2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa Review

By Sterling McGarvey - Posted Apr 27, 2010

For over three years, EA has been building up FIFA to dominate soccer gaming by the time the 2010 World Cup rolled around. It's got a few midfield stumbles, but with this licensed title, EA pulls it together for a win.

The Pros
  • Great authentic presentation
  • Sorely needed revamped penalty kick system
  • Yet again, new animations add new gameplay depth
The Cons
  • Audio lags behind visual quality
  • Noob-friendly two-button play isn't responsive enough
  • Tournament tie-in means limited shelf life

Three years ago, I listened to FIFA 08’s executive producers Gary Patterson and Joe Booth tell a room of media that the developers’ dream was to create a revamped soccer game that, by the 2010 World Cup, would allow players to take on the role of a designated player and represent their nation on the world’s virtual stage. And by leaps and bounds, they’ve gotten there. 2010 FIFA World Cup represents the culmination of four years of evolution from the last (mediocre) World Cup game to now.

In a tournament game, authenticity is vital, and World Cup’s presentation looks fantastic. Unlike the annual updates, EA’s licensed event games really play up the drama on the field, in the stands among (admittedly interchangeable) fans, and on the sidelines with quick cutscenes. For comparison’s sake on the evolution of the series, it’s amazing to see how EA’s team has toned down the 360 launch-era excessive lighting and waxy skin of 2006 FIFA World Cup to evoke the likenesses of the world’s finest players and coaches. No longer does Italy manager Marcello Lippi look like a Madame Tussaud’s statue.

2010 FIFA World Cup

Headbutts Not Included in Animations

And like FIFA 10, it’s a great-looking game on the pitch, and new animations add new layers of depth to the title. The games seems to improve each year by introducing animation and movements that never seemed missing until you’ve seen them executed. Here, a physical skirmish in midfield might result in deflecting the ball off the ref if he’s too slow to move out of the way, or as I noticed in Captain Your Country, you might screw up a counterattack by accidentally bumping into your teammate as he’s attempting a run. It feels like a sensible evolution of the physicality that EA’s been trickling in year after year, and outside of the official logos and kits, it’s here that the game feels its most realistic.

On the other hand, there are elements that take away from the great-looking presentation. The audio’s not quite up to par, despite those all-too realistic vuvuzelas. Commentators repeat themselves far more frequently than you’ll hear in the annual games, they’ll pronounce players’ names correctly during some pre-game statement (“Player X plays as a striker in the league of the opposing nation”), and then they’ll butcher his name in-game whenever he touches the ball. The crowd audio doesn’t really convey the intensity of an attempted shot as the tension builds; instead screaming after the play is broken up. And for the world’s biggest tournament, you’d think that England fans had something to sing other than “God Save the Queen” from their seats.

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Good News for England Fans-- Wait…

The other big change for World Cup is a revamp of the penalty kick system. If you’re in the uncomfortable role of goalkeeper, you can move with the right analog stick to catch and deflect shots, which takes some edge off the guessing game. If you’re shooting, there’s a meter that you need to hit to nail a perfectly controlled shot, and you can sacrifice accuracy for cageyness by holding the shoot button to stutter step before taking your PK. The change is a great one that adds depth of a mode that’s never felt fully explained in past games. Now if you screw up a penalty, you know why. And feel worse.

And of course, in order to capitalize on the numerous neophyte soccer fans who will undoubtedly look into this game after catching the footy fever in June, EA’s team has implemented a casual-friendly two button mode. It distills gameplay into moving, passing, shooting, and tackling. Personally, I had a tough time with the idea of not being able to sic a second defender on someone or not being able to dribble, but the mode functions best at easier difficulties for FIFA noobs.

2010 FIFA World Cup

The Captain’s Armband Is Yours

World Cup 2010 also hints at EA’s longterm strategy of creating persistent data that will migrate over the years. In Captain Your Country, the tournament edition of Be a Pro mode, you can import your user-created player from FIFA 10 (and Game Face). When you start the game, your game preferences will be saved so that future games will all of your personal quirks. It’s one of the best integrations of save data I’ve seen in an EA Sports title in some time. The other modes improve on ideas introduced in EA’s last tournament tie-in, UEFA Euro 2008.

Captain Your Country improves greatly on the standard FIFA Be a Pro mode, if only because it feels like it irons out some annoyances with past FIFA games. It feels more forgiving about your player’s position on the field, and most importantly, it brings back real-time numerical feedback. In normal FIFAs, your performance is judged with a green bar. Play badly, and you’ll be docked points. But you can’t see your actual judged score until after the match. In World Cup, you’ll always have your score, which helps immensely. If there’s a negative, the mode still isn’t fully balanced to the position you play. If you’re controlling the ball in midfield and carving through defenses to serve passes to your forwards, it’s highly rewarding. If you’re a goal-poaching striker looking to sink in close shots, it’s harder to win Man of the Match. It would be better if the game were finer-tuned around the position you choose.

CYC spices things up by pitting you against three other players, CPU-assisted or friend-controlled. If you’re aiming for Achievements and trophies, it’s no walk in the park, as you won’t just need to help the team win, you’ll have rivalries all the way from World Cup qualifiers up to South Africa.

2010 FIFA World Cup

In Case You Didn’t Notice The Sponsors

Story of Qualifying (which EA wants you to remember is sponsored by Coke Zero!) is designed to let you relive (or retcon) history as you take on several potentially insurmountable challenges based on real-life scenarios. They range from the sublime -- Theo Walcott’s vengeful hat-trick for England against Croatia -- to the ridiculous -- as basement-dwelling Canada, you must play cynical anti-football for 40 minutes to defend a lead against Mexico -- and based on the default difficulty levels, they’re not designed for newcomers. If you’re getting by on Professional difficulty, you’ll barely be able to tread water for some of these challenges.

Arguably, one of the biggest elements of World Cup is its online integration. Story of Finals (also sponsored by Coke Zero!) promises to deliver fresh gameplay scenarios based on the events of the World Cup as they’re happening. There’s a fully-online integrated World Cup that lets you play against division rivals from group stages to the finals. And Battle of the Nations, also introduced in Euro 2008, returns. You can pick your nation to represent, and with each win, you’ll earn points for your country to contribute to the global leaderboards. Due to scheduling issues with EA, I wasn’t able to dive into the online segments of World Cup beyond a few matches, which flowed as well as any of my online matches in FIFA 10, which is to say that I had no issues. I’ll be following up with more on the online once more players are online during launch week, and any major issues will be addressed in TheFeed.

The Confetti Cannons Are Ready…

Ultimately, 2010 FIFA World Cup is one of the best tournament games EA has ever put out, since it smartly uses a great engine to propel tournament-specific fanfare forward. Although its obsolescence cuts closer than the usual annual FIFA games, there’s a lot to chew on between late April and the early July final. Thanks to the new two-button controls, it’s more accessible than any soccer game has been this generation, Captain Your Country isn’t perfect, but still solid, and the online is sound. As tournament tie-ins go, 2010 FIFA World Cup is now the standard.