Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360, Wii, PS2, PSP, DS, PC and iPhone - Xbox 360 version reviewed
Easily the most enduring rivalry in video games is that between EA's FIFA series and the much-loved underdog, Pro Evolution Soccer (PES) from Konami. FIFA, the Chelsea or Man City of our story, has always boasted all the things that ought to deliver the authentic experience: the real names, the stadia, the competitions and so forth. Yet, throughout the PS1 and PS2 years, the likes of Ryan Greggs, Ruud Von Mesteroum and Merseyside Red ran rings round FIFA's licensed gimmick-fest.
When the current generation of consoles arrived, however, the worm began to turn. After the truly, utterly, terrible FIFA 06: Road to FIFA World World Cup, EA got its act together. FIFA 08 was probably the beginning of things to come. Though it didn't quite best PES 2008, it showed that EA was going in the right direction and had finally produced a brand of football game purists could enjoy. FIFA 09 built on this success quite dramatically, adding speed and fluency and ultimately usurping the good football crown so beloved of PES. FIFA has always been slicker, more polished and (recently at least) less buggy, so the transformation was complete. The king is dead, long live the new king.
Now we have FIFA 10, which aims to ram home its advantage over PES. I'll save you any further preamble and tell you now: it does, quite emphatically in fact. While there are numerous reasons why this particular FIFA is better than the last, its strength lies in the physics engine that was introduced in FIFA 08. Back when PES was dominant it was the excellent physics that made it great, everything else flowed from that. So it is with FIFA 10.
Where, comparatively, PES has become increasingly pinball-like, FIFA has weight and substance. Players grapple with each other realistically, running aside each other, manoeuvring their weight to try and dispossess or maintain possession. And, while the stronger typically prevail eventually, smaller, lighter players aren't brushed away quite so unceremoniously. Indeed, Wayne Rooney, a powerful but not especially large player, often uses his lower centre of gravity to his advantage. Only the real heavyweights can brush aside opponents with unerring ease. Ball dynamics, meanwhile, are uncanny in their realism.
All of these qualities have been fine tuned and improved in FIFA 10, but it's the introduction of 360-degree dribbling - a first according to EA - that sets it apart from last year's release. It's a fairly self-explanatory addition and its effects are subtle, but then the best things often are. Despite having analogue controls for eons, movement in football games has still been diagonal in nature. In FIFA 10 the degrees are much finer, giving you the precise control people have craved for years. This is best illustrated when playing on the wings, where it's now a lot easier to run very close to the line rather than hopelessly sprint into touch.
Elsewhere on the pitch this newfound precision simply makes playing the game more enjoyable. You can sneak through gaps and find angles you have wouldn't previously, while skill moves and dribbling past opponents is given a new lease of life with the Skilled Dribbling trait. Only available with the most skilful players, pulling on both left and right triggers activates extremely fast, accurate dribbling to pass your opponents more easily and without resorting to sometimes unreliable skill moves.