Thierry Henry has just set up an equalising goal by patting the ball - twice - with his hand, and Clive Tyldesley and Andy Townsend are going mental. Like, they're spitting feathers. It's a scandal. A bloody scandal is what it is.

If you don't know what we're on about, get out. Go on, turn off your computer, mobile phone or whatever device you're reading this on and get out. France's cheating victory over brave Republic of Ireland in the 2010 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers was the biggest football story of 2009. If it passed you by, if you weren't incensed by the sheer injustice of it all, then you're not a proper football fan.

After the event, the Irish went ever-so-slightly over the top. They called for the game to be re-played. They called for every member of the French government to give themselves up to the Garda for questioning and/or a spot of torture. It was an international incident. A third world war was only averted when the combined diplomatic power of Bill Clinton, Tony Blair and a resurrected Mahatma Gandhi stepped in to calm the situation.

The fact is, France are going to the World Cup and Ireland aren't. But how many Irish fans wished - and probably still wish - that they could somehow go back in time and right that unspeakable wrong? How many wish they could jump in a DeLorean, hit 88 miles per hour, and give Thierry Henry a serious case of diarrhoea just before the big game, thus changing history forever?

EA Sports' 2010 FIFA World Cup won't let you realise this dream, but it will let you do the next best thing: change history virtually. And we're trying to do it right now as we sit down for a hands-on with the game. We're trying to get the ball to speedy Fulham winger Damian Duff at every opportunity. We're trying to listen to the new, bespoke commentary the Vancouver development team recorded just for this match. We're trying to get Celtic superhero Robbie Keane into the damn game. We're trying to score a winning goal. It's hard. The French are defending en masse, and time is running out.

The World Cup has more of a festival atmosphere, with camera flashes, streamers, and crazy supporters.

This one off challenge is part of an all new game mode called Story of Qualifying, which includes over 50 games taken from qualifying, each one allowing you to change history. As well as the France Ireland farce is the Algeria defeat of Egypt in the playoffs, a game played in Khartoum, Sudan, after the two teams finished their group matches level on points and having scored and conceded the same number of goals. There's even a bonus scenario from the 2006 World Cup in Germany to unlock. Story of Qualifying, producer Simon Humber says, is for the hardcore FIFA fans. He's right. Our attempt to change history has worked, but not as we'd hoped: rather than grabbing a last-minute winner, France scored another two goals. Sorry lads.

Even more exciting, EA will drum up new scenario packages as the World Cup is in progress, and make them available to download for free. It'll work like this: say, for example, England lose their group game against the USA one nil (god forbid). The day after the game, you'll be able to download a scenario package which will challenge you to score an equaliser in the last five minutes. Quick hint: put Peter Crouch on and hoof the ball up to him at every opportunity.

Story of Qualifying is part of a concerted effort from Humber and his development team at Vancouver, Canada, to pack the World Cup game with as much new content as possible. He's well aware that many consider the tournament editions of the FIFA series a poor cousin to the main annual titles. Cynics have already suggested that World Cup should be a downloadable expansion to FIFA 10, or that it should be a budget release, or that it's not worth a punt at all. This, of course, is nonsense.


Here, at EA's Guildford HQ, Humber is finally taking the lid off of all of the game's new features. Parts of his presentation runs through features we learned at the Stamford Bridge reveal event in February, but most of it throws up juicy new info relating to everything from little tweaks here and there to big gameplay changes and brand new modes. When you score a goal, for example, the camera zooms in quicker than it did in FIFA 10, revealing the emotion in the player's face up close and personal. The audio's been overhauled to give the game more of an international football sound than FIFA 10's Premier League-heavy audio, with new commentary (some of it completely unique to scenarios, as described above), the trademark South African "Vuvuzela" blowing horn, which sounds like a huge swarm of bees (thankfully you can turn it off), and even the ping of the ball hitting the post as the frame of the goal lifts ever so slightly out of the grass.

Supplementing the online-enabled World Cup mode is a brand new World League Ladder that sorts players into ten divisions. You play a season of ten league games - get 16 or more points and you'll be promoted, less than nine gets you relegated - then the top four in each division enter a cup competition. Your performance in the league and the cup is then calculated and end of season ranking points are dished out. This, Humber says, gives the game a long term appeal beyond this summer.

Over a hundred gameplay improvements have been made. We ran through the important ones during our previous preview, but there are a few others worth mentioning here. Now, playing home or away affects the stats of your players, and altitude affects player stamina; any match played above 1500 feet will take its toll. Shooting has been tweaked so that players don't strike the ball as well as they do in FIFA 10. This is a curious one, but Humber says real life players rarely hit the ball dead centre, instead hitting to the left or right of centre as they curl or hit across the ball while on the run. There's a new instant control and chip animation, which looks lovely. Players attack headers more aggressively, and find space for crosses more often. There are new chest and move animations designed to make the game play more fluidly - there's an illusion of a faster game speed despite it being exactly the same. There are chest passes, driven aerial passes (great for cross field long balls) and loads of new flicks and skills.

Penalty kicks have been completely reworked to make them more skill based. Now, as the kicker, you need to stop an oscillating needle in the correct zone, hold the shoot button down, release when the power bar is at the desired point, then move a targeting reticule with the thumb stick. The power determines the size of the reticule; maximum power makes it huge, minimum power makes the shot precise. All the factors come into play when the shot is finally taken, and, hopefully, goes in. From the keeper's point of view, there's a risk reward system at play: you can dive early, which will allow you to reach the extremities of the goal, or you can bide your time and perhaps get a better idea of where the shot will go. The idea is to try and simulate the real world pressure of taking a penalty that matters. We had a go, and it's much better than before. It's even tricky, although you get used to it. I'm not sure video games will ever come close to simulating the pressure of a real life penalty, but World Cup does perhaps the best job of it yet.

Who will lift the trophy?

One of the more interesting gameplay changes is the introduction of the "Dad Pad" two-button control scheme. That's right, we said the "Dad Pad". It's EA's horribly-named effort that aims to make FIFA playable by everyone, not just you and me. One button passes, the other shoots. Movement is still governed by the left thumb stick, but everything else is context sensitive. So, players will sprint when the computer thinks they should. The computer will play a short pass, or a long pass, when it reckons each is appropriate. Shooting is handled for you, so you don't have to worry about it. Everything's still stat-based, so Shaun Wright-Phillips will lose out on headers when up against England and Chelsea legend John Terry, but you get the idea.

So, why's it called the "Dad Pad"? Because EA hopes the two-button control scheme will enable cross generations to play together. You, who knows how to play FIFA, and your dad, who is so intimidated by an Xbox 360 or PS3 controller that they send him running out of the house screaming, "The Horror!". All jokes aside, it's a lovely idea, and it's not game-breaking. If you're good at FIFA, you'll beat someone who isn't, no matter what control scheme they're using. But, rather than win 8-0, you may only win 4-0. Or something like that. As Humber insists, it allows participation, not mastery.

For schooled FIFA players, the "Dad Pad" will go unused. For them, more important questions remain: who are the best players, what are the best teams, and, isn't 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa nothing more than just FIFA 10 with an annoying mascot and menus? We can't answer the first two questions... yet (although Emile Heskey is amazing), but we can suggest an answer to the last one. After Humber's presentation, we flicked through our notes and found 11 pages worth of new gubbins. That's a lot. A helluvalot. And we also notice a hastily scrawled sentence stuck somewhere in the margin: "Story of Qualifying may prove popular in Ireland". Quite.

2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa is due out on all major platforms on April 30.

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