The beautiful game

There are gaming moments designed to be unforgettable: the third Scarecrow psyche-out in Batman: Arkham Asylum; the strider battle in Half-Life: Episode 2; taking that sniper shot in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. And then there are those games crafted with such delicacy these moments never cease. A 40-yard rocket that thunders in off the post; a last minute goal line scramble to preserve a stoppage time lead in a season decider; a cheeky free kick slotted underneath a jumping wall and into the side netting; a curling cross from the byline that sneaks its way in under the bar. Few games can promise a year's worth of new sights, night after night. But FIFA 10 can.

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The latest revamp is the most competent ball game on the 360. The niggles of last year's update are gone, resulting in a faster, more fluid recreation of footy, where screamers from outside the box are now easily netted, and new dribble options make for unpredictable games.

We would say FIFA always provides a thrilling match of football but that's not exactly true. Pick a Premier League tussle and, yes, two evenly matched players will enjoy end-to-end action with plenty of 'wow' moments to enjoy. A match between Notts County and Torquay, however, is completely different.

Lower ranked players are unable to use the majority of the skill moves, and a battle between weaker teams rarely produces attractive football. Without the skills of a Rooney or a Torres on the field these lower league grinds to victory are hugely satisfying, and while not for everybody they're an impressive change of pace from the main attraction of top-flight footy. Whatever level of football you want to play, FIFA delivers the goods with stunning realism.

Improvements have been squeezed into every position. In the right hands the skill dribble function makes a mockery of defenders, although rushing centre backs are likely to throw any piece of their body in the way of a shot. The animations of these moves are all staggeringly detailed (the only downside is the slight delay of a pass or a shot until the player's finished his move). And a nice little move that's sure to irk all the chippers out there is the y double tap, which keeps goalies rooted to their lines.

Some features have been nabbed straight from PES: yellow markers help identify carded players easier than before, while quick free kicks keep games flowing as much as possible. Of course, anybody who watches football will know that free kicks, even fast ones, break the flow of the game, so it's a relief to see the ref wave advantage at every sensible opportunity.

Commentary's never been a slouch and this year is no exception. One office game in particular had us actually flabbergasted as each of our comments on the play were soon eerily repeated almost word-for-word by Andy Gray. The celebration quips are especially amusing; just try the robot dance as someone other than Peter Crouch and see for yourself...

If there's one thing we've learned about footy games it's that the real game-breaking quirks only ever appear after many months of testing. While last year's PES soon crumbled under the repeated stress of lunchtime kickabouts, FIFA 09 stood the test of time. We're sure FIFA 10 will be similarly steadfast but the bitter pill to swallow is that there's always a chance.

Yet we've ploughed hours and hours into all its modes and aside from a tendency for crosses to go long (easily fixed by changing the settings from 'auto' to 'semi' or 'manual') nothing has cracked. Between Classic, Manager Mode, Be A Pro, Virtual Legend and everything else lots could have gone wrong for EA. For now though, it's all slotted neatly into place. We'll see you on the pitch.

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The verdict

The definitive football game, packed with so much content it'll last all year.

  • Punchier shooting than ever
  • Much-needed practice modes
  • Skill moves require skill
Xbox 360
EA Sports
EA Games