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Every year, sports games developers are forced to challenge themselves to make a game that is significantly better than the previous year's effort, despite the fact that they have very little wiggle room. FIFA 09 was widely heralded as the best in the franchise, making it a considerable task to put out something noticeably better this year. EA hasn't disappointed, and they have not only met expectations for what FIFA 10 should be, they've surpassed them.
In the new Virtual Pro mode you are tasked with making your own soccer star for use on the pitch. This might sound a heck of a lot like the old Be A Pro mode from past FIFA games, but everything after the character creation in Virtual Pro is different from that older mode. Your created "virtual pro" is not confined to any single mode in the game; you can slide into an exhibition match, take him into the new practice arena (which is long overdue) and work on drills, fool around in Manager Mode, or even play online with the little guy. In each mode there is a way to improve your character, a small feature that becomes invaluable due to the rewarding feeling that it provides.
Manager Mode is more polished than ever, but to those who care enough to delve into the giant pile of onscreen stats that it presents I wish the best. I am not hardcore enough to get into such number-crunching nonsense, but it's a fantastic feature for those who are, and it can potentially extend the life of the game by months for buyers. Unlike most other EA Sports titles this year (I'm looking at you, Tiger Woods 10 and Madden 10) the in-game commentators are actually pretty good, making snide observations and rarely letting loose statements that don't make sense in context of the game.
Once you venture out of the various menus and onto the pitch, you'll find yourself playing the most refined soccer games ever made. Players are no longer stuck with an outdated eight-way directional control scheme; instead, the thumb stick allows for truly fluid movements that can be harnessed to really pull one over on the defense when in possession on the ball. There is a towering list of impressive moves that only the experienced can attempt if they feel that they are good enough. As with this year's Madden, this, along with certain presentation elements, combine to create a game that feels authentic and true to the actual sport.
There are still kinks in the A.I., despite the best of efforts to iron them out in this year's game. A.I. players sometimes don't seem to have the ability to determine when they should really put forth 100% and make that extra leap to get the ball, which makes them seem lazy. A loose ball that real-life players would scramble for will barely bother the carefree A.I. players, a disappointing shortcoming of their otherwise excellent decision-making skills.
Following in the footsteps of the spectacularly varied single-player modes in FIFA 10, the online component touts numerous options for play. Along with the usual gametypes like ranked head-to-head matches, players are handed the ability to link up with nine other Virtual Pros and form their own clubs. EA Sports will be hosting numerous regional (and even global) online tournaments, which is a great first step towards a future in which EA provides some decent post-release support for their games. Lag was sometimes an issue, but the problem is neither common nor severe enough to warrant real concern.
FIFA 10 is the best virtual soccer experience that any console owner can buy. The impressive selection of modes are all made more interesting by the fact that they are intelligently linked by the Virtual Pro mode, and the play on the pitch raises the bar for soccer games, taking one step closer towards the ultimate goal of being a perfect emulation of the actual sport. Whether you're a dedicated fan of the series or merely an intrigued passerby, I can assure you that diving deep into what FIFA 10 has to offer will be an entertaining and rewarding experience that is worth the price tag.
Platform(s):Xbox 360 (reviewed), PS3, Wii, PS2