2010 FIFA World Cup and FIFA 10 Ultimate Team Impressions

EA shows off its 2010 World Cup entry and the latest edition of its collectible card game for FIFA 10.

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Today was footie day at GameSpot HQ, as developers from EA Canada came by to show off two of the company's big soccer releases for this year: 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa and the latest edition of the Ultimate Team feature for last year's FIFA 10. I've got some thoughts and observations on both games, but if you want a more complete look at World Cup, check out GameSpot UK's hands-on preview of the game.

2010 World Cup South Africa
- It might not be a back-of-the-box feature, but this year's World Cup game has something that no previous FIFA game has seen: women. If you look closely during game introduction, you'll see ladies in the mix who are supporting their favorite teams among the guys wearing jester hats or brightly colored Mohawks. For whatever reason, people go nuts when they see girls at World Cup games, so it's nice to see EA is including the fairer sex this time around.

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- While I didn't spend a lot of time playing last year's FIFA 10, I like what I've seen of 2010 World Cup's evolution of the FIFA engine. Consider a situation I experienced during my hands-on time with the game: Playing as Japan (against Cameroon, who was being controlled by EA Canada producer Luke Didd), I gave up a goal I'd never seen in a soccer game before. After my goalkeeper made a wonderful diving block to stop an otherwise certain goal, the ball bounced off his hands and just in front of him. My center half--who was nearby--collapsed down near the ball and over the keeper as he lay on the ground. Desperate to kick the ball free, I tried to move my defenseman close enough to the ball, but his legs were tangled up in the crumpled form of my keeper, which gave the Cameroon striker just enough time to get to the ball and knock in the go-ahead goal. Sure, I was angry at giving up the goal, but the game's attention to the physics of how bodies interact on the pitch was surely impressive.

- The good news: 2010 World Cup will let you play a full World Cup tournament online, matching you with players of similar skill levels from the group stage matches, through the knockout rounds, and all the way to the World Cup finals. Matchmaking is random, so you can play a round in your WC tournament at any time and be matched up with a similar player. The not-so-good news: Matchmaking is completely random, so if you and 31 of your friends want to get together to organize a private World Cup tournament online, you're out of luck.

- The "Battle of Nations" feature stands intact from previous international tournament games, which were first seen in UEFA Euro 2008. It is a metagame that assesses which nation--among the 199 national teams that were eligible to qualify for the 2010 World Cup--has the most serious FIFA skills. Playing the game will earn you points for your favored nation, but you won't need to play as your country of choice in order to earn points. So with that said, fellow Americans, let's plan on loading up Brazil online and never looking back!

FIFA 10 Ultimate Team
The popular card-collecting series, which began with UEFA Champions League 2006/2007 and has now migrated over to the Madden series, continues in late February. That is when FIFA 10 Ultimate Team is released for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. It will run you 400 Microsoft points or $4.99, respectively. The FIFA team has made several crucial changes to the mode. Here's a look at some of the most notable tweaks:

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- Unlike in previous years, Ultimate Team in FIFA 10 no longer includes the concept of doing away with excess cards in your collection. The card-collecting album is gone, and though you can still discard cards for coins or put them up for auction, keeping a ton of cards on hand will be to your benefit. Instead of simply focusing on creating a single ultimate team, you'll be able to create multiple teams from your various cards (and even save your various teams in any of 15 available slots).

- Why would you want to create different teams? Why, for tournaments, of course. Ultimate Team will have numerous different tournament types, with new tournaments introduced on a regular basis after the game is released. While you'll want to have your most powerful team available for some tourneys, others will challenge you to build teams with very specific requirements (such as a team with a maximum skill level of three stars or fielding a team where no more than two players come from the same club). These various restrictions are another good reason to keep as many cards as possible on hand.

- The developers behind FIFA 10 Ultimate Team are clearly putting a premium on playing in tournaments--thanks to tournament modifiers. These modifiers will change depending on the difficulty of the tournament and will affect the amount of coins you earn at the end of the tourney. In addition, one team in a tournament will earn bonus coins by being declared the best team in the tournament. Winning a tournament doesn't necessarily guarantee you this bonus; you still have a chance at it by playing skillfully throughout the tournament, even if you don't pick up the trophy.

- Contracts will still play a role in FIFA 10 Ultimate Team, but there is one big change this year. Even if a card's contract is reduced to zero, it won't be automatically removed from your deck. Instead, you'll need to renew the card's contract with...you guessed it...a contract card.

- Speaking of cards, there are a few changes to note here, as well. First, FIFA 09 Ultimate Team's gameplay cards--cards that you could play in midgame to affect either your team or your opponent's team--have been removed this year. New to the Ultimate Team deck are rare cards--which are essentially pumped up versions of their regular counterparts. Rare cards can happen for players of any skill level--for instance, you might have a rare card of a player who would normally be found in a silver or bronze pack but a boosted heading ability will elevate him to "rare" status.

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- Chemistry--or how Ultimate Team players play together on the pitch--is one of the most interesting aspects of Ultimate Team's gameplay, and there are plenty of theories on how to improve your team's chemistry. This year, the parameters for how team chemistry works have opened up a bit. For example, unlike last year, players who play in the same league or the same club in real life will enjoy a boosted chemistry bonus. The developers have also changed how a player's preferred position or formation affects his chemistry rating. For example, a player who normally enjoys playing right wing won't take as a big a chemistry hit if he's playing right midfield on your team. Similarly, a defender who prefers a 4-4-2 formation won't be put off if you change the formation to the very similar 4-4-1-1 formation. - Your club is your own in FIFA 10 Ultimate Team. If you created a team in last year's game, you'll be able to transfer your team name to this year's version. The game will even note the year when your team was established. The bad news? All the coins you earned in FIFA 09 will not transfer over into FIFA 10...because that would just be cheap.

FIFA 10 Ultimate Team will be released on February 25. Look for more 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa in the coming weeks ahead of its release in late April.

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