9. FIFA 10

I umm-ed and ahhed for a long time about putting this in my top games. I mean, football is football, isn’t it? Make the grass green, the ball white, and the winner is the one who can it in the net the most. How hard can it be? Well, quite difficult, actually. Earlier FIFA games looked good but played like dogs. They always lost out in the gameplay stakes to Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer. The balance of power has tipped towards FIFA in recent years. It is fast becoming the game real football fans play, and in my last few sessions I have been convinced too. By getting the ingredients right, it has become nearly as wonderful and heart-breaking as the real thing.

At first, you’d be hard pressed to see any cosmetic differences between FIFA 10 and its previous iterations. Electronic Arts have always been masters of flashy presentation, and nothing changes here. The majority of the players look pretty much like whom they’re meant to, and all the stadia and such are represented in full HD creamy goodness. The menu screens are accompanied by bland, inoffensive pop from around the world. The booming roar of the crowd reverberates in realistic fashion out of the surround sound speakers, with tannoy announcements and commentary provided by Martin Tyler and Andy Gray giving it the ‘Sky’ big match feel. Whether that’s a good or bad thing comes down to your tolerance of their banter. As I have already said, EA excel at this stuff.

So what about the game mechanics? They tinker mostly, there are no wholesale changes. They’ve improved the AI (as they do every year, of course). The defence seems to be more switched on, they react more quickly and are less susceptible to the ball over the top like they were in earlier games. Goalkeepers have meant to have been improved, though I haven’t seen any evidence of that. It’s more of a challenge to score from outside the box and good crosses are slightly more difficult to do, but that makes more satisfying when you do manage to pull them off.

The biggest changes are you can now set up your own custom free-kick and corner set-pieces, and the 360 ball control. I know, that just sounds like a bullet point you’d see on the back of the box, but it really does add to the game. Before this you could only move in eight directions – up, down, left, right, and all those in-between. Instead of running and suddenly changing direction, you can now make long arching Theo Walcott-like runs down the wing, or bend your run to perfection to avoid offside when waiting for that killer through ball. It’s a game-changer.

In single player, you can play the computer, though that really isn’t too much fun. You can manage your own team, picking the squad and dealing the transfer market to improve your club and win the league. Where the most time has been lavished is on the Be A Pro section. This is where you take control of your own player in a single position and try to hone the perfect professional. You start in the lower leagues before climbing the divisions to find yourself at your dream club. Though, none of these options really interest me. Where I think FIFA 10 stands out is its online and multiplayer.

It was an earlier FIFA game (FIFA 06, I think, on the original Xbox) that helped soil my opinion of online gaming. When playing in a tournament, I was one nil up with only a couple of minutes to go and my opponent lost his connection, leading to a rematch. I played the rematch, was two nil up and it happened again. Connection lost. Rematch. I played a final time, was one nil up and the fucking French prick pulled it again. So I quit, and that twat went through by default! Things have improved drastically since then. If your opponent quits or loses connection, you are awarded a two nil win. There’s also a stat showing the percentage of games your opponent has failed to finish. If their DNF% is high, they tend to be shunned by the community.

I never play this game on my own. I only ever break it out when my friend comes around. We sometimes play each other (it’s usually fairly even, though he is better than me) but in recent times we’ve taken to playing on the same side, taking on opponents online. It’s such a joy. After an initial bedding in process, we’ve become attuned to each other’s playing styles and things have taken off. We are now racing up the rankings. I take real pleasure in the smallest of things. When defending, I always drop off the player while my friend always goes to the ball. If he should miss his tackle and fail to get the ball, I’m there as back up. This is done without words, just a natural understanding. The same goes for attacking, if my friend picks up the ball in midfield he knows I’ll be busting a gut to make a run forward. As someone who has no physical aptitude for the beautiful game but has loved it for many years, to be able to this stuff is an absolute delight. It is this feeling that makes it one of my favourite games of 2009.

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