As the real football season draws to a close, we can all look forward to the new virtual one – I got my hands on the first playable demo of FIFA 10 in a behind closed doors session on the EA SPORTS stand on the show floor.
The game’s line producer, David Rutter, gave a ten minute presentation to me and a small group of American journalists, although they disappeared shortly to look at NHL 10, leaving David and I to play a couple of matches between Manchester United and Barcelona.
“This year, 70% of our efforts have been refining the gameplay and responding to community feedback,” he said. “With the other 30% placed on innovation. We’ve been listening to the players and we’re addressing all of the areas that have caused frustration.”
The game certainly felt familiar and at this stage, it looks very much like FIFA 09, but there are a number of changes that seasoned players will notice right away. Dribbling, for example, has been greatly improved so that you can now push the ball in any direction. What David describes as skill dribbling allows greater freedom of expression on the ball and the Artificial Intelligence now includes threat analysis, so that defenders become more alert when danger is near and attackers are better at sensing an opportunity.
During our matches, I felt this in action most while I was on the attack (which, I’m afraid to say, wasn’t too often). In FIFA 09, AI-controlled team mates tended to run in straight lines and only on their side of the pitch; in FIFA 10, my players tended to curve their runs and look for gaps between the centre-backs. The goalkeepers also share this new sense of urgency and came out to attack the ball far more quickly everytime I found myself in a one-on-one situation… well, both times.
“Last year, the community felt that the lobbed-through ball over the top was too powerful,” Rutter explained. “We’ve addressed that by improving the defensive AI. Players now take the easiest option when controlling the ball, not the quickest. For example, in FIFA 09 they would take a high ball down on their chest everytime, whereas now, they will take a step back and bring it down with their feet if they have the time and space.”
Practice mode is another community request satisfied by the development team, allowing you to train with and against teams of however many players you like, and practice set-pieces.
Manager Mode has improved although I didn’t get to see it in action. Simulated matches now produce more realistic results and the transfer system now takes into account factors such as the size of your club, the ambition of your target and the make-up of your squad – a star striker is less likely to sign if you already have three fighting for a place.
Rutter was unable to comment on online features or Be a Pro mode, despite my prodding, although he did say that they have “big plans” for the latter. I did ask if Ultimate Team would be available out of the box, at TRS-T’s request, but he was similarly tight lipped.
In conclusion, I think that EA SPORTS has refined what was already a great game with FIFA 10, and the new level of freedom on the ball allows more scope to take players on than its predecessor. I’m also pleased to see the improvements to Manager Mode as I believe they will add greater depth to my single-player campaigns.
My only disappointments were the results of our matches, which I’d rather not divulge…
If you want to see more pics of FIFA 10 check out our Flickr.