Hands-on: FIFA 10

icon_preview1No one expected too many sweeping changes in FIFA 10, but in typical EA Sports style, improvements over the proven formula of FIFA 09 were expected to be incremental and minor. So imagine my surprise when I found that FIFA 10 is quite a lot different from its predecessor, and many of the bigger changes do contribute to making it a better game.

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What we played was the game’s alpha build, so there are still a few coats of polish to go on, but even at this stage, it’s a very good looking game. Visually, the first thing you notice is the addition of different weather conditions. We only played in snow, but it looked pretty unrealistic and had no impact on how the game played. The second change, and one that massively impacts the game, is how much slower FIFA 10 plays; it’s closer to FIFA 08 than FIFA 09. Watching someone else play, I didn’t particularly like the fact that its slower, but playing it myself I realised that it didn’t matter, because it actually contributed towards making FIFA 10 a more focussed simulation.

There are also new animations in FIFA 10, but there’s just so many of them and they’re all so elaborate, that way too often players would just trip over one another, lose their balance, or just lose the ball. Other times, they would play the ball using animations that weren’t appropriate for that situation. It was disconcerting to see how many times players of opposing teams would collide and fall to the ground. The referee too would get a little too involved in the action, and in every match, the ball would hit the ref at least twice, resulting in a very annoying change of possession.

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What the slower pace brings to FIFA 10, however, is a more deliberate and realistic style of football. The ball moves from defence to offence the way it would in the real game. The ball feels more weighty now as is evident in the increased power you will need to put into passes and shots on goal. The ball also travels slower through the air now, and for corners and long free kicks (as well as the new custom set pieces feature), the pace is now ideal.

Defending is a bit of a mixed bag. On one hand, the new jostling system is brilliant. No longer will a pacey striker leave a stronger but slower defender for dead. Strong defenders can now outmuscle faster opponents, but the system also leaves the door open for the striker to get back in there and win the ball back. Off the ball defending is also much improved and the urgency in defending that EA has been highlighting is very much in evidence.

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The downside though is the defence doesn’t really hold its shape, neither does the rest of the team for that matter. When a side back pushes forward, you expect a mid-fielder to cover him at the back, but instead in FIFA 10 (like previous games in the series), all you get is a gaping hole for the opposition to exploit. Even with the ball in your possession, players move out of their positions way too often, and it just isn’t very conducive to build-up play. This one thing EA are yet to pick up from the Pro Evolution Soccer games.

Another exciting new feature on paper was the 360-degree player movement. Honestly, I didn’t see too much evidence of it and the players moved very much like they do in FIFA 09, but maybe that’s a feature that’ll be worked in later in development. Also in desperate need of attention is the goalkeeper AI, which still seems rather dull even on Legendary difficulty.

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On the whole though, I believe FIFA 10 is a definite improvement over 09, even if, at this stage, it’s only marginal. The formation play and the implementation of the new animations need some work, but the game is showing a lot of promise. A lot of people who were playing the game with me kept comparing it to Pro Evolution Soccer. As someone who has been playing PES for the longest time, I don’t see where they got that idea. And I don’t know if they meant that in a good or bad way, but regardless, for the FIFA fan, this is a game that is unlikely to disappoint.

Next page: What two of IVG’s top FIFA players had to say about FIFA 10

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