Soccer where have you been all my life?
Ladies and gentlemen, FIFA Soccer 10 is nothing short of breathtaking, brilliant and well thought-out. It's quite possibly one of the more entertaining sports games I've had the pleasure of playing; literally right up there with Madden (yes, I'm serious). EA Sports has crafted a complicated, European inspired take on how soccer should be presented in a video game. They've captured all the wonderful elements of the soccer leagues overseas and translated them beautifully for the players over here. The gameplay, in particular, had always been sort of a sour point for me when it came to soccer games.
The idea of having a large field with more than five players to control is a bit much in mind. I always wondered how someone could successfully control players on such a grand scale. For football and basketball you're very limited in spacing, but for this game you've got nearly 130 yards of ground in length and 70 yards of width to cover on any given field. Folks that is some major spacing. The game presents this very well, as your player will look like a peon in the grand scheme of things. This is where the first taste of excitement for this game set in for me. While this certainly might be old news for you soccer fans, FIFA Soccer 10 allows you to comfortably fit onto the soccer field amongst the other 10+ blokes. In the 'Be a Pro: Seasons' mode of the game you will find yourself going through games guided by the computer's A.I.. While it doesn't hold your hand, it does give you suggestions about where you should be and what you should do. For example, when there is a goal kick in the game the computer displays three or less arrows on your player point in the direction of where you should be at during the kick. If you're in the right place you're awarded skill points (which come in handy later) and if you're in the wrong place it takes skill points away. It gives you motivation to do better in the game and it works like a charm. By the sixth game in this mode I had positioned myself properly on most plays. I also learned how to do an 'attack' properly and position myself in the best place to get a shot on the goalie. This game mode was gold to me because it worked well in two ways. It helped a non-soccer player understand the game and the strategy that went into it and it allowed me to cultivate and create certain strong attributes for my pro player. For anyone reluctant on the notion of trying FIFA Soccer 10 because you've never played soccer before, this is the mode to start with. There's enough here to help you understand how much fun this can be.
Now, as for the controls in the game they are quite simple. The left thumb stick controls your player and the ball. By default the game keeps you and the ball together unless a defender comes up to challenge you for it. If that situation occurs you'll have to 'dribble' your way out of it or use a series of other skill moves to work you way past the defender. There is an entire cornucopia of methods you can use to do this; it all depends on how fast you are. For me, a novice to the game/sport, at the beginning I would simply pass it to another teammate before the defender got on top of me. I soon found out that the problem with that is that my team wasn't set yet for that pass; eight out of ten times the ball was intercepted by a defender. Again, going back to what I said previously, the game helps you to learn the sport, even if you don't want to. That could be considered a negative, but that's just a player fighting the system instead of going with it. I'm certainly not going to dock any points away from it for that. All in all, the game controls worked beautifully in FIFA Soccer 10. There's nothing more exciting than perfectly passing a ball, getting it back and attacking smoothly to the goal. The first goal I scored in the game came on a two-kick attack. I pressed R2 to sprint with the ball ahead of my defenders, shot it, had it blocked, but ran quickly back up to the ball and put it in for a goal. All of that was under a five second count. The controls are nothing short of quick, amazing and insanely accurate.
With all that fluff aside, let's talk about the other modes you've got at your disposal. As I was playing this game I had a realization that almost all recent sports games are sporting the same type of modes. They're not exactly the same, but they're very close. A good example of this is the new addition of 'Virtual Mode'. You basically create and cultivate your own player, and, scarily enough, you can upload a picture of your own ugly noggin' to the game and have it placed on the player. As much as I'd like to see a skinny bearded knucklehead of a player on the field, I chose not to go that route. The option is certainly available though for you egomaniacs. The great thing about Virtual Pro is that you can use your player in other offline modes, such as the above mode 'Be a Pro: Seasons'. While certainly a wild comparison, this mode is incredibly similar to the WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2010 that I just reviewed this week. Having the ability to tote this created player from offline mode to offline mode is an ability that helps you get more involved and excited about things. More importantly, this mode allows you to build and encourages the player to get better and better. The build up in this mode is gradual, but the pay-off is very rewarding as you'll have the ability to include this player in the online Pro Club Championship and include them in the world standings. I just love having the ability to create someone and grow that player; it's like a Chia Pet that plays soccer (except without the green hair).
