Until FIFA 11 comes out anyway.
The stop-gap summer cash-in with a heart - for years people have questioned the relevance of EA's bi-annual World Cup/European Cup tie-in. But 2010 FIFA World Cup generally feels different. Indeed, this time around the FIFA franchise is easily the best soccer simulation around, leaving main competitor (and previous market leader) Pro Evolution Soccer feeling quite sorry for itself.
2010 FIFA World Cup does little to enhance last year's FIFA 10, though there are marked improvements to talk about. The game's pace is now much slicker, with improvements made to player animation and last year's 360-degree movement refined. This results in the game feeling a lot less sticky than FIFA 10 and much closer resembling a fluid game of football. Interestingly, despite the improvements to pace, the game feels stickier in midfield - with various blocks and deflections making it a bit harder to pass your way through the middle of the pitch. It's likely to be a divisive tweak but one which, in the long-run, will be noted as bringing the FIFA franchise yet another step closer to true realism.
The goalkeeper AI has also one again undergone change in FIFA World Cup. They're now able to stand their ground better when faced with a one-on-one situation, and are less prone to ridiculously silly errors. Having said that, we did witness one goal which saw our keeper stand and watch obliviously as a Torres side-footer rolled slowly into the net. Generally though, the keepers will now clamour for the ball when it's not in their possession.
Improvements to crossing round out the trio of most notable improvements, with paced balls sent in from the wings now more likely to result in a header on target. Crosses were practically useless in FIFA 10, with heading often feeling like a game of chance. The changes are enough to make FIFA World Cup feel unique without ever losing the heart of what made FIFA 10 such a hit.
Despite being based on this summer's World Cup, FIFA allows you to take control of some 200 international teams, as opposed to simply the nations whom qualified. Obvious fits for game modes are present allowing you to play out the World Cup finals, qualify for the World Cup finals, or do both. You'll also be able to take part in a Captain The World Cup mode which shares similarities with FIFA 10's Be A Pro. Interestingly, a new single player mode entitled the Story Of Qualifying harks back to old International Superstar Soccer games and sets you certain scenarios with which to change the course of history. For example - Henry's just scored his famous handball against the Irish in the play-off stages, can you rewrite history and score in the last five minutes? It's a neat mode, and we imagine when people aren't playing online they will spend most of their time here.
In-game commentary is handled by Clive Tyldesley and Andy Townsend giving a distinctly ITV flavour to proceedings. It's a considered change from the typical FIFA Andy Gray and Martin Tyler duo, but it's an inspired one. The change in personnel gives the whole experience a distinct terrestrial feeling, which plays into the World Cup's "party" ethos.
And party there is plenty. Streamers, fireworks, and confetti all around the pitch - it's clear EA were going for a more laid-back approach with FIFA World Cup. The colourful menus and bouncy music complement the South African flavour to this year's World Cup, emphasising the event's exciting emotions. The tweaks to the menus aren't purely cosmetic however, they're a lot more functional here. For a long time the FIFA menus have got more and more convoluted, and while there's still some way for them to go, commentary explaining menu choices and a removal of layers have taken things a step in the right direction here.
From a visual stance there's a subtle improvement to FIFA World Cup's aesthetics. Grass textures look much richer here, and player likenesses have taken yet another step along the walk towards uncanny valley. Some players look closer than others however, with stars like Wayne Rooney given an obscene level of attention. We're still not quite sure why Darren Fletcher's got black hair though. The inclusion of managers is a nice little treat, but they seem to stick to pretty bog-standard animation scripts which makes them seem a bit manufactured and gimmicky. It may look like it's Fabio Capello on the touchline, but would he really be running about waving his hands in the air?
Online FIFA World Cup's pretty much as you were, with one real key tweak. The World Cup concept has been taken a step further with the Battle Of The Nations mechanic which has you playing a meta-game online for the good of your nation.
For all the positives FIFA World Cup still manages to get the odd thing wrong. The team tactics screen is still an absolute mess of buttons, options and prompts which makes sticking with an injured Rio Ferdinand preferable over entering those infernal menus. The gameplay's still not quite there yet either - it can still be easy to game the keeper in certain situations, such as taking the ball to one side and rolling it in the opposite corner. Likewise, despite the enhancements to crossing, attempts near the by-line tend to always swing out of play.
Still none of these tweaks are likely to be headline changes to FIFA 11, and with each game EA release it becomes increasingly harder to see what they can improve next. For now though, FIFA World Cup's absolutely the best football game ever made. It's problem therefore is the life-span that a game based on three-week competition is likely to have, and the looming FIFA 11 which will probably be the same as this, but a bit better and with all those teams you follow for the rest of the year.
But if you're looking for even more footy to bridge the gap between now and said next release, there's nothing better. This'll keep you going all summer.
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