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The FSB FIFA 10 Next-Gen Preview

Finally, the NDA has been lifted and we can tell the world what we thought of our time with the game. We’ve been leading up to it and getting excited about it on the forums for weeks, so without further ado we present to you our FIFA 10 preview.

They say it’s lonely at the top, but given the success of FIFA 09 I doubt the development team feel that way. FIFA 09 was the first true football simulation of this generation and its critical acclaim even managed to sway some of the PES faithful to “the dark side”. But with success comes expectation, and whispers from Japan of Konami upping their game have made sure nobody gets complacent.

Just over a month ago we were treated to a very early preview of FIFA 10 at a press event held at the Emirates Stadium in London, England. It marked a significant change in strategy by EA as FIFA was being shown earlier in its development than ever before. What we saw and tried at the Emirates was a very promising start; it was clear that the developers had set their objectives and were well on their way to achieving what they wanted with the game. The main focus was gameplay, as it was last year – focusing on refining the engine as well as innovation. EA have made it their mission statement to listen to the fans of the game in order to refine it year on year, and now we are reaping the benefits of this strategy as much as they are.

Fast forward five weeks and we are in Vancouver, Canada (EA’s home turf). With an anticipated release date over four months away, the build we played was said to be 60-70% complete. Both PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 incarnations of the game were present, but having spent more time playing FIFA on the Xbox 360 this year I decided to start there. After all there was also an old score to settle with a certain Xbox 360 player; Wepeeler. So all the excitement builds up to this… Pad in hand, FIFA 10, Liverpool versus Roma.

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The first thing you notice is one of the key features of FIFA 10, the 360° dribbling system (something I had mentioned a year earlier). It takes getting used to but after the initial frustration and a few games of adapting, you begin to realise how much of an impact this has on the game. Gone are the feelings of limited movement and predictable running patterns, as defending truly becomes an art. You have to master it, or prepare to be destroyed. Within seconds you can spot a gap in the defence, dart towards it and switch the ball to your player’s stronger foot with a simple tap of the analog stick. This involves one of the new features, skilled dribbling – combined with a highly skilled dribbler this is one of those moments that makes your jaw drop. Not only does it allow you to quickly lose a defender, but when playing against defensive sides that pack the area you can now get that extra yard to unleash a shot.

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The most important part of football is passing (depending on which managers you listen to), and fundamental to the success of a football game. FIFA 10 manages to improve on last year’s version with subtle changes to the ball physics and halving the time it takes for the ball to travel across the surface. These all make for a much more fluid experience. Many of my opponents used to complain about my ping-pong style passing game in FIFA 09; well, they will be pleased to know that passing in next year’s version is much more realistic. Seamless passing play in the style of an Arsenal or Barcelona team can only be achieved by those who master the game. Further conversations with the producers highlighted this change but this is something we can’t shed too much light on at this moment in time.

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So now we move onto the bit I think most people have complained about. When it comes to shooting in FIFA 09, more than a few people have described it as “floaty”. Rest assured that shooting has been significantly improved, with the team focused on tweaking the shooting parameters and factoring in laws of physics such as the Reynard and Magnus effects – I have no idea what they are but to put it simply, the ball feels less like a balloon and more like a football now.

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Another area that caused complaints in the previous game was goalkeeping. Goalkeeping AI and logic is a nightmare for most developers, but one of the biggest improvements we saw in Canada was in the goalkeepers. The difference is night and day when compared to FIFA 09, because now they are more urgent, aggressive and much more responsive when their goal is in danger. They rush off their line to narrow the angles, and jump on corners to punch clear any crosses that can’t be caught. What most impressed me was that they also make some superb saves that will have you berating the opposition goalie. In one of the games we played, Chelsea versus Liverpool, Drogba was through on goal only for Reina to come rushing out and tackle Drogba quite hard outside the area, picking up a yellow card for his troubles. It’s definitely going to be more difficult to score now, which is fine by us – in the games we played, every goal meant something.

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After a few hours of playing, more and more kept coming out of the game. We began to notice huge improvements to the AI and logic in-game with the new urgency logic determining the threat level of the play, keeping players at ease when the threat is low or making them stretch when things are getting dangerous. The AI is also much more aware of the threat of space – players will watch the runs of the opponent as well as any gaps opening up in the defence, plugging them up as necessary. Defensive awareness is at a whole new level, as the system is much more balanced and attacking players will drop to cover for defenders when they have made forward runs. For Liverpool, Mascherano did a wonderful job of covering when Arbeloa decided to get in on the attacking play. The attacking awareness of AI controlled players has clearly improved as they no longer make straight-line runs that provide no options, with players now making diagonal or curved runs looking to stay onside and run into space. On occasions you can seem them begin to run then stop to stay in line with the defence. It’s a joy to watch.

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Speaking of defending, there’s a few of us on the team here who would like to build from the back in FIFA, but find it impossible. What we played provided a brilliant challenge for those who like to play defensively, with the new urgency logic providing some fantastic last ditch challenges and clearances. We even saw defenders jumping in front of shots and diving towards loose balls in the area.

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Another common complaint with FIFA 09 was the refereeing that often frustrated you to the point of controller destruction. Refereeing decisions seemed much more consistent than before, with one thing in-particular sure to please a lot of people; the advantage rule is now much more accurate, with the referee letting play go on and only bringing it back when necessary. Scripted sequences for fouls and carding have been taken out of the game in order to make the game a much more fluid experience and stop people hammering the buttons to skip the same sequences you’ve seen a hundred times before. As a result you now have the option to take quick free-kicks, so taking your eyes away from the TV can have disastrous consequences.

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Overall the graphics in the build we were treated to were pretty solid, and a little sharper than last year. It’s worth noting that graphical touches are usually one of the last things to go into FIFA games, although saying that player sizes appeared to have been reduced by about 10% in order to make the pitch larger. Also, animations have been improved, making player movements and collisions look much more true to life. The collision system that was introduced last year has also been overhauled in order to make the action look more realistic again.

In my personal opinion the PS3 version of FIFA 09 wasn’t quite as sharp as the Xbox 360 version, but I’m pleased to say that the FIFA 10 builds we tested appeared identical.

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Manager Mode has seen a ridiculous amount of attention this year, which a certain MM nut on the FSB team is ecstatic about. We’ve been told that many of the complaints that MM players used to voice have been addressed and it’s sure to be a much more immersive experience this season. Unfortunately we didn’t get the opportunity to test it for ourselves during the community day because gameplay was the focus of the event, but we will be giving it a run for its money in the near future.

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There are many features that will be present in the final game that we have not experienced, with many of them due to be unveiled in the coming weeks and months. We would love to talk about these things but being under NDAs all we can talk about for now are gameplay enhancements to the game. What we will say is this; earlier in the week we said that FIFA 10 was in safe hands and having met the development team many times over the last few years, the more time you spend talking with them about the little details of the game, the more you realise how much passion they have for the sport and how much they want to achieve perfection.

FIFA 10 is running smoothly towards an autumn release and although the build we’ve played is months away from completion, it has still managed to totally ruin FIFA 09 for us. As with all the best football games, you can’t go back once you’ve played this. It’s going to be a long, horrible summer…

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