After receiving a quick pass at the top of the box in a qualifying match against Denmark, Albanian striker Hamdi Salihi fired a neat ball across keeper Thomas Sørensen into the bottom corner of the goal.
In the midst of his celebrations, I held down the left bumper on my controller and toggled the right stick back and forth, prompting Salihi into a series of -- for lack of a better word -- jump kicks, the last of which hit defender Daniel Agger in the face.
After scoring a second goal, I tried to make Salihi backflip his way into the crowd of screaming, rabid Danes. He hit an invisible wall just outside the touch line on his way there and bounced back onto the pitch, simultaneously saving him, surely, from painful dismemberment and slightly lessening 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa’s entertainment value.
I don’t know why EA decided I should be able to kick Daniel Agger in the face but prevented me from martyring myself for The Cause -- in this case, the dreadful state of Albanian soccer. But I digress. There’s something rotten in the state of Denmark, it seems.
2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 [reviewed], Wii, PlayStation Portable, iPhone)
Developer: EA Canada
Publisher: EA Sports
Released: April 27, 2010
Just kidding! 2010 FIFA World Cup -- World Cup from here on out -- is actually pretty good.
In an ideal world, this review would be titled “World Cup, or how I Learned to Quit Bitching and Love Iterative Design,” but iteration don’t come cheap at 60 bones a pop. In a move that somewhat mitigates Electronic Arts’ (successful) attempt to cash in on the World Cup, EA Canada made a few (equally successful) improvements to the core game. To be honest, I expected EA to slap some new character models on FIFA 10’s engine, add 199 national teams to the mix, and call it a day, but 2010 FIFA World Cup might be, in barebones terms, my favorite installment to date.
World Cup’s improved dribbling, pass assistance, and collision detection, coupled with balanced defensive AI, result in a faster-paced, more fluid, and more creative game than the comparatively stiff FIFA 10. Passing sensitivity has been jacked up across the board, leading to more 50-50 balls, and more jostling. World Cup also adds a slew of stupidly complex dribbling moves -- fake shots and dummy passes, for example -- but that doesn’t keep your basic step-overs and drag-backs from being more effective than ever. It might be the first time in recent FIFA installments that dribbling is a viable option for the average player.
In my experience, each FIFA game has had at least one major defensive gap: between 06 and 08, crosses and set pieces were the easiest ways to score; in 09 beating the offsides trap almost always resulted in a one-on-one with the goalie; in 10, a slow build-up and a few passes at the top of the box were, ahem, super effective. World Cup’s defensive AI has been re-tooled and, at least for now, all proverbial roads lead to Rome; on the flip side, all of your offensive tools -- passing, dribbling, crossing -- seem geared to take advantage of this newfound balance in cool and creative ways.
But, it’s not all cupcakes and Skittles when it comes to FIFA’s defensive AI which is, let’s face it, a perennial bugbear. My latest grievance is that World Cup artificially and arbitrarily nerfs defensive players on weak teams by making them slow as frozen molasses. Instead of a defensive weakness manifesting itself in missed tackles or lapses in tactical awareness, “bad” is here represented as “slow.” Not only does it not adhere to reality -- I’m a mediocre soccer player because I’m not good, not because I run like I have hemorrhoids -- but it also kind of wangs up all those nice things I just said about the defensive AI (assuming you’re playing with a weak team).
And for better or worse, you might find yourself playing with weaker teams relatively often. World Cup’s “Online World Cup” -- a quick, no frills online tournament -- has a metagame that encourages using weak teams: you’ll choose one team to sponsor, with each win contributing points to said country. Using weaker teams nets you more points for each win, and whichever country has the most points at the end of the in-real-life World Cup wins. On the one hand, it sets really interesting matches -- you won’t find any New Zealand vs. San Marino ranked matches (and more on those soon!) -- but it also forces you into a low-stakes prisoner’s dilemma: Playing with weaker teams might seem like a good idea, but the nerfed defensive stats disproportionally bone otherwise competent players, which throws off the metric.
Other online options include old-fashioned ranked matches with a disarmingly effective twist: player ladders, kind of. Before your first ranked match, you’ll be placed at the bottom of ten groups. You’ll have ten matches to score at least nine points (three points for a win, one for a tie, just like real soccer) to avoid relegation, or 16 to advance to the next group, ostensibly full of slightly better players. For the most part, these ranked matches work like they always have – e.g. me trying not to get trounced by some guy from Honduras – but the added incentive of progressing up the tables sweetens the pot considerably.
Single player options are relatively standard -- a quick match “Kick Off” mode, a “Scenario” mode (which will be updated with scenarios from this year’s World Cup), and the expected World Cup mode. If I don’t waste much space on them, it’s not because they're bad, but because EA Sports has their execution down to a science: these results are reproducible.
Worth noting, however, is how badly executed World Cup’s “Captain Your Country” mode is. It’s something of a poor man’s “Be A Pro” -- you know, that really awesome mode that’s been in most of EA Canada’s games for the past three years now. The premise is similar -- you control one player and are rated on each of his actions, the endgame being to captain your country’s first team in the World Cup – but the mode is stillborn. The problem lies in the camera: although you only control one player, the game keeps the traditional camera angle instead of the over-the-shoulder perspective of earlier versions of the mode.
The problem is two-fold: World Cup visually suggests that players be able to control the players as usual, which simply isn’t the case; and when the ball is on the other side of the field, players can no longer see themselves, even though the coach is still rating you. Drifting out of position or falling offside results in a lower player rating, even though you literally cannot see your player for half of any given match. Somehow, I don’t think “Evokes feelings of frustration and impotence!” will make it into any World Cup advertising material.
The last major update of note is World Cup’s new two-button control scheme. Spoiler: I didn’t really dig it. (But then again, I suppose I’m not exactly the target demographic.) “Two-button” is pretty self-explanatory: one button controls all of your passes -- through balls and crosses included -- and another shoots, with the game making contextual decisions about how to handle each action. It works pretty well for the most part, although playing defense is kind of awkward -- there’s no way, for example, to double team the ball carrier. Still, this approach to accessibility sits better with me than, say, FIFA Soccer 09 All-Play.
I’m reluctant to use a “if X, then Y” construction, but I’ll leave you with this summary: the lack of a viable “Be A Pro”-esque mode is noticeable -- especially in light of the cheaper FIFA 10’s robust single-player -- but World Cup’s core game and online modes are top notch, a few missteps notwithstanding. EA Canada’s FIFA foundation is rock solid, so it’s hard to imagine a world where World Cup could ever be bad; whether or not it’s worth $60 is between you, God, and Daniel Agger who, let me remind you, was recently kicked in the face.
Score: 8 -- Great (8s are impressive efforts with a few noticeable problems holding them back. Won't astound everyone, but is worth your time and cash.)