You have to wonder whether the cloud of stats thrown up by the FIFA 10 team (200 accomplishments! 50 new movement cycles! Still only one football!) is a distraction tactic.
A barrage of meaningless trivia to put marketing men off the scent, leaving the developers to get on with the important business of crafting the finest football game around. EA Sports' Vancouver studio has spent the last few years on incrementally improving what FIFA offers, quietly refining rather than shouting about a revolution.
So it's ironic that one of the more important aspects of FIFA 10's success is the buzzy-sounding 360 dribbling. Previously, players were only able to move in one of eight directions. Now it's gone, it's like a safety net has been removed: you're no longer able to vaguely nudge your selected player into a kind of predetermined tramline.
At first things seem harder. It's easy to run the ball into touch by charging in the general direction of the opposition goal, easy to have your pockets pinched where previously you'd have sailed past a defender, and easy to miscue passes. But it's a matter of recalibration. The old adage of "the more you play, the more you improve" is as relevant as ever.
Build-up play has been a strength of the last couple of games, and when you're used to the new freedom your players are granted, it shines through as brightly as ever here.
Thanks to the inertia exhibited by players, there's a hugely impressive realism to midfield tangles. Passing to team-mates is a standout aspect - almost entirely absent are the old issues with trapping a ball - but something that didn't quite carry through from real games is sheer physicality. It has now.
Tussles on and off the ball can clearly be seen and felt. Defenders steam into tackles, and if you time it wrong you'll barge the attacker off the ball without stopping to collect possession - a sure-fire booking. But it certainly adds a lot of spice to the game. If you have the ball and you're sprinting along the touchline, you can rely on the strength of the bulkier forwards (the Rooneys and Drogbas) to thunder through a challenge.
Sparkling build-up play is all well and good, but it's useless if you can't stick the ball in the back of the net. Good news on the shooting front too then, for FIFA 10 is much sharper. Ball physics and momentum play a greater part, as does the positioning of your player and the "effects" you can use on the ball - holding the left trigger for a more controlled shot, say.
In one game we played, Emile Heskey of all people collected the ball and smashed through a gaggle of defenders before hitting it off the side of his boot. In slow motion you could actually see it skew off the turf thanks to the spin applied to it before deflecting off the keeper's fingers, onto the post and over the goal line. Flukey, yes, but brilliant to see.
What A Pro
Off pitch things are just as well-rounded. Virtual Pro takes the basics of the old Be A Pro mode and lets you use your created player in every other mode, be it an Exhibition match against a mate, a league, the Be A Pro mode itself or even the Manager mode. This in itself is likely to suck hours from your social life.
Then there's the excellent presentation, the rarely-annoying commentary and the genius Live Season option, which lets you play your favourite team's real fixtures. We've only scratched the surface, but take it from us: football fan or casual observer, you must play this game.
The best in the series by some distance
- 360 dribbling isn't a gimmick
- Shooting's a big thrill
- Brutal physicality
- Virtual Pro mode is excellent
- Takes some getting used to