In the weeks and days leading up to FIFA 10's release, my waking moments were gradually taken over by the usual build up of excitement. I had read every preview, watched every trailer and tutorial and preview video, and wolfed down any offering EA Sports had in the way of glimpses of the game to come. Imagine my disappointment, then, when I stuck the disc into my Xbox 360, and found the gameplay to be chunky and uninspiring at first attempt.
I had read all about the 360 degree movement, and could not wait to get started. I had glazed over at the mention of more physicality and improved manager mode - all I wanted was the 360 degree movement. At first play, the 360 degree movement is hardly noticeable. I did notice that smaller players are easily pushed off the ball, and if you are not particularly quick when in possession, it can lead to you losing the ball easily to thick bodied oafs with lots of strength and little skill. The game was a little frustrating at first, and I was secretly disappointed.
I had been talking about this for weeks, my girlfriend had already expected not to see me for a week or two as I immersed myself in the world of FIFA 10, and here I sat, feeling like I should play The Sims 3 instead. However, I had also read that one should play FIFA 09 to get a real feel for the difference in FIFA 10. I didn't do that, but I took it to mean that the improvements are subtle and take some time to surface. So, I stuck to it, and played another game. And another game. And another. By the 5th game, I was rooted to my chair, that wild, childish look of glee plastered to my face, and my absolute joy and love for FIFA 10 was founded.
It takes a while to get into FIFA 10, but once you start playing, you begin to realize that this is without doubt the best football game to have ever existed, ever. When you get the hang of it, and play enough to see its subtle uses, 360 degree control is a godsend. Dribbling is much better, you keep the ball more often, and gameplay with the ball at players' feet is incredibly realistic. Slide tackles and challenges are realistic, the animations are excellent, and the physical side of play is a welcome relief to FIFA 09's inability to cope with speedy attackers - in FIFA 10, Fernando Torres is required to beat the defender to the ball using his pace as well as his strength, whereas in FIFA 09, his pace alone left defenders for dead, and many long ball goals could be scored that way.
The passing is much improved as well - lofted passes no longer hang in the air like golf chips, rather they move accurately depending on how the pass was played. If struck with the inside of the boot, the ball curves naturally as it would on the real pitch. If struck more solidly, the flight is flatter and the ball zips across field to make a 40 yard, Xabi Alonso-esque pass a viable and realistic option. It is much easier to play passes over obstructing defenders than previously, and with the improved ball control, it feels far more natural and realistic than ever before.
The goalkeepers are better, and react quicker, the commentary is much better and varied, and the graphics are awesome, with most players represented accurately (Jamie Carragher looks like himself, for once, and some shots of Pepe Reina are scarily lifelike). The soundtrack is a good mix, as always, and I could happily leave the game spinning and the speakers on in the house for some good musical ambience.
I am mostly a manager mode man, so I don't usually wander too far afield of this mode. It has been greatly improved, and the main point for me is the player growth system. Previously, you could assign points for your players individually if you wanted. If you simple made all your players incredibly fast, the game became far too easy. It was never really realistic to have a team full of superstars. In FIFA 10, player form plays a large part in their growth. In form players will show green arrows next to their name in the squad view, out of form players will show red arrows. Respectively, in form players will have a rating higher than their usual rating if they are in form, and out of form players will have a lower rating. A nice addition to the commentary has been added - Martin Tyler and Andy Gray will make mention of a player's current form as well.
Fitness of your players plays a much bigger part as well, if you have not upgraded your fitness coach to max - and there is a welcome assistant manager option. The assistant manager will pick your weekly squad and automatically rotate players for you - keeping your players fit and raring to go at all times. Bare in mind, however, that he may not be 100% aware of the calendar at all times, and so you may need to tweak his selection here and there to ensure that you have your best squad fit and available for the big games.
I do have some irks, as with any game. Notably, I was sacked from my job as Liverpool manager quite unjustly. I had been playing on the professional difficulty to start with, to get a feel for the game and get the goals flowing. Once I became bored of hammering sides 6-0 every game, I changed up to World Class difficulty. Leading the table late into the season, I found myself facing two weeks of cup semi-finals - an FA Cup semi against Aston Villa, followed immediately by a League Cup semi against Chelsea, both now on my new World Class difficulty. The manager mode in FIFA 10 now has a screen that shows your reputation, and the board's assessment of you. Winning games will gain reputation and improve the board's assessment (and job security) and losing games will do the opposite. At the time of semi-finals, I had gained reputation to require one more win to move onto the next star rating. The board were in love with me, and, leading the table, I was the man of the hour. I lost my first World Class game against Aston Villa 2-1, and found that my reputation had dropped by 9 points, and the board were dangerously close to giving me the boot. I drew the game against Chelsea 1-1, not bad at Stamford Bridge, and found myself immediately without employment.
I found that a bit unrealistic, but I guess it's something I could live with. On the plus side, rather than having to start the manager mode again (as would have been required in FIFA 09), I was offered a job with Hereford in League 2 (appropriate to my reputation) which was quite nice.
The other major change is the virtual pro. In FIFA 09, you could create a player and then use him in the be-a-pro mode and assign points to his skills based on the experience points gained in matches. In FIFA 10, your virtual pro goes with you wherever you are. He followed me from Liverpool to Hereford, and he is also available in all other modes. Instead of assigning points to his skills based on experience, points automatically go to his skills upon completion of certain tasks. There is a sticker book of sorts with "challenges" to complete - for example, juggle the ball 5 times in the Arena and unlock some skills. Score a volley and get some points to the volley attribute. Score with your weaker foot and gain some points to weak foot ability. It's a welcome change, and gives you reason to play with your virtual pro across all the modes.
All in all, once I got into it, FIFA 10 was a revelation. 360 degree control makes life so much easier, fluid and more realistic. The physicality is great, and the graphics and gameplay overall are awesome. FIFA 10 is without doubt the best football game, ever, hands down. If you don't own it, then I suggest you get to a store and buy it, because it will rock your world.