ReviewBefore I get into the nitty-gritties of FIFA 10, it’s necessary to mention the uphill task that it faces to live up to the standards set by FIFA 09, a game that redefined football games in a way not seen since Pro Evolution Soccer 3 close to a decade ago. We thought we knew what a football simulation was until FIFA 09 shattered those perceptions with realism that was miles ahead of any other football game ever made. Unfortunately, FIFA 09 casts such a gigantic shadow that only occasionally does FIFA 10 manage to step out from under it and shine for itself.

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When you start playing FIFA 10, it will initially feel like a completely new game. The fluid animations from recent years have been bolstered with many new player animations that further increase the sense of realism. You’ll see players sway away when they find themselves in the path of a shot on goal or a long pass, and defenders will make desperate lunges to get the ball to safety. It’s all very convincing and even with so many player animations, very rarely will you see an animation that isn’t suitable to the situation.

There are changes to the gameplay as well, one of the most noticeable ones being the improved opposition AI. You can now catch defences off guard with counter-attacks, something that was impossible with the superhuman opposition defenders in past games. There’s also a new jostling system in place, which gives defenders a bigger role on how things pan out. No longer will strikers run through defenses effortlessly, although the likes of Drogba can still make a mockery of even the best defensive line. While the jostling system does give defenders more power, it also allows for an outmuscled striker to get back in there and win the ball back. So in the right hands, a good striker can still run rings around defences. The quick free kick makes its FIFA debut, and the training ground returns as well. Referees are improved too, and although they tend too get in the way a little too often, they are now more willing to play the advantage rule.

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The two most talked about new features this year are the 360-degree player movement and custom set pieces. I wasn’t quite sold on either of them. While there is a noticeable fluidity with the addition of 360-degree movement, it doesn’t really have a major impact on gameplay, and very often, the player tends to bend his run even when you intend to go straight. This is especially frustrating when playing on the flanks close to the touchline. Custom set pieces is a brilliant idea on paper. It allows you to create custom scenarios during free kicks. You can define each player’s role in the set piece, and even design the runs they make. In practice though, it doesn’t quite work because it’s very rare that you will win a free kick in the exact position in which you created the custom set piece, and they only work effectively when used from the exact location it was created from.

As a whole, however, the core gameplay is quite an improvement over FIFA 09, which was brilliant already. While the game pace remains the same, the new emphasis on physical play, increased urgency from defenders, and brilliant new animations do help to make FIFA 10 feel fresh. One of the best new additions to FIFA 10, though, is the Virtual Pro. You can create your own player and even make him look like you thanks to the Photo Gameface feature. You start out low on stats, but you can use your Virtual Pro in almost any game mode in the game, be it Manager Mode, Be A Pro, and even online. You rack up experience points based on how you perform in matches and strengthen your player, although these experiences points are distributed automatically and you can’t manually boost certain player attributes.

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It all sounds peachy up to this point, but its once you delve into the various game modes of FIFA 10 that it starts to go downhill, undoing all the improvements I’ve mentioned above. The main offline game mode is the Manager Mode, which doesn’t have any noticeable changes in features and structure, but EA has said that many of the improvements have been made behind the scenes. And they were half right. A lot of the changes are behind the scenes, but none of them are improvements.

There are scores of bugs in Manager Mode, and here are just a few that I experienced myself – I was fired by the board of directors after losing two matches (or rather forfeiting them to join my friends online) even though I was undefeated before that, having won all 8 prior matches. And even after the losses I was placed second in the league with a game in hand. The team automatically sold two of my players without my knowledge. I thought I was the manager. I wasn’t able to sign even an average free agent player, no matter how obscene the amounts of money that I offered him were. In short, Manager Mode is broken, and you’re better off not wasting your time with it.

Next page: Be A Pro, online, and IVG verdict

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