Review: 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa (Microsoft Xbox 360)

2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa
Developer: EA Canada
Publisher: EA Sports
Genre: Realistic Sports
Release Date: 4/27/2010 (NA)

I was very, very nice to FIFA ’10 when I reviewed it. I gave it a good score, pointed out that it was a better football game than Pro Evolution Soccer 2010, and said that it was the “perfect evolution” of the series. I still stand by that review. Then, I gave some demo impressions of 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa (henceforth known as World Cup ’10 or WC ’10) in a PSN wrap-up, and noted that I wasn’t sure, based on the demo, that the game was worth $50. Electronic Arts addressed my issues in a way that only EA and maybe Activision can do:

They raised the price and made it a full $60 purchase.

This puts football players in a bind. Assuming you’re a huge fan like I am, that means you’ve already spent $110 for both EA’s and Konami’s football titles, before even getting into DLC such as the Ultimate Team add-on for the main FIFA game. FIFA ’10 was $60 in itself, and FIFA ’11 will also be $60, plus the obligatory extra cost for people that buy used. Therefore, even considering the actions made to make this a more casual-friendly experience to bring in new gamers in time for the World Cup, did EA give people that spent $60 on FIFA ’10 enough reason to blow another $60 on World Cup ’10, before blowing a third $60 on FIFA ’11?

Nope.

As soon as you boot the game up, after loading everything, the voice of Clive Tyldesley (if you’re playing in English) informs you about the Battle of Nations. EA has done an interesting thing: they’ve brought the World Cup online, and they keep track of scores. Players can enter into World Cup format tournaments, and it’s done in an interesting way; you can play a match whenever you want, and pair up with someone random; you do this two more times, and if you’re good enough, you advance to the round of 16, against someone else that made that round. The plan was to make a World Cup where people from various countries could play against each other. It’s a great idea, but there’s only one problem: most people don’t represent honestly. I went in honestly, and played as Canada. The problem is that they’re a mediocre three star team, but I can’t remember how many times I’ve played against Spain, England or Brazil. In short, if you want to be competitive, you pretty much have to lie. “Oh? Yeah, I’m from Spain! Yes, I mean, uh, Sí, senior!”. All of these count in the Battle of Nations. You’re asked, when you first connect online, to determine what country you want to affiliate with. This is unchangeable, so think twice before having a drunken moment and going “I’ll represent American Samoa! *snicker*”. From there, your stats count for your country. Despite some anomalies at the top – Mexico is currently the best country in the world, and Scotland is third – for the most part, the rankings fall in line with FIFA’s rankings, so it’s not bad.

All of this is in addition to the almost unadvertised divisional structure. In this, you play a ten game “season”, and depending on how you do, you’re either promoted or relegated; you start in division 10, and if you get enough points in division 1, you win a championship. It’s an awesome setup that not only reflects true ability, but adds a nice little ladder to climb up/fall down, just like league football. Again, expect to see a lot of Spain and France, but it’s not EA’s fault that most players are cowards. I love what EA did with the online modes in this game. If you’re a heavy online gamer, this might be worth the price of admission itself.

When it comes to offline modes, the main draw is the World Cup itself, which includes all qualification modes. Depending on what country you pick, you can start out with either qualification in whatever one of the six continental FIFA groups there are, or just start with the World Cup tournament itself. It can be determined at this point if you want your country to have the real fixtures the actual country had (for example, Canada getting Mexico, Honduras and Jamaica in the third round) or if you want to customize things, and if you want to play friendlies or not. It works well for what it is, and it’s nice to be able to extend gameplay for people that desire the full qualification. This is most useful for people wanting to challenge themselves by getting small countries to qualify for the World Cup, such as people that want to try to get Lichtenstein into the World Cup out of Europe, or trying to get in out of one-bid Oceana as anyone other than New Zealand. The qualification rounds are all accurately done, with the proper rules in place, but unfortunately, not everyone can qualify for the World Cup. Though there are 199 teams (nine teams are missing because FIFA had them pulled for not meeting qualification deadlines or withdrawing), qualification starts in 2008, so some teams that didn’t make certain rounds of their qualification tournaments – for example, anyone knocked out of the first two rounds of CONCACAF, or who didn’t make the OFC Nations Cup – can’t qualify for the World Cup unless they’re placed into the qualifications via customization. It would have been nice to have set qualification back a bit so we could play all rounds of qualification, because only being able to play a four team tournament in Oceana sticks out. To be fair, this isn’t as big a problem in large groups like Europe or CONMEBOL.

