Reviewed: May 17, 2010
Released: April 27, 2010
Few developers would argue that of all the sports genres at hand in the world of gaming, the real test in coding artificial intelligence would found with a game of soccer. Few other sports features a full 22 independent models that loosely bound to an arbitrary formation scattered over an enormous playfield, all thinking and reacting to the non-stop motion of a ball – a ball that can change direction in the blink of an eye, and be launched the entire length of the pitch with a single kick.
Hockey may have both the free-flowing gameplay and the nonstop action, but it doesn’t have the numbers or the size. Football hits on both the numbers and the size, but the stop-and-start action and rigid formations break up the flow. Baseball and tennis – well, they are pretty much in a world of their own. But none offer the entire package like soccer. And if there is one franchise that has all but owned the world of video game soccer for the past decade, it would have to be EA Sports’ FIFA franchise. Then again, its not like there is all that much competition to contend with – the only viable challenger being Konami’s Winning Eleven series – but the competition is stiff. In fact, although FIFA has taken home the largest share of sales for a decade, it is only within the last few years that FIFA has begun to outscore Winning Eleven amongst the media critics.
Now I myself have fluttered back and forth between the two series over the past few years, and I can honestly say that I enjoy both equally on the playfield – but there is no denying that FIFA is the king when it comes to presentation. From the menu navigation to the music selection, from the in-game visuals to the excellent play-by-play commentary, FIFA is the consistent winner when it comes to delivering a realistic and impressive stadium experience. But I have only ever played FIFA on the consoles – with a big screen and excellent sound system, it’s pretty easy to be impressed. So when the opportunity arose to give 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa a go on the PSP, I was more than happy to find out if EA Sports’ series had the chops to deliver the same fantastic gameplay experience in a handheld.
Well, guess what? It does. I am going to start off by saying that after all these years of playing console soccer, I never would have thought that my favorite soccer game of all time would be on a portable device – but it is. But this really should not come as a surprise to me, since my favorite racing game of all time is also on a portable device – Mario Kart DS.
What do these titles have in common with each other? Simply put –the ability to take the game anywhere, to squeeze a game in without having to monopolize the living room, to play as little or long as you want in a sitting, and the ability to pause the play mid-game (or mid-race) and resume hours later – just seems to work with Mario Kart DS, and just seems to work with 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa.
I found myself squeezing in a quick games in the morning before work, during afternoon lunches, during my after work chill-out time, and even a game or two before bed. There are very few times where I would sit and play four 8 or 10 minute games a day on a console, but it happened nearly every day on the PSP, and really without affecting the normal routine all that much.
Part of this is due to the surprisingly intuitive controls – surprising at least for the PSP. Most FIFA vets will tell you that EA Sports has had the controls nailed down for nearly a decade, but they will also tell you that they are by far the most complex controls in the business – with buttons having multiple results depending on how long they are held, or how many times they are tapped, or any combination therein. It is kind of like its own little Morse Code – where a single tap will incite a pass, a single hold a hard pass, a double tap gives a one-touch pass, add a shoulder button for a chip pass – I could go on and on. And the biggest fear for a FIFA fan is that without two sets of shoulder buttons like the console controllers have, that the PSP controls just won’t cut it. But while I will admit that the variety of control options are not quite as plentiful as on the console, they are every bit as tight and intuitive on the PSP.
Given that this release is in conjunction with the World Cup Championships being held in South Africa, you can bet that the presentation is top-notch. The visuals are absolutely superb, with excellent character models, stadium designs, and lighting effects, resulting in an overall look that is deeply realistic, and definitely on par with the previous-generation of consoles – which is a great for a game made to fit in the palm of your hand.
The audio quality is equally superb, with the top-shelf play-by-play by Clive Tyldesley and Andy Townsend– all of which keeps up with a pretty good clip along with the onscreen action. More than any other sport, soccer crowds really add to the excitement, with their waves of cheering, their walls of chanting, and their random blow-horns and grumblings, and FIFA does a great job capturing the feel of the stadium on the PSP. Granted, the sound is much more impressive through a pair of quality headphones, but even the PSP speakers do kick out enough sound to really make the experience exciting and entertaining.
As the World Cup versions of FIFA tend to focus completely on the current World Cup Competition, the game really only offers a handful of gameplay modes – the 2010 World Cup Competition mode, the Captain Your Country mode, and the awkwardly named Story of Qualifying mode. The World Cup Competition mode is pretty straightforward – pick a country, or countries, and play them through a World Cup scenario – starting with qualifying, and onto the finals.
The Captain Your Country mode is an extension of the trademark “Be A Player” modes that have become a staple in recent EA Sports franchises, in which the gamer maintains the role of an individual player throughout an entire competition. The gameplay is largely played out in an over-the-shoulder perspective, and the gamer is scored based on the overall quality of play.
The Story of Qualifying is a scenario-based challenge mode, in which gamers are placed within a given gameplay situation and must complete a small laundry list of tasks in order to succeed. Typically, the challenges take the form of an underdog scenario in which the gamer needs to make a late minute win from behind – but while the challenges are limited, they are exciting enough to keep you coming back for more.
The game also features wireless multiplayer gameplay either via ad hoc local play or by online multiplayer on the EA Sports network. At the time of this writing, there were only a handful of gamers online – but the handful of test games proved that the EA servers keep up a solid pace with online gameplay.
All in all, the gameplay is extremely solid with some of the best AI in the business. 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa still leans a bit more towards the superstar breakaway style of play than it does to the team-based control style play of the Winning Eleven franchise, but the series trademark magnetic passing has definitely been toned down to more realistic levels.
As I mentioned earlier, the controls are surprisingly intuitive on the PSP, and within the first hour of gameplay I was making perfectly timed passes into space for superb breakaway runs on goal. Granted, other than the new shooting mechanic that comes into play for indirect penalty kicks and corners, there isn’t a whole lot of anything “new” offered with respect to the gameplay – but with nearly two decades of gaming under their belts, the FIFA formula has already been honed to a perfection so there’s not a whole lot of room for improvement.
The biggest gripe that gamers have anytime EA Sports comes out with a World Cup version of that years’ FIFA game, is the overall lack of variety in the gameplay. Whereas the standard release typically features gameplay from the whole gamut of soccer leagues, with full seasons, playoffs and a bunch of other modes, the World Cup version is solely dedicated to the national teams and the relatively short World Cup competition. True, EA Sports makes it quite clear that this is the “World Cup” edition of the game, so we shouldn’t really expect much more. But it is always a bummer that a full-priced release seems like a stripped down version of the yearly release – why not just add the World Cup to the standard game?
Still, 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa offers an incredibly solid game of soccer packaged in some of the best presentation yet seen on the PSP. It may not be as full-featured as the standard release, but it definitely delivers enough gameplay to make any soccer loving portable gamer happy.