Sitting down to collect my thoughts on EA’s FIFA 10 on my couch with a 40 of Miller Lite at my side and my favorite Windir album on the stereo, I couldn’t help but think of how alien the situation sounded in the context of thinking about a predominantly European game/sport.

And then, immediately after, I realized that it wasn’t – at least, not in terms of what Arntor (that Windir album) does for the theme of the evening. Arntor is an album of dualities, and often ones of polar extremes. Among the most aggressive and screechy of [very] late-90’s black/folk metal, Arntor was nonetheless painted to a canvas of enormous complexity and artistry that can be as blunt as a sledgehammer and delicate as, well, the finesse with which my room mate can pull off a cross-pass scoring goal in FIFA 10. It is this artistry and finesse that I think unites the two and distinguishes it from more American music and past times, such as football and Slipknot.

(Okay, so Slipknot by no means defines any quality aspect of American metal, but it’s a fun gauntlet to throw.)

So: folk metal, 40oz, and FIFA 10 – they all go quite well together. Inseperably well together, as FIFA 10 is a game about isolated, beautiful moments of synchronization that are entirely amplified by the effects of the alcohol. The surprise interception followed by a fast-paced goal-scoring breakaway. The feeling of handling a complex passing situation flawlessly, and finding yourself balls-deep in the goal net with little opposition from the keeper. You know the sort of moments – those ones that memorialize the ridiculously awesome plays of a game’s history, the ones that every fan has seen in the form of some compilation or another. Generally, I am uninterested in these things, but somehow, inexplicably to me, FIFA 10 makes these moments shining and glorious for me. (Even though my room mate is almost always the one on the winning side of such encounters.)

A bit of disclosure, though: I’ve played FIFA 10 exclusively in LAN multiplayer mode with my room mate, so that will predictably color my thoughts on it. However, I’m a bit of the opinion that the function of any arena-based game like this – and any sports game is, by definition, an arena game when it migrates to vidscreen-and-controller status – is to facilitate competition between two (or more) human opponents. Sure, npc-type opponents can be present, but the focus ought always be on the humanoid. It is unlikely that this is an at all fair way to approach FIFA 10, however, as it was pretty clear to me that a fleshed-out LAN experience was not the intention of Electronic Arts. At least, I really hope it wasn’t.

For all of the successes of the actual gameplay of FIFA 10, such as seemingly faithful modeling the flow of a professional soccer game that my room mate is so fond of praising, essentially no framework exists in the LAN multiplayer that would make this experience a cohesive and fulfilling experience. While the single player game has options to create and edit plays, players, and teams as well as the actual behaviors of each of the these, the player in a LAN game is allowed to create a team and choose between home or away colors. Formations can’t even be changed in this mode; you’re permanently stuck with the formation that is defaulted to the team. Although I was not expecting stat-tracking for LAN games, it still would have been nice, although it does appear that these are collected when signed onto EA’s servers with the game.

Once again, my room mate looks like he is a professional soccer player in a videogame.

It’s hard to tell why this happened; LAN functionality has never had the breadth that single-player and online experiences (in terms of stat-tracking, etc) have, and LAN is even being phased out in some contemporary games like Starcraft II. Clear evidence of FIFA 10 being a dirty bastard console port are found everywhere though, and even in LAN this is present – which is kind of funny to me because LAN has been the historical province of the PC. Mostly, this presence comes in the forms of controls; at certain points during game setup, mouse controls are disabled and keyboard inputs become the only method available. Confusing, confusing.

The controls of FIFA 10, at least with around 10 games played, remain confusing in and of themselves even – and perhaps most especially – during gameplay. Most of the jubilation of actually performing one of the miracle-type sort of plays is knowing that I somehow got the ball and the player to go exactly where I wanted them to, even though I’m never quite sure how I managed to. There are two bogeymen at fault here; the way the game determines the direction the ball will be kicked, and the way the game determines how hard you wanted to kick the ball.

Sometimes, and seemingly independent of the type of kick or pass you choose to execute, the ball will be sent squarely in the direction where the mouse cursor was pointed. Sometimes it simply would not, and would instead be kicked out of bounds or to the enemy. My room mate says that this is because the game is following a realistic model of where the controlled player could actually kick the ball. Although I’m inclined to agree with him on a theoretical basis, I’ve paid close attention to the body orientation of my players, and still cannot seem to find a consistent model to work from. Often, when I was passing upfield in the direction my player’s body was facing, it would send the ball to specifically the team mate I did not want the ball to go to, seemingly independent of which player was actually closer.

Determining shot strength is perhaps even more painfully delicate, and this mostly seems due to the fact that different measures are used for different sorts of kicks. For example, the level of force needed to execute an effective cross-pass is much higher than the level of force needed to shoot an effective shot on the goal from the same distance. Although this need for precision and multiple sets of power measures may suit some of the more hardcore fans out there, I found it an enormous turnoff.

These complaints aside – FIFA 10 is great fun, especially when played next to a friend and near a large bottle of beer. It’s quite easy to get caught up in the adrenaline-moments of the game and lose track of how loudly you shout when you finally pull off that elusive goal (sorry, Landlord Mary), as well as the intensity of your taunts to your room mate. A rather well-done instant replay features allows for the reliving of beautiful moments or vicious slide tackles, and provides a great capstone for an otherwise overly positive experience.

Game scoring stuff can be found here.

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