The never-ending franchise
For the last three years EA Canada has made some drastic changes to the pace and gameplay of its beloved soccer franchise. For FIFA 10, though, the radical alterations have been toned down in favour of touching up and subtly improving the already superb 09 version.
Key to these changes is the brand new 360 degree dribbling control. Previous editions of FIFA have used a traditional 8 way analogue system for directing your player around the pitch. This resulted in some very "gamey" diagonal animations. 360 controls give the gameplay a much more realistic look by eliminating the diagonal turns and allowing the player to be much, much more in control when running with the ball. It also means that taking on and beating defenders is now as much to do with player skill as it is with timing.
Ball control has clearly been the focus for the Canadian developers this year and this is further demonstrated by the new trapping techniques when receiving passes. Players in FIFA 10 will automatically adjust their posture to receive the ball based on the type of pass and the space available around them. For example, instead of jumping to control with their chest every time a lobbed pass comes their way, players who aren't under pressure will now move backwards and trap the ball with their feet when it lands.
EA have also touted their improved goalkeeper AI as a big change for this year. Goalies will now rush out of their goal much faster to put strikers under pressure in 1v1 situations. They are even intelligent enough to scramble back to their goal line if they have been lobbed in order to scoop the ball off the line.
However, it's not just the gameplay that EA Canada have been busying themselves with. Manager Mode, which forms the real meat of the single-player game, has received over 50 changes and improvements since last year's game. Most of these have been based on community feedback on EA's forums. Here are just a few examples of what's new.
Player transfers are no longer purely decided by what sort of money you can offer. You will need to show potential players that you have good prospects in the European competition. Players will even turn you down if competition for first team places in your squad is too high. Additionally, the emphasis on sponsor payouts to fund your team has been abolished. Instead, the club's board of directors will give you a budget, though you will be able to tweak their level of generosity in the options screen.
The player development is now fully automatic and is determined by performance and a player's personal achievements on the pitch. The player fatigue is also more realistic. Lower league teams will find it easier to compete as they won't have constantly tired players, while top teams will be able to field the first choice team more often.
The developers also promise that the simulated matches will be less random and take into account a team's overall strength. This should make for much more realistic looking league tables. Even more realism will be added by the AI opponents, who will now rotate their squads depending on player fatigue, form and the importance of individual matches.
And if you are tired of managing your team, you can delegate some of the more tiresome responsibilities to your assistant manager. This hands the responsibility of picking your team over to the AI.
Practice makes perfect
I could go on and on about the changes to Manager Mode in FIFA 10. The effort EA has been putting into the franchise in recent years is astounding, but, in addition, they've found time to reinstate one of the most requested features from older titles in the series, a practice mode. Familiar scenarios such as free kicks, penalties and practice matches will be available to play with. Most interesting, though, is the new "create a set-piece" feature. This is achieved using on-screen arrows to direct your players around, in a similar look to TV match analysis. You can create as simple or intricate a play as you like, enabling you to score free kicks and corners that have truly been perfected on the training ground. It may even be possible to share your creations online, but this has not yet been confirmed.
FIFA 10 is shaping up to be a thrilling update to what was already the best football simulation since the launch of the current generation of systems. Pro Evolution Soccer will have an awful lot to do this year if Konami want it to match EA Sports' latest rendition of the beautiful game.