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"FIFA World Cup" brings tournament thrill home

By Adam Troxtell
On April 28, 2010

EA Sports' FIFA titles are the most popular and widely played soccer video games in the world. Even they will struggle, however, to make games like "2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa" effective in the market, despite it being the most realistic soccer video game I have yet played.

I've been eagerly anticipating this summer since about mid-July of 2006 (when Italy lifted the trophy against a Zinedine Zidane-less France). The World Cup always sparks celebrations everywhere around the world, especially in the stands. This is where the realization of the video game begins.

After playing a warm-up game to get the feel of it – during which, I, playing as England, ran circles around my friend, playing as Ireland – I decided to try to take the U.S. through a World Cup. I was thrown right into the actual tournament as it is set for this summer, with the same 32 teams in the same eight groups. The first game, against England, was incredibly realistic, with streamers and confetti everywhere. The crowd was roaring, and the vuvuzelas (a horn that produces a loud, drone-like sound which is set to be a staple of this year's tournament) were blaring out.

Oh, by the way, before each match in tournament mode, the game cuts to a one-on-one with a goalkeeper in shooting practice. It appears you are at your national team's base camp in South Africa, with the outline of mountain ranges in the distance. I'm not exactly sure why this is done; maybe to provide some extra training. Regardless of how pointless it may be, this part is still entertaining. The camera angle is right behind the player, giving a vantage point not often seen in soccer games. Plus, the shooting and dribbling are as real as it can get. I sent it flying over the cross bar multiple times…don't laugh, I scored a few times, as well.

The gameplay itself is where it gets tricky. The controls are sensitive, especially during crossing and shooting. It is very easy to give the ball too much weight, sending it flying into the stands or out of bounds. Also, the passing takes some getting used to. In order to enhance the realism, passing and crossing involve more effort than just hitting a button; shooting is the same way. You have to aim with a joystick, and actually think about where the pass is going.

So, I lost 1-0 to England and got my captain, Carlos Bocanegra, sent off in the first match. OK, there are still two more chances to get through to the second round. My next match-up: Slovenia. I obviously should've switched to beginner's mode – I lost 3-0. The thing that hurt me was the game's momentum gauge. Once Slovenia scored first, they had the momentum. Minute after minute, my players lost morale and energy. Eventually, they just wore me down. It was frustrating, and the camera cutting to Slovenian fans cheering and U.S. fans moping didn't help either, although it did add to the realistic effect.

In fact, the game play was the closest to watching an actual match on the TV I've ever encountered. For example, in past FIFA games, when the referee issues a yellow card, the screen cuts to scenes of players arguing or a close-up of the referee brandishing the booking. In this game, the referee can be seen giving a card before any camera angle change, which is more like watching a TV match.

"Tournament" mode allows for more flexibility. Any country in the world you want to see in the 32-nation tournament can be chosen, and I mean any nation. There is not a single nation on the face of the Earth not featured in this game. I played as Afghanistan against my friend, who was playing as Iraq. We also played Fiji versus Kenya.

A new addition in this game is called "Story of Qualifying." Here, players can find dozens of scenarios to go through, such as scoring in the dying minutes of a match or coming from behind to win. These are not only entertainingly challenging scenarios, but they also really happened as teams were fighting it out for a place in the World Cup finals. "Story of the Finals" is another scenario-based feature those with online capabilities can enjoy. During the real tournament this summer, challenges will be made available involving actual events that took place in South Africa.

The game also includes "Captain Your Country" mode, in which you play as one individual player as opposed to an entire team. The idea is to be outstanding and eventually named captain of your national team. This can be done with one to four players, and is entertaining in the sense that you're working with friends to achieve a goal, just like a real team.

For a game released halfway between "FIFA 2010" and "FIFA 2011," "2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa" is pretty fun. Sure, once "FIFA 2011" comes out, it will immediately be obsolete, but there's no other game I can think of in which you can play as the tiny nation of Timor Leste (it exists, look it up) and be that realistic. For those, like me, who are struggling to keep their World Cup fever down, this is a great buy.

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