Moving along, a new addition to the game this year, that probably holds all of the disappointment I have about the game, is the Manager Mode. I get the concept of it and I know it's huge overseas. EA tried to do this with football one year, but hasn't repeated such a thing since. Basically in this mode you become a manager of a club and you make decisions on just about anything and everything. You handle budgets, teams and players contracts to ensure that your team has got the best opportunity to win. For me the Manager Mode is about as exciting to play as a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. I do understand how big it is overseas, but I just couldn't get into it thanks to playing the actual soccer game first. Granted, had I not played the actual soccer game first this might have been an even worse review. I do respect the concept here, but I have to decline when it comes to fun. This mode is purely for the most hardcore of soccer fans; I haven't quite gotten there yet, but maybe I will revisit this once the World Cup is done.
Pushing forward, we have the practice mode/create set-piece options. The practice mode helps you get use to your controls and allows for a 1-on-1 style of play. It helps whip you into shape and gives you a great idea on what to do and what not to do. This helped me tremendously, as it got me accustomed to what I should be doing inside of a game. It helped me with passing, attacking and defending. It's more than what Madden does, which shows you plays and receiving routes, defenses, etc. It gives you a great idea on what you should be doing and how well you can do it. For me, again the novice to the sport, it was an invaluable venture. With that said, its counter-part was pretty damn brilliant. Create Set-Piece allows you to train players on your teams to run particular paths in particular situations. So, if you want your players set a certain way during a corner kick, you can create that in this mode. It's like creating a new passing play in Madden. Anyway, both of these are brilliant and only add to the excitement of FIFA Soccer 10.
Before I move on to the presentation part of this game, let me briefly tell you about Live Season 2.0. Much like other EA games, with this option you'll be able to go online and update real-time stats for your players. This mode also allows you to take actual losses from the teams you love (any suggestions on teams for me? I'm still trying to pick one..... email me at nathan @ digitalchumps.com - spacing in there for anti-SPAM purposes). You heard me right, if your team lost last week in an 'actual' game, then you could load it up and redeem their weak moment. This is new to this year's FIFA and certainly a lot of soccer folks will welcome the addition.
The one thing I noticed about this game is how pretty it can be. The player models are pretty good, not the best I've seen in a sports game. They are fluid; they don't have that 'running with a pole up their butt' motion that some 'other' sports games contain. They're pretty good to look at and help you get into the game. The problem with a soccer game when it comes to graphics is that you're only seeing these graphics on replays and scores; otherwise you have a nice zoomed out view of them while you're on the field. While I can complain about this, there's almost nothing EA could have done to avoid this. It's more important to follow other player's positions on the field then it is to see if there is stubble on Beckham's face.
With that said, the environments from stadium to stadium change and fluctuate, which creates a memorable environment for the game. For example, if Manchester City is at home doing well, the fans will cheer their lungs out for success. The game knows how to build and use the environments. The fans changing songs and cheering also plays a huge part in creating such a fun gaming experience. EA nailed the environments down perfectly and it adds so much to the gameplay.
My only complaint about the presentation, that I have to count off points, is the awkward camera angle that appears during a loading period. For example, when there is a stop in gameplay, say for a yellow card (which I obtained many times) and a coach substitutes a player, the game goes from field to a panning camera shot of the top of whatever stadium you're playing in. I'm not quite sure why they did it that way, but it's an awkward fit that can be jarring sometimes. It would have made more sense to show fans up close (depending on the fans, of course -- just kidding) or something relevant to the situation; such as the coach pointing to the bench. It's a bit awkward and sometimes this camera angle messes with the flow of the game at the particular point. I do admit that it's a petty complaint, but it is something I have regretfully noticed.
Before we talk about value, let me briefly give some major kudos to the two British blokes who do the commentary in the game. Those guys did a splendid job of voicing the game over and it works really well in creating a television type atmostphere to the matches. They hit their marks perfectly, unlike Chris Collinsworth in Madden. Anyway, they did a great job in adding to an already great gameplay atmosphere.
With all this said, is the game worth $59.99 and your time? Yes it is. For those of you who are veterans of this sport you will know instantly that EA has scored a major goal in this year's edition. For those of you, like me, who have never tried this series before, but have always wanted to; welcome to the club! FIFA Soccer 10 is a great way to get introduced to the sport of soccer and even a better tool for understanding all the parts that go into making a soccer match exciting. In other words, if you need to cut your teeth on a soccer game then look no further than this one. It will cultivate you with practices, help you out during actual offline games and prepare you to invade and represent the U.S. online (or whatever country you're from) against worldwide opponents.