There is an important distinction to make here between FIFA’s current gameplay engine and FIFA’s current graphics engine. It’s the gameplay engine that’s four years old, not the graphics engine. On the graphics front, the Vancouver team is easier able to make improvements. All new shaders and lighting make the action distinctly prettier. All of the player animations – from walking to jogging to running to sprinting, with and without the ball - are new. You’ll see player breath in cold conditions. There’s new snow and rain effects – the weather isn’t dynamic but if you’re playing a game in cold weather in England in Manager Mode, it might snow. The stadiums are nicer looking, too. There’s a new crowd, one Rutter describes as “amazing”, but it might not make it into the final game. Put simply, FIFA 10 will be better than FIFA 09, not just in terms of gameplay, but in graphics.
Right now though, with pad in hand and rival game journalist in opposition, FIFA 10 looks and feels very much like FIFA 09. It’s hard to notice the 360 degree dribbling at all. The graphics are, like in the last game, stunning – squint and it looks like you’re watching a live Premier League game on Sky Sports – but they’re not strikingly improved (what we can confirm to be better, though, is the goalkeeper AI – scoring is significantly more difficult, which is great). We played FIFA 10 for an entire morning, and we had an absolute blast, but more time will be needed to uncover its secrets. Like Rutter says, the devil’s in the detail.
While gameplay improvements are, for us, more important than new game modes, that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth mentioning. New for FIFA 10 is a practice arena (press the Back/Select button while on the practice screen). From there you can practice anything you’d like, even five-a-side matches. It’s also multiplayer, and load free - an interesting diversion we'll take a closer look at when we get code in the office.
The Manager Mode, FIFA’s most popular game mode outside the standard exhibition, has been improved in 50 ways to make it more like Sports Interactive’s Football Manager series. While in it you’re surrounded by what Rutter calls the “Football World”. Back in Vancouver, the game transferred Brazilian genius Kaka from AC Milan to Real Madrid. Really.
The headline new game mode, however, is Create a Set Piece. Here you’re able to set up a set piece, highlight a player then record his movement, drawing Sky Sports-style player trails on the pitch. You’re able to do this with all your players, drawing pictures that don’t look anything like sexual organs at all. You name the set piece routine, save it and then map it onto the d-pad (up to 32 per profile). Then, in an actual match, you can trigger the routine – a corner or free kick or whatever.
Rutter shows the feature at proof of concept stage. The team simulated ex-Sweden, Leeds and Crystal Palace striker Tomas Brolin scoring that training ground routine free kick goal against Romania in the 1994 World Cup (not the screamer that knocked England out of UEFA Euro 92). Once they nailed it, they instantly knew that was it.
And that’s that. As we’ve said, we are in no doubt that FIFA 10 will be a better game than FIFA 09, simply by virtue of it being yet another refinement on an engine that stands head and shoulder above anything else on the market right now. Now all that’s left to do is put in the goalkeeper backtracking. That, and wait for John Terry to make his mind up on that ridiculous £250,000-a-week offer from Man City.
FIFA 10 is due out on all leading platforms this autumn.