With every World Cup comes another EA Sports-made soccer title. For South African World Cup that means the release of 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa, a game that, despite its unattractive name, does a good job of presenting some of the same great soccer action seen in FIFA 10 with just the right amount of mechanical and aesthetic innovations to make it feel like a title that can stand on its own two feet. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that it not only features the world’s most popular sporting event, but it also delivers the excitement better than any other sports game in history.

It benefits from having the same engine running under its hood as IGN’s Sports Game of the Year for 2009, FIFA 10. The soccer is fluid, the graphics are sharp and players are able to perform great feats of athleticism without ever looking unrealistic or overly arcade. One of the biggest and most substantive improvements has to do with infusing the World Cup into everything you do in the game. Everything from the main menu to picking teams for a friendly incorporates elements of this year’s tournament in South Africa.

That’s not to say that there aren’t some annoyances that come with the new World Cup-inspired presentational elements. While the idea of showing coaches on the sidelines and fans in the stands either disgruntled or exuberant is cool, 2010 FIFA World Cup shows them off entirely too much. What’s worse is that there’s a quick load time in between gameplay and showing these separate character models. In the end it feels very forced and doesn’t quite fit with the core gameplay. I certainly like the idea of showing off the crowd, but I’d like pans of flags waving or the wave going around the stadium. Something more than four fans trying to be authentic by donning the proper colors and throwing a hat on their head.

Thankfully the rest of the presentation works perfectly with the ebb and flow of the World Cup. Crowds are extremely loud and wonderfully raucous, which really sells them as being diehard soccer fans. Streamers flow onto the field during the introductions, and while I do wish they’d react to players when they go sliding and running through them, the fact that they’re included ups the pageantry quite a bit.

The commentary also adds to the gravitas of the occasion. Typically the duo in the booth are repetitive and altogether boring. Not so this time. I’m not going to build it up any more than this: go win the World Cup and sit back and listen. I almost cried when I saw the Americans win the Cup and heard what the commentators had to say.

The World Cup permeates every mode and aspect of 2010 FIFA World Cup. From the menu design to the ever-present Zakumi mascot to the facts that pop up during loading screens, everything wreaks of World Cup. That includes the gameplay innovations and feature additions as well. In the way of gameplay that means a fine-tuned penalty kick system which, while it is a very small detail, adds more user control to the all-important PK situations. Gone are the days of not knowing how to dive or when to push the button as the goalkeeper. Now it feels much more like a duel between two sides rather than a guessing game with little skill.
This is what it’s all about. Stay tuned for our video review, coming shortly.Other small gameplay additions include the ability to play as all 199 international squads that played in the real qualifying round. You can insert any of these teams into the tournament and see if you can bring them to glory, or you can check out the Story of Qualifying mode and see if you can rewrite history. I enjoy the concept of this new mode, but will have to wait and see how it progresses as the real tournament goes on. For now you’re confined to playing an assortment of qualifying matches, but that should expand to match the current round of the real tournament once things get underway in South Africa.

The other, slightly altered feature that players get to enjoy is Captain Your Country which isn’t all that dissimilar from Be A Pro in FIFA 10. You assume control of only one player on the field. He can either be created in 2010 FIFA World Cup, imported from your FIFA 10 Virtual Pro or you can use an existing pro. The camera angle for this mode is much better than the restrictive, but more detailed view given in FIFA 10. Captain Your Country is a scaled-back version of Be A Pro with fewer attribute bonuses and less integration into the rest of the package, but that doesn’t mean it’s not fun to play.

Elsewhere the gameplay feels almost exactly as it should. Things have been tweaked slightly since FIFA 10 and it pays off in the way players move and react to situations. You’ll see guys on the pitch making strong and smart runs in relation to their defenders and they’re definitely more proficient in positioning themselves for a solid header. Amazing plays are fairly commonplace in 2010 FIFA World Cup, but nothing ever looks too arcadey or unrealistic. Occasionally animations will breakdown and the framerate might dip here and there, but for the most part this is a fantastic representation of the most beautiful sport on Earth.

The biggest issue that many are sure to have with the setup of 2010 FIFA World Cup is the fact that you can’t customize the experience all that much. From the time of each half to individual gameplay sliders to the ability to simulate your way through the World Cup, straight to the final; none are well-represented (if at all) in 2010 FIFA World Cup. It doesn’t make a lick of sense, especially when you consider that just about every other sports title on the market allows players to do things like alter different parts of the opposing AI. It’d be nice if 2010 FIFA World Cup let you do the same.

These guys show up all too often.Another downfall has to do with artificial intelligence. While CPU-controlled players do a great job of using their physical presence to bump you off of balls and keep you from making an effective run. They clearly understand how they’re supposed to play given their size and position, now if only their mind were up to spec. All too often players are lackadaisical when a loose ball presents itself, even if it’s just a few feet away from them. If the pass isn’t intended for them, chances are you won’t get much of a reaction from the AI-controlled player. Thankfully goalie issues that I’ve seen over the last few years of FIFA have been largely fixed.

All in all the gameplay in 2010 FIFA World Cup is strong, but could’ve used a little more flexibility. It presents a great setting for the World Cup and, if you win, you’ll be treated to one of the greatest celebration scenes in all of sports videogames.
Things can get crazy, but never unrealistically so.If you don’t want to take on the world all by your lonesome, 2010 FIFA World Cup allows you to head online and represent a country of your choosing with every match on Xbox Live or PlayStation Network. I didn’t get a chance to participate in the Battle of Nations for this review as the servers aren’t yet populated with players, but the basic setup sounds cool and simple.

You pick a team to represent, then a separate team to play with each match. If you pick Germany, you’re going to get a smaller amount of points than if you chose a team like United Arab Emirates. Your point total is added in with others who selected the same original squad to form a set of world rankings. Of course, you can also play in a standard head-to-head match, which performed quite well in my playtests.
Closing Comments
There’s no question that 2010 FIFA World Cup is a very impressive game of soccer at its core. It has many of the frills that you’d expect from a World Cup presentation, even if a few of them are more annoying than not. The advent of things like Two Button controls for all of our mothers and fathers to play with is cool for the casual players, but the lack of customization for hardcore soccer fans is a real disappointment. If you enjoyed FIFA 10, I’d say that this one is certainly worth a look. If you don’t think the soccer will blow your mind, just wait until you win the World Cup. It’s something truly special.

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