Genre: Sport Developer: Publisher: Classification: PG Release Date: 12th May 2010 Platforms:PS3XBOX360
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Good things have been happening over at EA. After some management changes a few years ago, we're seeing more new IPs and less franchise fodder. Of course - as the most popular video game sports franchise in the world - you can bet they'll still milk FIFA. But in the last few years, EA Sports has used the gaiden FIFAs to test out new modes and ideas. Some of these, such as the Ultimate Team trading card game and player-controlled goal celebrations, have been popular enough to make it into the annual edition.
One such toe dip - the commentary of Clive Tyldesley and Andy Townsend - has carried over into World Cup. Of course, one can never replace Martin Tyler - only succeed him - and EA are unable to say whether these are the new voices of FIFA. But Tyldesley and Townsend are fun and excitable, and occasionally sound like they're jumping out of their chairs. They do the job well enough.
A harder problem is how to improve on what's considered by more than a few to be the greatest football game ever made. FIFA 10's evolution of 360 degree ball control won't be bested for some time, but World Cup still has a stab at fixing some critical issues - specifically, penalties and goalkeeper AI.
It's odd that while aiming to fix penalties once and for all, World Cup doesn't make much use of the fix. By default, matches will end on the 90th minute no matter what, satisfied with a draw. But for anyone who takes their FIFA seriously, the old system of a one-in-five chance of the goalkeeper going the right way is a big reason to jump ship. After 90 minutes and 90 emotions, why should it come down to chance?
World Cup adds the gravity of a nation's collective white knuckles and hopeful stares to your penalty kicks. Now, in addition to stamina and pressure affecting your player, you'll need to stop a strafing cursor in the green section of an "accuracy bar". Stopping said cursor also initiates the familiar power bar, before the ball is jabbed towards an invisible cursor you've positioned on the screen.
It's an unstoppable chain of three events - two based on timing, and one on hand-eye coordination - that'll make it hard to even hit the target for the first while, so don't wait until the final to have a few practice kicks.
On the 'keeper's side of things, you now have the choice to react. Holding a direction before the ball is kicked will hurl your body further, but it's a gamble. React to the shot, and you'll at least go the right way.
It's also odd that after all this effort to remove randomness, the concept of "goalkeeper stuff-ups" has been introduced. Yes, you read it right - although really, goalkeepers have always stuffed up in FIFA. The difference here is it's intentional.
Occasionally if your number one misses a punch on a corner kick, it's no biggie. What's more concerning is the decisions they make - from the mildly annoying touch on a harmless ball out to give away a needless corner, to pure "WTF" moments like Iker Casillas charging at a marauding striker on the right, while his support striker on the left is chomping at the bit for a through ball.
Being the only truly AI controlled part of the game, 'keepers have always been a contentious element of FIFA. But the fact that they react quicker now, and recover quicker from stressful situations, makes them less frustrating overall in World Cup.
For anyone who has regular tight matches with a group of mates, these are critical elements. Anything which can be blamed on the game - rather than pure skill - takes away from a victory. If you've ever
been playing FIFA well into the wee hours, and lost a few matches in a row, it's easy to eye that Home Team controller and wonder if maybe, just maybe, that bastard has been playing with an advantage the whole time. It's the sort of thing that's largely unclear with FIFA. Is there a Home Team advantage? Is there actually a momentum boost after conceding a goal? The commentators certainly think so.
Well, stop your wondering, because in World Cup they've just come right out and said it.
On top of receiving a Home team advantage, it's also confirmed that high altitude will increase fatigue - giving an advantage to teams that train in such conditions.
Whether or not you view this as a good thing will probably come down to how seriously you take your FIFA. The advantages aren't match-defining, but a default online ranked Head to Head match will involve both of them.
With strictly world class talent comes the problem of increased average speed, and to counteract super-players traversing the pitch in a few strides, players are now smaller in relation to the pitch. Of course, not all players of World Cup's 199 countries will keep up with Theo Walcott, but it's a pro-realism change that forces one to sprint in moderation. With more pitch to cross, you need to move forward more tactically. And with a bit more space between players, there's time for that one extra touch on the ball. Use it to pass more accurately, wait for support, or plan a trick around your marker.
Even on the default "assisted" setting, passing requires more care now. If a player's body momentum is going left, and you awkwardly order a pass to the right, it's not going to be pretty. If you're a brave soul not playing with a top nation, you'll have to take care to face the direction you're passing - another pro-realism move. The power bar also needs some attention, as World Cup will actually forsake your directional input if your power bar goes beyond the intended recipient - even if it means passing it right to the other team.
With passing requiring more care, and the larger pitch requiring the ball to travel further, interceptions are more common. But as the game gets into those dying minutes, the AI will now get a bit more risky, a bit more reckless, showing signs of desperation. Players seem to have a sense of urgency in the dying minutes of a losing match, and will make through runs or toe-poke shots they normally wouldn't.
Outside of gameplay, much love has been given to the atmosphere of the world's most popular sporting event. Little things like confetti being thrown on the field, or camera flashes from the stands, are harmless. Big things like seeing manager reactions or fanatical face-painters dancing in the stands are novel at first, and after they become irritating can be turned off, except for when they're disguising the loading of a subbed-in player.
And of course, there's a boot full of new dynamic goal celebrations - many of them hilarious, from playing a violin, to the moonwalk, to just plain falling down. All before you enjoy a great new view of your goal with the overhead camera instant replays.
Most of these things are good, but not enough to choose World Cup over FIFA 10. There is, however, one thing that EA Sports could have done to make this less of an experiment, and more of a must-buy.
Online matchmaking actually got worse in FIFA 10, with the removal of the ability to search for matches in your region. It's a problem with all EA Sports releases really - gameplay so dependant on quick reactions doesn't mix well with lag. Your only choice is to add every Aussie you see to your friends list and hope someone's in the mood when you are. World Cup potentially could have improved the experience dramatically by fixing this, but alas, it seems EA Sports is still unaware of our existence
Playing against the AI isn't so bad, although the closer you get to Legendary difficulty, the more robotic it becomes. Its defence won't be tricked out unless you do something labelled "trick". Seeing as online matches mainly leave the tricks aside in favour of momentum changes and smart passing, this means the skills you need to beat the AI are different to those in multiplayer.
Some people just prefer international football, and for them, it's an easy choice. The annual FIFA is very much a club game, and indeed they make it as hard as possible (without being impossible) to create a World Cup type of tournament in it.
The extra modes - such as a mock World Cup format, and an extension of Be A Pro called Captain your Country, in which you play as your team's captain - are sideshows to the main attraction. Although if you avoid internet updates, you'll be able to include injured players such as Beckham for England, if such things are important to you. Even the soundtrack - while full of interesting world music - isn't as good as the main game.
So while World Cup South Africa definitely has some improvements, FIFA 10 is the better game. The overall experience is still great - with their 360 ball control engine, the FIFA community is getting larger and more fun to be a part of every month. All the more reason for EA to throw us a bone in their online matchmaking! Let your purchasing decision come down to how much you care about international football, with the knowledge that FIFA 11 isn't too far away.