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Sean Pettibone


FIFA Soccer 10 (Playstation 3)

EA's FIFA has improved dramatically over the past few seasons, and last year's edition was considered a high-water mark for the series. The 2010 edition does an excellent job consolidating the features that made last year's edition great while adding a few innovations of its own. The new 360 degree dribbling system gives the game a much higher degree of unpredictability while increasing the skill and challenge in winning matches. New modes and improvements abound, with a deeper Virtual Pro mode, more elaborate Management mode plus varied practice modes give it a more comprehensive feel. FIFA 10's presentation and visuals remain superb with realistic player models, smooth frame rates and sleek menus giving the game a highly-polished look throughout. Join us as we hit the pitch and find out why, with so many significant and much-appreciated improvements in place, FIFA 10 remains at the top of its game.

Players have come to expect a lot from EA's FIFA series, especially after last year's stellar installment set new high standards. While some of its improvements are minor, the biggest changes make for another solid sports title. FIFA Soccer 10 builds on all the successful elements and delivers the world-class licenses, brilliant gameplay and deep management modes that made last year's game so impressive. There are some fairly significant changes to the game this time around, and the most immediate are apparent as soon as you get on the field. FIFA 2010 offers a far more realistic sense of action with much better physics, improved player AI and more nuanced controls. By far the most impressive addition this time around comes in the new 360 degree dribbling system, which allows you to push the ball forward with much more dexterity. Instead of being locked into predictable patterns that are easily anticipated, you now have many more options in moving your characters around. Player contact is much more fruitful and they'll push and shove each other to keep their opponent off-balance, and can perform special moves when the 'urgency' AI kicks in. This gives them added channels in which to block attacks, change momentum suddenly and keep the game unpredictable. You have to tackle moves that can be used to try and knock the ball from your opponents. Sliding tackles work as they have in previous games, but you need to be careful in your timing since poorly timed attacks almost always lead to red cards. More consistent and easier standing tackles have been improved dramatically in FIFA 10 and make it much simpler to deflect a run without running into a card. Here, you wait until you're close inside an attacker's area and run towards them to try and kick the ball out from under their feet. If you really want to get the ball, you can combine this with a sprint and try to overpower them by the sheer momentum of your defender. It's a subtle change, but it has a huge impact on how matches unfold. Goals are much harder to come by, and possession more fluid between teams which creates a more defensive style of play that feels more accurate.

One of the biggest on-field changes involves defensive moves called Jockeys. Instead of running in straight lines, you can now move sideways using the new jockey move, which helps you cover a player by running in parallel to their movements. This allows you to keep your opponent's attacks from becoming routs, but it also makes scoring that much more difficult, since you can't rely on overpowering them with momentum alone. You'll need to think ahead a little bit more this time around, and not only see your movements, but anticipate and counter what the opposing side will do. Since each side has more options, the gameplay is much less predictable, making the outcome of each match uncertain. There's definitely a lot more skill involved in passing as well, since the defense AI is much stronger, with a greater ability to get into your passing marks and disrupt your moves. You can still set up passes effectively, but you won't have as much leeway as you did in previous FIFA titles. Shots on goal aren't as predictable either, since the goalkeeper AI has been improved to make them more aggressive. They'll run after a close-in player and tackle them to gain control of the ball, which makes attacking far less prolific in terms of scores. Conversely, you can become over-reliant on the goalie, and placing them too far outside the box leaves you vulnerable to an easy goal if the attackers break through your defense. These changes give the game a different momentum, making FIFA 10 feel much more authentic in terms of chances on goal, defensive maneuvers and overall pacing. It definitely feels closer to the style and pacing of real soccer, and its unpredictability gives FIFA 10's gameplay a more realistic approach.