There’s also the ability to Captain Your Country, this game’s Be a Pro mode. In this, you create a player (or import one from FIFA ’10), and start off with qualification for your team. If you played Be A Pro: Seasons in FIFA ’10, bin it, because unfortunately, they didn’t put nearly as much work into this. No matter how good your pro was in FIFA ’10, he’s going to have to start from scratch this time around. In FIFA ’10, your player got better based on certain landmarks; score your first goal, play X amount of games, run Y miles, etc. The goals are pitifully simple this time around, and the rewards are less, but to compensate, your player will automatically get better as the campaign moves along. It takes a lot of the immersion that existed in FIFA ’10 out of the mode. Worse, the whole goal of the mode is to captain your country, but that’s done with a silly, arbitrary ranking system. The system works for showing your progress – from the B team all the way up to the starting eleven – but once it comes to being the captain, it’s flawed because the game goes by the mantra “you’re only as good as your last game”. You could have three great games in a row, earning the captaincy, only to have a mediocre game for whatever reason and lose the armband. It’s a matter of timing it right so that your best games are near the end, when in reality, teams that changed their captain so frequently are so poorly run that they’re either completely destroyed, or run by Diego Maradona. I hate game-like elements to what is supposed to be a simulation, and when you combine that with the fact that there is virtually nothing setting apart the Captain your Country mode from standard qualification, the reason for going through it, for me, ended up being the potential for a 100 point achievement.

The last big mode is the Story of Qualifying mode, which most of us know as a situation mode. This is just like a situation mode in any other sports game: you’re given a situation that happened in real life, and your goal is to change the end result, for example, having the Irish come back after the French handballed their way into the World Cup. Getting the main goal is worth 200 points, and the minor goals are 100 points. Ultimately, this is just a diversion, though 10,000 points will allow you to unlock situations from the 2006 World Cup, and during the actual 2010 World Cup, situations will be available as free DLC, so that’s a plus.

I’ve spent a lot of time talking about modes, both online (yay!) and offline (meh). Those alone don’t make a $60 game. The gameplay is key in that. So, saying that, how does the gameplay match up to FIFA’s, which I called “sublime”? Ultimately, it depends on what your idea of football is.

One of the complaints I had about FIFA ’10‘s on-pitch action was that it was too physical. EA took those complaints, and decided to one-up themselves. This is the most physical brand of football I’ve ever seen in a videogame, to the point where I have to wonder if a few of the Madden developers got mixed into the FIFA team and got their sports mixed up. If you get on a run, especially if you have a lower tier team, you can almost guarantee that a defender will catch up to you, hold your arm for a few seconds, and then bluntly shoulder you off the ball. I’m sorry, I didn’t know we were playing Aussie rules! This means that on higher levels of the game, the best ways to score are to either blindly throw crossing balls into the box and hope to get a good header, or bomb away from 30 yards and hope to get lucky, because anything else is going to result in your striker becoming roadkill somewhere around the six yard spot. I find it funny that football fans freaked out when Pro Evolution Soccer incorporated a diving mechanic – and the risk/reward element that goes with flopping around like Didier Drogba – but continue to tolerate football that looks like the Football League’s worst day come to life.

Another complaint I have is that to get truly realistic football, the difficulty has to be spiked way up. There’s a bit of Mortal Kombat Syndrome in place, where lower levels will do a lot of things well, then do something absolutely stupid to make up for it. When I dropped the difficulty down for a few matches, I would watch the computer make some brilliant passes, get a run set up, then watch as their striker ran directly into my goaltender without so much as flinching. They also had a curious way of coughing the ball up with the last man back. Due to this, I actually found it *easier* to play on a higher difficulty setting; playing lower than my defaults reminded me of what Albert Einstein must have felt like in basic maths because of how dumb it played. Of course, moving up in difficulty is compensated by defenders skipping all pretences and simply eviscerating anyone with the ball, so it all evens out.

