sporting memorabilia. Essentially there is nothing here which couldn’t have been provided as downloadable content for FIFA 10 users but such adoration for the beautiful game makes it incredibly hard to be critical of its goals.
||Still the most accessible and fun to play football title out there, if anything it has improved on FIFA 10 with its elimination of certain glitches and inconsistencies that proved frustrating.
||Captures the carnival atmosphere of the tournament and makes every game feel like an occasion. FIFA is still the most graphically impressive football game.
||A very well delivered package for both the soundtrack and in-game sounds that is let down by the almost robotic commentary.
||Hard to justify the full price purchase of a game which may be only a few months away from a sequel. Ultimately there is not enough to make players keep gaming once FIFA 11 arrives.
(Not an Average)
||A game that would look all the greater had it not arrived so soon after its predecessor. As a tribute to the greatness of the World Cup it is probably unequalled and offers a unique feeling football experience. For fans of the series this will not disappoint and for those who don’t own FIFA 10 it offers additional value. Roll on FIFA 11.