Monday, 5 October 2009
Developed by EA Sports
Platform Xbox360, PS3, Wii, PC
Release date(s) Out Now
The latest instalment to the number one football video game series. This year's is probably the most hyped up game of the series, with absurd reviews giving near perfect scores and hailing 'the greatest football game of all time'. But can it possibly live up to all that hype? Or is this just another journalist hack circle jerk as seen with the good but not nearly as stellar as was hyped GTA4. Bear in mind that I test this game on legendary difficulty, so many of my comments on gameplay may not be applicable for easier difficulties.
Things didn't get off to a great start with the unnecessary and unskippable intro video that plays every damn time you start up the game (one of gaming's cardinal sins). Then you get the traditional 'select your favorite team' option, which in the old days would lead you into a nice friendly game against a 'classic xi' featuring some of the all time great players. Of course this being one of the few good ideas EA have had in decades, it was scrapped a few years ago.
These small grievances are unfortunately indicative of my biggest gripe with EA and their games. They don't really care. They don't care about the football, or the fans, they just want to make a good product and dominate the market. And as you'll see, while they may produce a very decent product, this telltale trait of theirs shines through all too often.
So let's begin with the new features in this game. In terms of the gameplay, we are supposed to have a brand new physics engine, and 360º dribbling, combined to make the most fluid and realistic looking football game of all time. In this regard it is mostly successful and the football certainly feels more complete than any other football game I have ever played, however it still suffers from excessively rigid animations, which often supersedes the 360º dribbling, making it barely noticeable.
Similarly it is STILL far too often the case that once you get locked into an animation you can't get out, the infamous 'on rails' moments which result in players picking up a loose midair ball near the touchline and dribbling it several feet over without you having any control, and in some cases players will run after balls, or wait for passes to reach them without you having the ability to control this movement, resulting in a lot of very stupid and unnecessary mistakes.
Elsewhere in the gameplay you'll notice that your team mate AI is actually a little bit improved, though they'll still frequently roam out of position, refuse to collect loose balls and refuse to make runs or push up unless you're specifically controlling them, and this is especially a problem with fullbacks, who carry very little attacking threat unless you really really try to force them up the pitch. Still far too often your own players will run into you while you have the ball, triggering a 'stunned' animation that will knock both players out of the game for several seconds and the man marking system is still useless.
Worse still is the new goalkeeper AI. Supposed to be 'smarter' and more dynamic, this, more than any other part of the game, is a complete mess. Goalkeepers don't come out for crosses, they don't collect loose balls, they punch and parry slow moving balls they can easily pick up, they simply don't move or react realistically to being lobbed and won't bother chasing the ball and they concede some really bizarre goals like crosses or clearances from the other side of the pitch. It's bad, really.
Further more they have seriously overdone the whole 'referee getting in the way' thing where your ball ricochets off the ref annoyingly, some might argue this is a little bit of realism that simply wasn't necessary, and it seems to happen every game. Another piece of really unnecessary realism is the added capability for the ref to make incorrect decisions, which again is extremely unbalanced and really wrecks the game in the long run. Clearly EA hasn't learned that a computer that is programmed to intentionally do things wrong and has absolutely no concept of subtlety just doesn't look right.
But it's not all bad. Set pieces have been perfected, finally. Free kicks and corners are now actually useful for a change. Similarly you can actually score from crosses, and in fact goal scoring in general is far more fluid and you will find yourself scoring all kinds of different goals. The passing system has also been fine tuned, meaning that when you're on the attack you can play some really fantastic football that just looks and feels right, just a shame that there are so many issues with the defensive side of the game. Ultimately, despite the flaws, there is no doubt that this is the best football gameplay yet, and light years ahead of the competition.
As is always the case with EA, for every good thing they do, they find some ridiculous way to undermine it. In this case they've gone and designed probably the best game engine for playing attacking football of all time, and then designed the most appallingly negative opposition AI you will ever see. Literally, it doesn't matter if you're playing against Bolton or Barcelona, all teams will 'park the bus' as it were and it is indeed a strange sight to be on an attack against the Barca defence with all 11 of their players packed into the penalty area. Rarely do they bother coming out of their shell.
Elsewhere, another big addition is the virtual pro mode, essentially an expansion of the previous be a pro mode. You can now design your player and train his skills up and play him across every game mode. It even has the "incredible" gameface which allows you to upload a picture of yourself to the EA website and put him on your player so it looks like you!
Just a few problems with that, you can only do it if you have a Windows computer, and only in the most recent version of internet explorer or Firefox, and you have to do it on the EA website rather than ingame, and using the god awful EA website is one of the most mind numbingly painful and exhausting experiences I have ever seen. I would rather claw out my own eyeballs and stick red hot chili peppers in their place than waste another hour trying to log into that buggy, slow, temperamental piece of unholy horse shit.
The be a pro mode itself meanwhile is the same as it was before, fairly good fun and a brilliant idea, marred by a stupidly designed player ratings system that hasn't the foggiest clue what makes a decent performance, and atrocious AI.
You will, as always, be spending most of your time in the manager mode, which has supposedly been revamped and made to be more realistic. Well it's been revamped anyway, not sure how realistic it is. The transfers seem a little better now, you will no longer see Wayne Rooney signing for FC Twente like in the old games, but beyond that it's the same shoddy half assed 'realism' that you always find. In my first season my top 5 was my team, Portsmouth, Everton, Fulham and Arsenal. Liverpool finished just above relegation and Man U finished in mid table. I'm used to this after several years of playing Fifa, but I can't for the life of me understand why this is so hard for them to correct, or do they want the game to be 'more open' than in reality? Who knows.
Along these lines, you will note that the game difficulty is still very schizophrenic, meaning that it is not at all unusual to go beat Arsenal 5-1 at the Emirates and then lose the next game at home to Birminham 4-0. The issue here is that so much of the game is automated, pass targeting, tackling, teammate AI, marking, player reactions, much of the shooting mechanism, and on the harder difficulties these variables seem to jump about like a frightened bunny. Ultimately though, the biggest problem with manager mode is that you can still only play a finite number of seasons, a limit which has never made sense to me and is still baffling.
There is also a new 'assistant manager' who will automatically rotate your team based on fatigue and form. Sadly he is completely inept and will frequently play centrebacks at fullback and wingers as your holding midfielders, turn him off.
Player growth has been revamped and a new 'form' system has been implemented which is extremely confusing at first but actually works well once you get used to it. It's just a shame that they seem to use the same awful player rating system that they have in the be a pro mode, which means that you can make a skillful run across the pitch, past 6 players and then mishit your shot, and you'll lose form points, and other similarly harsh judgements.
This is definitely the most rewarding mode then, just remember to edit the database beforehand to recall any loan players in real life, because as far as the game is concerned they are permanent players of their loan clubs unless loaned out ingame.
There are however just a lot of little things that really grate. Pre-season friendlies, for example, only allow you to make 3 subs, which essentially completely misses the point of friendlies. Similarly competitions are frequently programmed in with the wrong format, such as a Community Shield with extra time. Commentary is frequently out of place, again in the Community Shield, talking about the game as if it were a cup final after a long knockout round. Occasionally the commentary simply gets things wrong, talking about looking for an equaliser when the game is drawn, claiming that players have scored or been carded when they haven't, and it's just really amateur.
While we're on the subject of commentary, it's fucking awful. Seriously it's always been pretty cheesy and bad but this year it's just painful. It's becoming something of a tradition with Fifa games for EA to include a special commentary 'theme' that they harp on about incessantly in some horribly misguided attempt by EA to educate us about 'interesting' facts.
For example two years ago the commentators would inform us that it's really the referee who decides how much stoppage time there is, rather than the assistant ref, and remind us of this fact like 5 times during a game. Last year they would bang on and on about 'the sideways tackle' to explain why a ridiculously filthy looking foul wasn't given as it was from the side rather than behind.
This year it's especially annoying as they've included a bunch of commentary referring to the form system, and now every two minutes the commentators will make some absurdly forced and unprofessional comment about how terrible a player is playing or how he's angering his team mates. These lines of dialogue are just terrible, firstly for sounding completely out of place and unlike anything a commentator would actually say, and also because they don't refer to players by name, so you will have no clue who they're talking about. On top of this they seem to judge any player with a 6/10 or lower to be 'having a torrid time', and on hard difficulties there will always be a number of players with ratings around there. It's an unmitigated disaster and I wish they would stop trying to be so clever with their commentary as they always fail miserably.
Ultimately, despite the many flaws and really dumb design choices that one typically associates with EA sports, it simply can not be denied that the football engine in this game is the best that has ever been designed, and (mostly) fantastic fun to play. Conversely, one shouldn't disregard the areas where much improvement is still needed, something which most journalist hacks would do well to realise before they get themselves blindly worked up into a hysteria (honestly it just shows how absurdly inflated game review scores are these days). This is a fantastically finessed football simulator, marred by a number of stupid little design flaws and dodgy AI.
Much more organic goal scoring
EA trying to be clever and fucking up