There are loads of on-field changes this time around, but FIFA 10 also includes numerous updates to its various modes that make for an even deeper, more satisfying experience. One of the biggest changes this year comes in FIFA's signature practice arena. While previous editions merely allowed you to kick the ball around and play 1-on-1 between matches, its now been expanded with additional options that allow you to practice and create set pieces, quite handy if you want to master corner kicks or the new Jockey moves. More interestingly, the set piece creation mode allows you to create your own set pieces (corner kicks, throw-ins and penalties) and practice how they'll work in real time and then save them after you're satisfied. Once you've done this, you only need press a single button during a real match to trigger them. This automates the set-piece process and makes the game even more comprehensive. Finally, you can train and learn the moves in a practice match with a complete roster. There's no clock or scoring in a practice match, which allows you to play and learn the passing, shooting and dribbling moves without pressure. The changes go even deeper than that and include many enhancements to already existing modes.

One of the coolest things about FIFA 10 is the ability to create a virtual pro, a custom player you can use in any mode of the game, including the manager mode and Be a Pro sections. As in previous installments, you can begin by creating your character's appearance, set their default position and home team. There are plenty of character appearance options for you to select and you can now download your own face and paste it on the player in-game. Virtual Pro is definitely a cool feature, but some to unlock the rewards of playing in the Be a Pro mode, you need to go through the game with an actual player. This is slightly annoying, but the game compensates by adding to the fun here. In Be a Pro, your player starts with fairly low skill sets, but these can be increased by playing through the various modes and earning skill points. These can be earned by playing in matches and successfully performing tasks, such as passing balls. As you get skilled, not only will your player become more effective on the field, you'll also be able to purchase additional items such as bandanas and other items to give them a more individual look.. These additions really let you put yourself into the game like never before and add to the impressive sense of immersion FIFA 10 creates.

Last year's online Live Season mode has been enhanced in several ways. You can still track your club through an entire season by downloading weekly updates, but now have the ability to change the results in real-time by playing your actual competitors in matches. This lets you change the results of each season, and you can do this with multiple clubs through the season. FIFA 10's Manager mode has also been upgraded with more realistic transfer markets, better player development systems, a weekly results system and many additional options to make this more realistic and challenging. It's still not quite as exciting as getting on the field and playing, but there have been some nice strides made in this area. The single players games feature some impressive AI, but the game also shines online. Several multiplayer modes are available, including the cool team play modes, where you take control of a single player and compete in head to head matches with other players. FIFA 10 also gives you the ability to go through an entire season online in Super Team mode with other virtual pro players. You need to train your own characters from scratch for this mode, and you can't use online cheats such as superstar players. These various modes give FIFA 10's online modes almost as much depth as the single player experience and add a ton of constantly updating replay value to the game.

The high-water mark visuals seen in last year's game have been tweaked slightly, though the differences between the games are incremental. Its player models still look fantastic and they have an impressive range of emotion during the between-game cinematics. During gameplay, you can choose from several different camera angles, including traditional side-view modes and the still-impressive pro-view which takes you onto the field and focuses on a single player. Each venue has been reproduced faithfully, and the action is quite exciting. FIFA 10's sound effects are fairly good and there is quite a bit of audio intensity between the roar of the crowd and the hyper-ventilating announcers. This is definitely one of the best looking and most authentic soccer games on the market, and EA's extensive licensing adds a more accurate feel to the gameplay. While some of the changes in the game are fairly dramatic, others are incremental. The changes in controls, especially the new 360 degree dribbling take some getting used to, but create a more interesting game. FIFA 10's increased AI make for a more accurate, less predictable game that's less about button mashing and more about skill. While some players may find these changes a bit jarring at first, the end result is probably the most intense, challenging and realistic soccer game to date. FIFA 2010 kicks the ball into the net in some many areas, the few missed shots don't really matter. There are a few teams and leagues omitted, but most are comparatively minor, and don't make much difference to the on-field action. Despite these issues, FIFA remains the year's definitive soccer title, setting a new standard in gameplay, presentation and depth other releases will have a hard time matching.

- Michael Palisano

Grade: A

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