If there’s one improvement, it’s that goaltenders aren’t quite as retarded as they have been in previous years. They react much better to shots, and play much better angles than before. They also tip a lot more crosses over the bar, whereas before, they would catch everything. They still charge out at weird moments, but there is improvement there. Another area that’s at least more realistic is that there’s a palpable difference in ball movement and passing precision between the haves and the have-nots, moreso than in FIFA ’10. More pressured passes go wayward here, depending on player ability, and lesser players make more mistakes. While it doesn’t make low-level international players resemble something out of the first half hour of a Disney movie, there’s a difference between watching New Zealand and Vanautu, and watching Spain and England, as it should be. Still, the change in physicality on defence makes this a more plodding game of football than other recent efforts, and even in the best of cases, this is nothing more than a patch masquerading as a full priced game.

EA Sports did make a play to the casual fans with the addition of a two button control scheme, with one button being for passing and another being for shooting. While this is somewhat admirable in its intent, it’s ultimately fruitless. Even the very first FIFA game for the Sega Genesis used all three buttons on those controllers. When using this scheme, the game assumes which kind of pass you want and how you want to tackle, but that means that by default, anyone using the two-button scheme is going to have to play on the lowest difficulty setting because otherwise, they won’t stand a chance. Using the two button scheme on even Semi-Pro is like going into a gun fight with a kazoo, and anyone using it as anything more than training wheels for people with *no* football or videogame experience whatsoever is doing themselves or their friends a disservice.

Ultimately, football fans have to ask themselves how much the World Cup means to them. Is it really worth $60 to have a timely football game commemorating the World Cup? There’s no Project Ten Dollar crap with this game; anyone renting or buying it used is going to get the same package as anyone who bought it new, which is probably the last time we’re going to see that with an EA Sports release. If you’re one of those people that get into the World Cup experience, then this is a much easier purchase. The presentation is outstanding for the most part, and the wide-angle views of the stadiums – especially during the actual World Cup matches – are astounding. My problem with the presentation comes when they try to show individual fans getting into the action, either before or during the game. The game will often show about four different fans either dancing, celebrating or being angry, depending on the game’s situation, but the only real difference between fans of different countries is the way they’re dressed and the paint on their faces. For me, these cutaways broke the flow of the game, and had me wishing for a real-time option like the one in MLB ’10 The Show. Despite that, the atmosphere for the World Cup matches is amazing, and I can make the following statement without hyperbole: winning the World Cup brings up the most amazing trophy celebration in videogame history. I’m dead serious. Before this, the best trophy celebration ever was NHL ’04’s. Watch that, and then realize that what you see in WC ’10 blows it out of the water. It’s especially sweet if you’re controlling a big team that’s in the World Cup. When I won with England, they talked about England’s history, and how nice it must have been for Fabio Capello to cap off his career in that fashion. Compared to that, the celebration for when I won with Canada feels somewhat generic, but no less amazing.

The Scores:
Modes: Mediocre
Graphics: Very Good
Sound: Very Good
Control and Gameplay: Very Good
Replayability: Great
Balance: Above Average
Originality: Poor
Addictiveness: Very Good
Appeal Factor: Great
Miscellaneous: Mediocre
FINAL SCORE: ABOVE AVERAGE GAME


Short Attention Span Summary

Let’s get this out of the way: 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa is a great game of football. To me, that’s indisputable.

With that said, gaming budgets are tighter than they have been in the past, and the bar set by FIFA ’10 is a high one. I have to judge each game against its peers and there isn’t enough separating FIFA ’10 and World Cup ’10 for me to really separate them except on frivolous items such as presentation. Furthermore, there simply were not nearly enough improvements to the football engine to justify a $60 price tag. I’d be nicer on this package if it was even $10 cheaper.

Huge football fans, or those that only care about the World Cup, should give this a look. Everyone else should either rent it or wait until after the World Cup to pick it up on a discount.

Tags:

One Comment

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *