Football fanatics relish the day a new FIFA game comes out, but with the World Cup around the corner there's an opportunity to capture more than the avid fans.
This year's international tournament takes place in South Africa, and EA Sports is keen to produce a tie-in product that both reflects worldwide diversity and attracts the casual observer.
Of course, there are some challenges that come with developing 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa
? the first one concerning incremental improvements.
Over the last few years, EA Sports' football series has become one of the finest console simulations ever. But how do you build on the base gameplay mechanic of kicking a ball around a pitch?
Despite FIFA 10
being quite the definitive title, 2010 FIFA World Cup
shows that there's still plenty you can add. For the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions there are over 100 improvements, both in the gameplay engine and in the presentation.
One of the examples that line producer Simon Humber showed me was in the lighting, where players and pitches look much more realistic under various conditions than in the previous FIFA
title. Close-up cameras capture the essence of goal-scoring, and gaining possession of the ball no longer results in player pauses, offering a chest pass if you have no room to manoeuvre.
?A lot of the improvements come down to fluidity in the way the game plays. So we looked at all the times where the user had become frustrated because the player on-screen refused to perform an action they wanted to, and built upon that,? Humber explained. ?There are some changes to the shooting model ? players don't strike the ball perfectly anymore, which sounds like a strange thing to say, but by doing that you achieve curling or fading shots more accurately.?
Along with the changes to the engine come additions to control scheme, with a configuration Humber titles the 'Dad Pad'. Selecting this option sets all functions to two buttons, which act differently depending on context. Hit the A or X button while running with the ball and you'll pass. Press it under different circumstances and you can kick a through-ball.
The feature's there to introduce those unfamiliar with the standard control setup to jump in and play, but Humber doesn't believe that the combination of the Dad Pad and HD graphics will draw in the Wii crowd; ?I think it's a different audience entirely. I think people who own the 360 and ps3 will want the harder experience. But, I think there are football fans out there who don't get video games.
?They go to matches week in week out, watch it on TV, but soon as they pick up a pad they're frozen. They get confused with what buttons to press for crosses and headers and stuff. It would be great if we can to engage people with the two button controls.?
Humber notes that changes to the Penalty Shootout mode ? which now includes a power bar and allows the goalie to dive early ? is also an attempt at simplifying the experience.
The actual location of the World Cup tournament changes the way football is played too. Some of the fundamental physics of the beautiful game can be altered drastically depending on what kind of pitch you play on.
Altitude effects can make a difference to how you play, as player stamina can drop faster and long balls fly faster and straighter. With each world team having strengths and weaknesses to the atmosphere in South Africa, it allows EA Sports to add an additional layer to home and away tactics.
And the results are great, so far. I had great fun picking the Ukraine (don't ask ? I'm not even sure why myself) and seeing my 'golden boys' (they were wearing yellow home shirts, see) on a level playing field to England, and the responsiveness of the players have never felt better on a PS3 or 360 joypad.
It's a great feeling to slip the ball past a defender, only to have your player cross it into the box for your striker to header it in the top corner of the net. When you score, it really feels like a celebration, with confetti spraying on the field and the changes in camera angles giving you the full effect of your goal.
I only played a single match, but there are plenty of unique modes lined up for 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa
to differentiate it from FIFA 10
. Your obligatory World Cup Mode returns, which sees you play as any of the 199 world teams as you fight for dominance.
By default, the game sets the qualifying teams to the real-life official lineup, but you can swap it about a bit. You get a Cape Town training field, real-world news for your team and can even watch a Live Draw. Exciting stuff.
Other modes that sound very intriguing include a Story Of Qualifying campaign that has you reliving past moments from the 2010 World Cup qualifiers and either confirming or changing reality. An online Battle of the Nations mode is a score based league table that encourages the use of weaker teams ? you get more points that way.
Throw in a mode where you can captain your country to win the World Cup, and a World League Ladder that aims to keep up the re-playability well after the competition is over, and you have one meaty football game that certainly doesn't look like FIFA 10.5
. Even as the World Cup plays out, EA plans to release downloadable scenarios to let you relive past matches.