Review by Kyle Anderson
It's not often that anybody actually feels bad for game developers, especially one as gigantic as EA Sports. But you do sort of have to feel bad for them, because they couldn't not release a game that coincides with the World Cup. But it has only been about six months since "FIFA 2010" dropped, and while that game was roundly excellent, could "2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa" (yeesh, what a mouthful) actually make any sort of improvements between "2010" and "2011"?
"2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa" takes the Euro-centric feel of the annual "FIFA" titles and translates it nicely to the world stage. All 199 teams who participated in qualification rounds are represented, from dominant nations like Brazil to "Where on the map is that?" countries like Qatar (though anybody looking to take the top prize with Guam are out of luck, as they withdrew from World Cup qualifying before the matches began). The process is simple: Qualify for the tournament, best three other teams during group play and advance into the final bracket for a chance to take home that wacky-looking trophy with the golden soccer ball at the top.
Styles Make Matches
Soccer is soccer, right? Not necessarily. Just as Olympic hockey has a completely different pace, feel and set of unspoken rules than your average regular season NHL match-up, World Cup soccer is played a little differently than the club version played all over Europe. It's more of a finesse game, so the game really rewards strategic passing and sharp defense over power and individual skill. The game engine feels essentially the same as "FIFA 2010," but there are enough minor tweaks to make it feel like an elevated level of play.
The game comes loaded with scenarios from the 2006 World Cup that allows you to relive specific games or play them out differently (so anybody who thought the French were robbed in the final can reverse that, or put host country Germany into the championship match). When the actual 2010 World Cup tournament starts in a few weeks, additional scenarios will be available for download so you can readjust your personal playoff bracket in real time. So when the United States inevitably makes a heartbreaking exit, you can still keep them in the game until the bitter end.
It All Comes Down To Penalty Kicks
World Cup soccer is not a high scoring affair, which means the most high-profile matches often come down to penalty kicks. Keeping that in mind, the game throws a huge focus on the PK dymanic and introduced a new system that involves the striker's "composure" and a new aiming system, both of which are fantastic. The composure meter rewards players with higher penalty kick ratings and also those who have experience on the world stage (World Cup rookies tend to do less well in PK situations under the suggestion that the pressure has gotten to them). The aiming system allows for sharper aiming and better control over your ability to fool the goaltender. I totally would have paid $10 to download just the penalty kicking game, as it's super-fun and is the only time that the atmosphere really matches the fever pitch of World Cup soccer. Which brings us to ...
"FIFA 2010" had an amazing knack for nailing the frenzied energy of a heated match between Chelsea and Manchester United, but for some reason, that seems dialed down in "South Africa." It's a bit strange, because the nationalistic tendencies of the World Cup usually lead to more passionate crowds, but the fans sitting in the World Cup stadiums seem rather sedate most of the time (save during penalty kicks, when they are absolutely bonkers).
One complaint that will only bother the true video game soccer hardcores (and really, you're probably not picking this up unless you are): While you can import a created player from your "FIFA 2010" game, his attributes get reset in the translation. So you can essentially import his face and knees but not any of the actual skills he might offer to your team. How can I assist the Scottish national team if Kyle Anderson's top-shelf striking skills can't be put to good use?
Same As It Ever Was
Look, "South Africa" has some great bells and whistles, but the mechanics are basically the same as those in "FIFA 2010" (which also means that they've been the same for a few iterations now). And with that comes the same complaints I had about that game six months ago, which is to say the artificial intelligence is still frustratingly dim at times (God help you if you play with the not-very-useful "two button controls" and let the computer dictate every pass you make) and free kicks and corner kicks might as well just be turnovers.
Look, I'm probably the wrong person to be reviewing this, as I can scarcely be considered an objective critic. I love soccer, and I especially love the World Cup. If you only have room for one soccer game in your life, the depth of "FIFA 2010" is probably the superior choice. But "South Africa" does a nice job of capturing the specific international game well. And if nothing else, true hardcores can get a glimpse of the World Cup stadiums in South Africa before the matches actually start. At the end of the day, "2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa" is an incredibly satisfying soccer experience. Now if you'll excuse me, the Canadian national team and I have some destiny to take care of.