After FIFA 09 did such an incredible job at astounding football gamers worldwide with its brilliance, the arrival of this year's iteration appeared with more than just a hint of caution. Change too little and we'll be back in the bad old days when everyone loved to hate EA and their seemingly obscene addiction to ripping us off. Fiddle too much with the core gameplay however and we might be right back to the times of the FIFA series being stuck in mid table obscurity.
The biggest shouting point for this years update is surely the inclusion of full 360 degree dribbling. In comparison, football games previously have been stuck to rigid 16 directions (at best) of movement, making the kind of free flowing and multi-directional dribbles witnessed with the likes of Christiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi almost impossible to replicate.
When running merely with a prod of the left analogue stick, your players now pack incredible freedom. For the first time in almost a decade, a football game arrives with the opportunity to go on wickedly tricky runs in the exact manner you desire. Upon sprinting, things do drift back in to the old directional methods due to obviously hampered control and body flexibility, but that's something you'd hope to be included rather than a flaw. Now you can finally curve your runs properly without having to force your player to make slow changes to their body shape and ball control.
Another major inclusion is the Virtual Pro. Fans of last year's version will remember the Be A Pro mode, which allowed you to embark on a career as a created footballer. This has been expanded in a number of ways, making for much more organic development of a footballer.
Firstly, you can, using an uploaded picture, give the player your own face. Not a game changing option, but one that stops you fiddling with the options in order to give your Pro a somewhat vague resemblance of yourself.
Second, this player is available in the squad of your favourite team in all options. Which means that simply playing an exhibition match allows you to increase your player's stats and abilities. There's a huge number of Achievements to unlock using your Virtual Pro, some of which will take a ridiculously lengthy amount of time to unlock, with each affecting your players abilities.
Getting 100% of them seems to be impossible at first glance, particularly as a number are striker/defender centric. But only a number of months with the game will show if this adversely affects this particular option. You can even use your player online, and sign-up to online teams to play as a part of huge leagues and competitions. A real treat, especially as your stats are constantly updated so you can easily see just how impressive you truly are.
The last, and probably not quite fully realised addition, is the chance to design your own set pieces. In the Arena, you can set-up and test out your own designed free kicks and corner routines. You can set runs for specific players in order to create holes in the defence, or simply send your big lumbering centre halves to attack the far post for a lofted free kick. It initially feels unwieldy and complex, but after a few minutes it dawns on you just how little there is you can play around with other than simply creating curved runs for your attacking players. It's a shame a little more time hasn't been spent making sure this options is an essential piece of the FIFA jigsaw, but its still worthy of your time.
Other than those major additions, things aren't that much different to last year. The usual exhibition and tournament modes remain, as do the usual wealth of multiplayer options both on and offline. There does seem to be much more in the way of setting options for online play in order to avoid constant fixtures against gamers obsessed with playing as the top teams, and points are alleged to be rewarded for performances and not just results, but at the time of writing the servers are yet to be populated.
On the pitch, the ball physics have undergone huge improvement. Cross-field passes now are much harder and flatter, and not the lofty interception-waiting-to-happen offerings included last year. Crosses into the box too are much more curved and appearing much closer to the whipped-in versions we see in real life. Similarly, player physics have also been ramped up, with much more weight and jostling between players fighting for the ball.
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The best football simulation game ever? We'd say so. The additions have hugely improved what was already a stunning title, and the new Virtual Pro options will surely keep many a gamer addicted as they attempt to be the best in the world.
If Pro Evolution Soccer 2010 is to better this, Konami have really got a lot of time on the training pitch ahead of them.