As we take a left outside Fulham Broadway tube station and trot along the Kings Road towards Stamford Bridge - the home of the next Premier League champions - we overhear a group of lads discussing England's World Cup chances. "If Rooney plays like he did last night, we'll win it" insists one. "Nah. Spain will win it. They're too good," retorts his mate. We imagine similar conversations are happening up and down the country: excitement is building, and there is genuine hope for success.
It's this hope - however misguided - that EA hopes to tap into with its World Cup 2010 game. And there can be no doubt that millions will succumb, buoyed by football fever. But, hanging over World Cup's head like a storm cloud is a groundswell of cynicism from FIFA's more discerning fans. Why should I fork out yet another 50 quid on yet another FIFA game only seven months after the last one?
Line producer Simon Humber has the answer, and it comes in the form of a long list of gameplay improvements the team in Vancouver has implemented that they reckon eradicate all doubt: World Cup will be a better game than FIFA 10. No small feat - remember, FIFA 10 is, for many - including us - the best football game ever created.
Humber, a Brit whose relaxed, affable style makes for easy listening, begins his presentation by revealing the number of teams that will be included in the game: 199. Some of the more bookish football fans among you might know that there are 208 FIFA member nations. So, why aren't the other nine teams in the game? Well, four didn't enter, and five were thrown out for failing to organise their opening matches properly. Ouch.
There's a reason Humber begins with this John Motson-esque stat: the Cup games, as opposed to the main FIFA games, have always had fewer teams. This is perhaps fans' chief bugbear: why should I buy a new FIFA game with less teams than the last one? Quite. Well, that's just the way it is; this is the way of the FIFA-licensed world. But at least 199 nations are in there.
Humber then moves onto what he calls "visual authenticity". His slide shows a number of "star heads". Ashley Cole in FIFA 10 versus Ashley Cole in World Cup - the speedy left back's face looks more detailed, but the only thing that's changed is the lighting. "We went to our player and environment lighting," he says. "We took it apart, we worked out what was doing things well, what wasn't particularly functional, put it back together again and came out with this result." Every player in the game will be subject to this natural rise in quality through the new lighting techniques.
The player models have also been improved. Humber shows new England captain Rio Ferdinand's FIFA 10 "star head" next to his more realistic World Cup incarnation. Then Humber shows us what he calls "humorous ones": beanpole striker Peter Crouch's face from FIFA 10 - it looks ridiculous - next to his World Cup face, which looks more realistic. It's a strange sight to see - did the FIFA 10 star heads really look that bad? - but then last year's PES always did look better close up, whereas FIFA 10 looked better from a farther away distance.
And, in truth, that's the most important distance of all. More time is spent in the default in-game view than staring at uncanny valley football heads, so we're more interested in how the graphics have improved from a players playing football on a pitch point of view, than an up close replay of a chance gone begging point of view.
Humber outlines a number of improvements that have been made to the pitch itself. He talks negatively about FIFA 10's pitches, showing one as evidence. "It's very smooth. It doesn't look particularly textured, there's not much variation in colours or with blades of grass going in different directions," he says. He shows Wembley on a sunny day next to the World Cup equivalent. Indeed it looks a richer, more textured environment.
But the World Cup won't be played in Wembley, it'll be played in South Africa, across ten stadia, all of which are in the game. And we all know what World Cup games are like, don't we? We've seen it on the telly, and a lucky few might have even seen it up close and personal. They're nuts. It's less pies in the rain, more dancing in the sun. It's less "You'll Never Walk Alone", more "bang these bloody clapper things as loudly as we can". The World Cup is a spectacle, a festival, and it's that atmosphere Humber and his team reckon they've recreated in the game.
So, World Cup will have the authentic FIFA broadcast captions, LED advertisement boards that glow during night games, confetti raining down on the players, fireworks on the roof, camera flashes especially during goal and trophy celebrations, and seat cards, which fans hold up before games begin. Then there's the brand new 3D crowd - yes, finally!. You know when you're watching football on the box and the camera man zooms in on the only two pretty girls in the stadium, or the nut balls wearing stupid outfits or elaborate face paint? Yeah, well, that's in the game. Now, every team has a unique crowd, which portrays emotion relating to what's going on in the match - happy, upset, or, if you're English, utter despair after going out on penalties. It's not quite Heavy Rain quality, but given the cardboard cut-outs we've been used to in the past, it's one hell of an improvement. World Cup's also got managers, from Spain's walrus-like Vicente del Bosque, to Argentina's pint-sized cheat Diego Maradona, who's making his debut in an EA Sports game.
