Naturally, being FIFA, this is one stunning looking game, too. It starts with the prosaic things like the menus, which are presented beautifully. Navigating the multitude of new game mode is exceptionally easy, with new features and modes helpfully labelled as such, just in case you thought EA just updated the data and kicked it out of the door. If one were being hyper-critical then this year’s library of licensed music isn’t as good as last year’s, but that’s a matter of taste anyway.
As for the in-game engine, it’s as slick, smooth and detailed as ever – just a little bit better. Player likelinesses are excellent, while player animations continue to improve, particularly where ball control and general agility is concerned. Some excellent lighting effects give night and evening games a great sense of realism, as do the stadiums. Add in a smooth as silk frame rate and it becomes very hard to fault the presentation on any level.
FIFA puts in a fine sonic performance, too. I thoroughly enjoyed the surround sound presentation using the Sharkoon X-Tatic Digital headset, particularly the occasional shout of “man on” emanating from the sidelines. Martin Tyler and Andy Gray return for the commentary, which for the most part is very good indeed. Very rarely does it fall behind the action and every now and again, when Tyler makes a mistake, he’ll correct himself. Sooner or later you will have heard their whole repertoire, but it’s about as good as commentary on a football game has even been.
It’s not all great, though, since this time around Tyler and Gray have been given licence to ad lib a little. Sometimes these off-the-cuff discussions work quite well, particularly when in reference to specific players. But there are some real clangers, such as how people in Manchester “really value clichés” (or something to that effect), which are just bemusing. Oh, one other weird thing: Tyler pronounces “Phil Neville” with a sort of reverence totally unbecoming Neville’s stature. It’s very creepy.
When you’re not in a match, enjoying or not enjoying (as the case may be) Tyler and Gray’s wittering, there’s a good chance you’ll be in the Arena, practicing your skill moves and generally larking about. It’s one of the areas that’s seen new additions, in particular a new set-piece creation tool. This is an interesting idea, allowing you to create intricate routines for free-kicks and corners. Unfortunately you have to create routines for specific areas of the pitch, so unless you’re patient enough to create something for all the likely places on the pitch you could have a free-kick, its use will be somewhat sporadic. Hardcore devotees might find some mileage here, particularly if they’ve exhausted all other options available to them, but ultimately there are far more interesting developments elsewhere.