It's a sad truth that every World Cup game to date has been little more than a blatant exercise in extracting cash from the ignorant buy-anything football fan, with a quick re-skin job, a crappy buzz word labelled 'special gameplay feature' and some overpaid sod's mug on the box. Hey presto, you've just fallen victim to a ploy to purchase the same game twice, or in EA's case with previous World Cup entries, three times including Road to the World Cup and then the subsequent World Cup game proper.
Perhaps it's due to EA's chequered past when it comes to churning out this kind of cynical cash cow that it was with great reluctance we approached 2010 FIFA World Cup. As such, we were incredibly shocked by the level of quality on display. On the surface, the game is a re-skin of FIFA 10 with some added bells and whistles, but there's a host of new modes that show some foresight and care in making good use of the World Cup license, where so many tie-ins have previously failed.
But the addition of a few new modes and improved graphics doth not a brand new game make, and it appears that EA Vancouver are fully aware of that fact, as they've chosen not to rest on their laurels for this one, building upon the stellar work they did with FIFA 10, refining the gameplay by introducing a few new logical features that add to the fluidity of matches.
While these gameplay tweaks might seem like trivial, superfluous enhancements, they actually create a greater sense of momentum in build-up play, keeping the action moving with newly implemented chest passes, chest and move control and less floaty, more driven aerial long passes that keep matches moving at a faster, more fluid pace.
Players also now strike the ball with different parts of their feet, rather then hitting it dead-centre every time. Not only does this enable you to launch unpredictable shots, but it also gives you more options when heading towards goal. Couple that with the improved physics, which subtly alter the flight of the ball and already, the game feels quite different from FIFA 10. And let's not forget the more intelligent goalies, who'll run back into their goal to scoop a ball off the line and won't steam out into the box unless it's absolutely necessary.
Alongside what EA says are more than 100 enhancements for 2010 FIFA World Cup are a host of new modes that go beyond simply offering you the prestigious titular tournament to play through. That's before you take into account the 199 teams that have made it into the game, rather than just the teams who qualified for the finals. Mali, Malta or Andorra anyone?
Most substantial among these modes are the 'Captain Your Country' and 'World League Ladder', which are designed with longevity in mind, even after the tournament is but a distant, hazy deeply disappointing memory and England have been sent home crying like small, overpaid children who've wet themselves. League Ladder in particular is potentially massive, incorporating its own 10 division ranking system that offers a divergent take on international football that should last you some time after the World Cup confetti has settled. Like any league, you'll move up and down, facing promotion and relegation after each truncated 10 match season draws to a close. And then there's a 4 round knockout cup to win and ranking points to accumulate for successful victories.
Captain Your Country meanwhile, supports 1-4 players in an offline Be A Pro mode, where you can import your Virtual Pro from FIFA 10 or create a new one from scratch. You'll start out on the B-Team, progress through friendly matches, to the World Cup qualifying matches and into the finals, competing for captaincy and the honour of lifting the cup itself.
Penalty shootout is also a separate mode for 2010 FIFA World Cup, which is handy given that if you play as England in the later stages of the tournament, you're likely to end up taking a tense set of penalties. The whole mechanic of taking a shot from the spot has been completely overhauled, scrapping the footie game staple of just picking a corner and then pushing a button. Now you have to time your shot to coincide with a moving composure needle and then aim an invisible reticule, which sounds tough, but is simple enough once you've been through the tutorial. Diving with the keeper is also entirely mapped to the analogue sticks, so both sides of the penalty shootout are more intense than they were in FIFA 10, especially during an important match.
This instalment of FIFA World Cup is all about capturing the raw emotion and carnival atmosphere of the massive international tournament, so all 10 South African stadia are packed with streamers, fireworks, seat cards, banners and baying fans draped in their international colours. Crowd noise has been greatly amplified too, to build a real feeling of involvement, even going so far to include the irritating buzzing sound of the Vuvuzela horns that fans blast during matches. Thankfully, there are audio sliders for turning the intensity of the authentic soundtrack down a few notches or off altogether.
It's heartening to see EA actually put a bit of effort into building upon the foundations of FIFA 10 and actually develop the gameplay with added mechanics as well as visual improvements in the lighting, pitch textures and likenesses. Not only that, but the new modes and emphasis upon accessibility and long-term playability could well make 2010 FIFA World Cup actually worth a look. And we haven't even mentioned the two-button 'Dad Pad' control system yet; an option that does what it says on the tin, allowing those less familiar with these newly-fangled computer game machines, that make magic people move on the telly by pressing buttons(!) to get involved, with only A for passing and B for shooting.
And that's really what EA wants 2010 FIFA World Cup to be all about – getting everyone involved, and that's the true spirit of the competition, isn't it? Isn't it?!
2010 FIFA World Cup is currently scheduled for an end of April release.