Thinking cynically, all of the improvements Humber's described so far have been mere frills. The video game equivalent of anelaborate coin toss. What we're here to see, is a game of football, and of that, EA is well aware. So we have a brand new World Cup online mode. It's authentic to the tournament, bite-sized, meaningful and involves all of the teams in the game. For the first time ever there's a group stage in conjunction with a knock-out stage, and you can play through all of the group games, from the cagey first match, to the potentially desperate third and final match. During the third group game, you'll be able to see the latest scores from the other matches taking place simultaneously, so you can judge what tactics you need to employ - go for the win if you're going out, settle for a point if that's enough to take you through, or be happy with defeat, if you've done all of the hard work in the previous two games.
You'd imagine, though, that everyone and their dog will pick Spain, or, if they're patriotic, England. Why would anyone pick Honduras, for example? (We haven't got anything against them - Spurs' midfield bruiser Wilson Palacios hails from the Central American country after all). Well, like Euro 2008's Battle of the Nations feature, which tracked country performance across multiple game modes, World Cup's online mode will award points for winning games depending on the skill of the team you choose. So, you'll get loads of points for winning the World Cup with Honduras, or hardly any with Spain. The points you earn for winning matches with a country count towards the country's position on the overall leaderboard. Why care? Well, to find out which country has the best FIFA players in the world. Two years ago, with Euro 2008, it was France. The current FIFA Interactive World Cup champion is French. Get a move on lads.
Again, the cynics among you may think: so what? What about the gameplay, you know, the most important thing? Remember that? Well, here Humber has a problem. FIFA 10 managed an astonishing 90 review score average - deservedly so. How do you improve on that? Well, according to Humber, FIFA 10 "still had some problems". Indeed it did.
Humber lists shooting, passing, dribbling, trapping, control, positioning, the CPU AI, the physicality, the goalkeeper, the referee, set pieces and continuous play. "We've done something in every single area for World Cup," he says. Over a hundred enhancements have been made, but the one that will please fans most of all is the fix to the crazy goalkeepers. In FIFA 10, keepers would often steam off of their line, leaving them open to chip shots. That's been fixed. The chip shot itself has been made more difficult to execute. Thank goodness for that.
Other improvements focus on making play more fluid. In FIFA 10, if a player stopped to chest a lofted through ball, all of his momentum would be killed and the defender would be able to make a challenge. Now players preserve momentum through chest traps, and other moves, allowing them to keep running.
Our own hands-on reveals a game that feels markedly similar to FIFA 10 - perhaps inevitably. The pitch looks great - it feels as if it has depth, as if the grass itself may impact on play. Other enhancements are less welcome. When the ball goes out, the camera often centres on a few fans in the brand new crowd. The novelty soon wears off - despite the silly haircuts and face paint - hopefully you can turn it off. In pure gameplay terms, we reckon the game feels weightier, perhaps more grounded than FIFA 10 - but it's almost impossible to notice. The game speed is exactly the same, but we did notice the new momentum system, and it improves matters. And yes, chip shots are harder, although the keepers still lose their mind on a few occasions.
The long and short of it is, World Cup 2010 will be a better game than FIFA 10 - and, ergo, there can be no doubt that it'll play a cracking game of football. And the online World Cup mode sounds the business. For us, there's something about the World Cup, the paraphernalia and blind fanaticism it brings out in us, that we just can't resist. The game surely has a place in among all of that, despite your opinion on its value. Mates, a few beers, sitting around the television watching the game - then, during half time: "Do you fancy a game?" "Sure, why not?" In our mind, that game is not FIFA 10, it's World Cup 2010.
2010 FIFA World Cup is due out on the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii and PSP on April 30, 2010.