The World Cup has rolled back around and accompanying the festivities in South Africa this year is a special World Cup themed edition of EA’s seminal FIFA series. Taking the polished engine of FIFA 2010 and tailoring it around soccer’s biggest stage makes for a compelling package that contains enough gameplay tweaks to satisfy the hardcore FIFA player while adding several new features to make the game approachable for new players.
It’s clear from the first time that you boot the title up that EA went to great lengths to boost the presentation to the appropriate international scale. Everything about the game ties in to the titular tournament, from facts about the 199 international teams competing in the qualifying round (all of which are playable) to the menu’s and title screen which follow the same design aesthetic as the event itself. The presentation spills over into the on field action as well, providing streamers during pregame introductions and very solid commentary that does a great job reporting the actual on field action This kind of quality lends credibility to the title and makes it feel more like a stand alone World Cup title than just the same old FIFA with the Cup tacked on.
Once you jump in to the game you’ll find several different modes to delve in to. From the standard Quick Match to playing through the actual World Cup itself either from the qualifying rounds or beginning in the finals. Perhaps the most interesting new mode is the Story of Qualifying. In this mode, you can relive some of the greatest moments in this year’s qualifying round through a series of challenges. These range from attempting to come back from a seemingly insurmountable deficit to holding a lead late in the game. You’ll earn points as you play through these challenges, with the opportunity for bonus points for going above and beyond the requirements. Once you’ve completed the qualifying round challenges you’ll unlock the ability to relive moments from the 2006 World Cup. Eventually, as the real Cup progresses, the game will update this mode with moments from this years finals. This is a great addition, and should be more widely adopted in sports titles.
The game also features a World Cup centric version of FIFA’s “Be a Pro” mode called “Captain your Country”. In this mode, you’ll take control of a single player (either a real life star or a created player) and lead him on a quest to become the captain of your country’s team and eventually lead them to the championship. This mode features a dynamic camera angle that does a great job following your player around the pitch, and also features onscreen cues to let you know where your player should be positioning himself during the action. As you make your way up the team rankings, your player will earn additional attribute points to increase his effectiveness on the pitch.
The only real drawback to Captain Your Country is that since you’re only controlling one player, you become heavily dependent on your teammates to hold up their end of the game. Normally, they do this quite well. There are moments however where the AI doesn’t really step up. Occasionally you’ll pass to a teammate who is wide open for a shot on goal who will then pass it up in favor of passing to a covered teammate behind them. You’ll also run into some annoyances on the defensive side of the ball as sometimes players will miss out on intercepting balls that pass directly next to their feet. While these issues don’t crop up often enough to completely ruin the experience, they are substantially more noticeable in CYC mode due to your heavy reliance on the team.
The gameplay feels very similar to FIFA 2010 with some minor upgrades. The Penalty Kicking system has been altered for the better, and it makes those moments deservingly more tense. The game also adds a brand new newbie friendly two button control scheme which allows younger or inexperienced players to enjoy the game using only a pass and shoot button. This gameplay method limits your options of course, but it works well enough to win against the AI on the lower difficulty levels that most new players should be playing on. Players will want to change to the standard control scheme before stepping up their game either on a higher difficulty level or against an experienced human player as the two button scheme doesn’t offer the level of flexibility needed to win under those conditions.
The game also features a strong online presence. The Online World Cup tasks you with picking a team to represent, then winning games to earn points for that team. You can only represent one team, but you don’t have to play with that team exclusively. Lower ranked teams earn you more points, so you may find yourself playing with them to earn points for your chosen country. Unfortunately, what should be an incredibly captivating mode loses some of its tension due to occasional spurts of crippling lag. In such a fast paced sport, even a minor amount of lag can destroy the competitive spirit of a match. In the online matches that I played, I experienced one match with pretty substantial lag that made keeping up on defense difficult and another that actually caused our game to seize and eventually crash. Hopefully these issues can be ironed out via a patch because it’s a shame for such an interesting mode to be hampered by these problems.
In the end, 2010 FIFA World Cup provides a little something for everyone. More of the great FIFA action fans of the series have come to expect wrapped up in the pageantry of the World Cup. It also provides a great jumping off point for newcomers to the sport with the two button control scheme option. If you’re wrapped up in World Cup fever and don’t already own FIFA 2010 then this game makes for a great purchase. If you do own FIFA already and are looking for a way to expand your experience the Captain your Country mode and Story of Qualifying modes add a great deal to the existing framework and are worth the price of admission. It’s the closest you can get to the action without a ticket and a trip to South Africa.
Review copy provided by publisher.