FIFA had an immense year last year. It, as a franchise, had been snapping at the heels of Pro Evolution Soccer for a few years, but last year was the first time for almost a decade that it could truly be hailed as the de-facto football game. They were back to where they were all those years ago - the premium licence and the premium gameplay. Something I'm sure they don't want to let slip away from their fingers.
If we've learnt anything from the demise of Pro Evolution Soccer, it's that you shouldn't rest on your laurels. And I think that's something EA Canada have really taken on board. There will of course be numerous modes to supplement the gameplay, such as Career Mode, Be a Pro and Manager Mode, but it's the gameplay that's always proved the fundamental aspect behind a sports game's success.
This year, EA Canada seem to have spent more time focusing on what makes the game plausible. And this was the first thing I noticed when I squared off against a fellow Gaming Union editor. One of the problems with previous games is that they were in some ways, too precise. It's something that FIFA are trying to change and it's extremely apparent to see. Tackles go flying in and there's no guarantee over who will come out with the ball and there's no guarantee that passes will meet their intended target. It adds a whole new element of pressure and risk assessment to the gameplay.
It also means that build-up play has to be that much more calculated and that, in turn, makes for a much more enjoyable experience. Scoring a goal promotes a great feeling of joy, but conceding due to a costly error of judgement also promotes a feeling of dread. Emotions which everyone feels when they're watching their favourite team on the TV or they're at their ground of choice. It also comes back again to plausibility. Sure, if players take control of Leo Messi they might be able to dribble past one or two men, but players are then left with a decision about how they wish to carry on proceeding. They can either play it safe and square the ball, or put faith in their ability to beat someone else. Often the first option might be better, but it's all about risk and reward.
We managed to score two goals in our short demo. One was a sweeping move that cut the Barcelona defence in half and one was an extremely tame back-pass which allowed for a relatively simple finish. Two very different goals, but similar reactions on each side for both of them. This of course lead to a draw, and the dreaded penalty shoot-out. The English don't exactly have a great reputation in these situations and it showed, we only managed to score three penalties between us. But that's because EA have taken the brave move of making penalties even harder to take than last year. FIFA 10 saw the addition of the pressure meter and also a much more accurate placing system. However, it appears to be severely amplified in this edition of the game.
If EA Canada can further refine these elements in the remaining months before the game's release, they could well be on their way to a second successive year as the top dog in the football genre. Let's just hope that not many games go to penalties as we'll have absolutely no chance of winning anything.