I can never go back to playing FIFA 09. That’s the thought that went through my head when I played through my first game of FIFA 10 at E3. I didn’t publicly say that at the time because I didn’t want it to be hyperbole for the sake of hyperbole. But after playing FIFA 10 for the second time, I don’t think it’s even hyperbole to say such a thing -- it’s just the truth.
The moment you take a step onto the practice arena pitch in FIFA 10, I truly believe you will feel the same way. I say that because of the 360-degree dribbling, tied in with the minute movements that come with full player control, really does change the game for the better. After all, when playing any sports game, having more control of your players is never a bad thing.
From within the practice arena you can also jump into a full-on practice game or create a canvas in your own set-piece studio.
When jumping into a real game, you should continue to notice other subtle improvements that will put FIFA 09 to bed. Some of those subtle improvements include the improved jostling system that lets you and another defender battle for a ball that switches possession multiple times, or the simple fact that CPU players actually do skill moves now.
But let’s return to the practice arena for a moment so I can actually explain some of the new elements in FIFA 10. As I said previously, while dribbling around in the practice arena you can easily change the area into a space to create new custom set pieces.
When you jump into set pieces portion of the game, you will notice that the area outside the 18-yard box has been broken into eight quadrants. From within these eight quadrants you can create four set plays for each quadrant and save them for use during a real game.
It’s really easy to create the custom set pieces because you simply click on a player, press a single button to activate him, and then just move him around while an imaginary line traces his every move. You can even move around every one of your players if you choose, which I assume will create some instances of pure cheese, tactical brilliance and utter uselessness. Either way, you can save these set pieces like the custom tactics from FIFA 09, with the one caveat being that you cannot upload these set pieces online. It’s also up in the air at this point when it comes to whether or not you will be able to use your own custom set pieces in online games.
(Personally I don’t think you should be able to because it’s inevitable that some set piece will be figured out that just breaks the game and results in an insta-goal every time.)
Beyond the custom set pieces, there is also your own personal anger management counselor, also known as the expanded practice mode. Within this mode you can do 11-on-11 matches or 1-on-11 matches, and anything in between. You can play with friends in this mode as well, so it’s not just a single-player thing. I call this mode an anger management counselor because there are no fouls in this mode. So after a tough loss to your friend, why not go into the mode and mercilessly take each and every one of his players out with a malicious slide tackle? Or if the CPU just cheated to beat you in a big Manager mode game, why not go 11-on-1 and try to mutilate the lone poor striker who is out there fending for his survival?
Brazil Vs. USA Alternate Reality Simulator
Beyond the practice arena, there is -- shockingly enough -- still a regular game of soccer to play. Of course when I got to play the regular game, I immediately chose USA and faced off against Brazil in a Confederations Cup rematch. During this grueling 90-minute affair I was clearly outclassed, but thanks to some lucky breaks I still ended up winning 2-1. A late goal by Jozy Altidore was my saving grace, and the goal was also a good example of something that is new and good in FIFA 10.
In the 88th minute of the match, Jozy received a pass from Landon Donovan right outside the box. From here I was able to initiate a subtle movement on the left stick to get the ball from Jozy’s left foot to his stronger right foot -– all in one quick motion -- before ripping a shot into the net from just inside the 18-yard box. It was a brilliant individual effort that probably would not have been possible in FIFA 09. I say that because subtle movements in FIFA 09 usually lead to some twitchy moments that would cause your player to run sideways, rather than simply switch the ball between his own two feet.
The subtle movements tie into the 360-degree dribbling, which probably is something you really won’t miss until you try playing without it. For example I tried to go back to playing FIFA 09, but the problem was that I really felt like I had no control over my guys because there was only eight-way player movement.
Being able to do moves in tighter spaces, being able to watch players go on curved runs, or being able to notice that players are pushing the ball out to the side of them a bit are small things you don’t always think about when playing, yet the moment they are gone you can only think about how moronic it is that they are not in the game you are currently playing.
Shooting is another area where I noticed some cool subtle things. Besides watching the AI-controlled Kaka score a goal on a wicked low laser beam from outside the box, which ended up in the corner of the goal, pressure situations really stood out to me as well when shooting. During the Confederations Cup alt-reality game, I botched an easy scoring opportunity because I sailed a bouncing ball over the net while under duress. There was another time where a Brazilian player completely scuffed a shot and it went about two MPH right to my keeper’s feet. And there was another time where I completely sliced a shot because I did not settle it properly.
