2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa Review (PS3)

Atmosphere, it turns out, is the key component in making EA's tournament-themed FIFA releases a worthwhile addition to their bi-annual roster. 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa finally nails that elusive trait and ushers in one of the best tie-in games ever to grace a console, but whether or not it's worthy of a purchase depends on just how much - or how little - you have invested in FIFA 10.

But let's get to the good stuff first. There are significant improvements both on and off the pitch in 2010 World Cup, with overhauled presentation perhaps the most striking addition in a suite of changes. Colourful menu visuals juxtapose against a soundtrack that tackles all corners of the globe, both of which combine to create a videogame that feels a part of the celebrations as much as it does marketing tie-in. The World Cup group menus are bright, crisp and clear, marking a distinct move away from EA Sports' identikit offerings elsewhere, and I can only hope this paves the way for an overhaul in the upcoming FIFA 11; it's amazing how much a new lick of paint freshens up the experience.

Physical contact is now more pronounced.
Volleys are more deadly than ever.

Filling out those crisp visuals are a number of game modes that take good advantage of the licensing. The requisite World Cup, penalty shootout, Captain Your Country and head-to-head online variants are all present, but it's the 'scenarios' that prove most entertaining. Fans of the series will be familiar with these mini-challenges that task you with re-living any number of controversial or inspiring moments from qualification (yes, Ireland vs France is in there), but the dramatic scripted commentary and excellent stadium atmosphere make them thoroughly worthwhile. It's also a mode that will be expanded to simulate games from the real-life 2010 finals, hopefully giving England fans some cathartic release as they put that inevitable quarter-final penalty shootout exit to rights.

Speaking of which, the system for taking spot kicks has been altered drastically, with a single-click 'focus' meter adding a variable element of error. Stopping the bar in the green focus zone is essential for blasting a shot on target, but that's easier said than done when the sweet spot narrows and the pace quickens under pressurised situations. Elsewhere, stutter steps allow for a little extravagance at the cost of power during the run-up, chip shots have been tweaked for more variability, and skilled goalkeepers are now able to reach for the ball with legs, boots and anything else they can get in the way. The changes can add up to nail-biting moments in crucial matches that depend purely on skill, as opposed to the hidden game of chance that forced them to be a non-entity in previous titles.

And a similar effort to generate authentic atmosphere has been applied to the pre-match buildup and the stadia. Television-style replays and cutaway camera shots frame the action better than ever before, whilst swathes of ticker-tape and vastly improved pitch detail provide similar icing. Managers are represented with a visual detail usually reserved for star players, crowd noise is tailored to the cavernous match arenas, whist the repeated close-ups of plasticine robotic fans is about the only tendency that occasionally oversteps the mark. The developer has also clearly focussed on generating an uncanny-valley busting set of player likenesses, with all the major teams being particularly impressive.

Player likenesses are superb.
Pitch and stadium texturing is drastically improved.

As for the action on the pitch, EA has hit the mid-way point towards FIFA 11 and brings about as many changes to the table as you'd imagine. Midfield and defensive play contain the most notable alterations, as passes and through balls are much less of a certainty and deflections more varied. That change, combined with defenders that cover attacking play and track back with more obvious intelligence, means that playing through the middle of the park is tougher task than in FIFA 10, but a greater emphasis on pace and timing reward those can spot opportunity. In short, a lot more like real football.

Other minor tweaks include goalkeepers that hold their line with more frequency, chip shots that have lower accuracy, and attacking headers that more frequently hit the target. First-touch control has also been modified to allow skilled players to take the ball in their stride with more frequency, almost entirely eliminating the annoying tendency for mid-height stretches or chesting animations that lasted a lifetime. As a result, long attacking passes now carry a potency which had been previously untapped, although ball movement is still a little too sluggish to really turn them into a useful weapon.

Atmosphere is a key focus.
Set pieces are difficult but satisfying.

But even with the plethora of changes listed above, the value that hardcore FIFA players will gain from World Cup 2010 can be called into question. As you would expect, there is no long-term manager mode or in-depth 'be a pro' functionality (outside of the brief 'captain your country' role), and although the 'battle of the nations' style online mode is fun in sporadic bursts, seasoned players will quickly return to their persistent online clubs in 10. It's like taking a holiday in that respect, and tantalising glimpse of a very, very rosey future.

As for everybody else, if you want the very best football simulation that money can buy and a well-developed accompaniment to the summer festivities, then World Cup 2010 is undoubtedly recommended. But get ready to lay down another £40 this coming October. You will want to.

Best Game Moment: Smashing in a 30-yard screamer.

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