Madden dominates sports in the US, but around the rest of the world, FIFA is one of EA’s biggest franchises. And as soccer grows in popularity in North America, the series has become one of the fastest rising properties for EA in the States. As a result, EA decided to pull back the curtain on its latest footy update much sooner than usual. In the past, little news about FIFA would pop up until late Summer, but this year, the publishing giant chose to spotlight FIFA 10 at E3. I, for one, am glad they did.
On the last day of E3, I huddled into a crowded booth with several other international game critics to preview the latest game. According to David Rutter, the game’s lead producer, the feedback on FIFA 09 was so positive that the team has opted to refine gameplay, rather than focus on a major formula revamp. Considering the indisputable quality of last year’s product (and the fact that this is the last annual update before the next World Cup), it’s a promising sign.
“Over 70% of our gameplay team’s capacity has been spent refining the fundamentals of gameplay,” Rutter told me. The focus seems to have fallen mainly in the realms of dribbling and passing. Some of my usual tactics from 09, such as tapping the right stick toward a defender to get the ball past him, didn’t work yesterday. That’s because the dribbling system has been tweaked to allow a full 360° range of motion, rather than the current eight-way direction. As two EA reps showed me, you can pull off new skill moves that will curve the ball around a defender, rather than just simply past him.
FIFA 09 included a great number of animations that accounted for wildly different gameplay dynamics than in the past. Your players would physically overextend themselves to catch a far-off pass, and this made a huge difference in many moments of the game. In FIFA 10, you can see more of that in the physical game, as players catch airballs with their body and let it roll down their chest to hook it with their feet. Maybe it was just me, but I could’ve sworn I saw defenders elbowing and roughhousing strikers much more than in 09.
The other refinements seem to have come from feedback, especially from the community. Although EA wasn’t showing off Manager Mode, Rutter promises that you’ll see some big improvements in the new installment, as it has grown a bit stale over the years. The team is accounting for more realism in regard to team traits and transfer choices (ie: Real Betis is not making a Kaká bid), as well as smarter AI club competition for transfers.
I tested out a round with Liverpool vs. Portsmouth. Besides new dribbling tactics, I noticed that the match was much more physical than in past installments. I’m not sure if the style of play will match up across leagues, but the hard tackles, big shoves, and physicality of my match sure matches up to the rougher tactics of English clubs. FIFA 10 definitely feels like a much more physical game than its predecessors past.
I’m confident that by the time German GamesCom rolls around, EA will provide us all with more information regarding FIFA 10, especially its online features. As it stands now, the core gameplay seems noticeably tighter and more physical than in past games, and it’s pointing in the right direction. If my match in FIFA 10 is any indication, it’ll be an exciting sports year leading up to next Summer’s World Cup in South Africa.