Now I realize you would miss shots like these in previous versions of the game, but it’s the amount of pressure you feel as a player during these situations that is important to note, which is partly because of the improved defense and partly because shooting has just been refined to take into effect how the ball is being played at the moment of impact. In other words, those damn real-world physics really hurt my ability to score.
These pressurized situations also tie into the states of urgency that are now in the game. For example during a situation where a player receives a pass and is is under no pressure, he will calmly settle the ball, which is replicated via an animation that is more lackadaisical in nature. However, during a more intense situation, a player will obviously be more focused and try to settle the ball quickly and get it out of there in a hurry.
The states of urgency do not directly tie into how defenders block shots this year, but the same urgency principle still applies. When the ball is in or around the box, you will really see more defenders throwing their bodies at the ball, and they will desperately try to not allow a clean shot. This could potentially be an important aspect because if Kaka’s strike from outside the box is a sign of things to come, then you need to worry more about long strikes in FIFA 10.
But as great as the Brazil vs. USA game was, a later game I played with Manchester City vs. Manchester United did still highlight some of what’s wrong with FIFA 10, specifically goalkeepers, skill moves and 50-50 balls.
The goalies are a worry at this point because there seems to be a lack of balance in terms of how they react to certain situations. They are definitely more aggressive, which is a good thing, but are probably too aggressive, and easy to abuse with a chip shot. Beyond that, while the goalies are now are better at recovering during rebound situations, I saw a few instances where they let in some shots that really should not have gone in – I watched one person play a game and during it his goalie got scored on when a ball simply rolled through the keeper’s legs. But while that five-hole anomaly can be chalked up as a bug that is still being ironed out in the 70-percent done version of FIFA 10 that was on display, it is a bit concerning that the goalies have gone from too passive to too aggressive because that just leads to a whole new set of problems.
Cristiano Ronaldo was another positive-negative portion to the Manchester vs. Manchester duel. It was great to see the AI-controlled Ronaldo doing skill moves, but at the same time it didn’t really seem like that was the virtual Ronaldo out there. It would have been great to see him do multiple step-over moves or other tricky stuff, but most of the skill moves he did were similar to things other players on the pitch were pulling off. I don’t mean to say Ronaldo should have moves that only he can pull off, but it would be great if Ronaldo had more of his signature style in the game, which I didn’t really witness. But regardless, I did at least fear him at all times.
The 50-50 balls are tricky because I actually like the amount of fighting for them that goes on while the ball is in the air, but there were way too many 50-50 balls that were simply falling to the ground before being touched. It was not even like the players were misjudging where the ball was going to be, they would just miss the ball when it dropped in from above. It’s another one of those things that can be tuned, but it was certainly a bit odd to see.
Beyond those negatives, fouls are really the big unknown at this point. You will see quick restarts this year (in other words no cut scene after a foul) but since I was told at the event that the fouls were essentially broken in the version of the game I was playing, it was hard to get a read on whether or not there will be more fouls during the course of a game, and thus more opportunities to try out some of those new custom set pieces. One thing I heard from line producer David Rutter that was good to hear was the fact that the FIFA team is trying to move further and further away from binary situations that will always result in something being a foul, which potentially means some games will be more physical and others will be more tightly officiated.
Bringing It Back
At this point I am a little concerned about the goalies, but otherwise I really think FIFA 10 is shaping up on the pitch. 360-degree dribbling, custom set pieces, pressure situations and subtle movements are important gameplay steps for this franchise –- ones that you all will appreciate as well.
I am also in no way a Manager mode aficionado, but there are 50 refinements/upgrades to this mode, and during my conversation with David Rutter, it seemed like this was just year one in a multi-year process of really overhauling the Manager mode. And really, that only makes sense when taking into consideration the fact that Rutter worked on Championship Manager, and creative director Gary Paterson previously worked on LMA Manager and Total Club Manager.
*Full disclosure: EA paid for my one-night hotel stay and airfare during this trip. While it did not influence what I wrote here, I always think it is important to be upfront with the visitors of this site whenever possible.*