Soccer is a sport that carries inherent contradictions to the culture of live-action video games, namely, the excessive patience and tedium that is required of successful game management. It may sound stupid, but soccer matches are not low scoring because players are bad at executing on field maneuvers or anything else that can often be exploited in digital form. It’s a sport in which a single goal can so significantly change a match or season that reducing variance is a necessity, and reducing that variance often entails controlling the ball and making the safe play, attacking only when the numbers are decidedly in your favor, which, it should be noted, is rare because your opponent is similarly trying to reduce your offensive chances.
For that reason, 2010 FIFA World Cup: South Africa and, more broadly, soccer sims in general, are not for the lighthearted. More so than any other sports game where the physics, general logic, and gameplay are malleable and succeeding in them largely requires you to heed these exploitable moments—excessive Hail Mary’s in the Madden series, various three-point shooting glitches in the NBA games, etc.—the most simple way to be successful in FIFA is to play sound, composed, and realistic soccer.
But playing such disciplined and true-to-life football isn’t as easy as A button to pass, B button to shoot. One of the greatest feats of 2010 FIFA World Cup: South Africa and most of the EA soccer games is the physics system and ball dynamics. While simulating soccer doesn’t require the same amount or kind of animations that hockey, basketball, and football do—all sports that are far more physical and require digital renditions of more “body on body” interactions—the bounce and movement of the ball combined with the ability of your opponents to realistically and intelligently defend are unprecedented in the current sports gaming landscape. Understanding and working around these physics is a necessity.
The other key to success is mastering the countless offensive combinations from crafty, “can’t touch me” dribbling to crosses to set pieces, all of which require timing, precision, and an “in your sleep” ability to perform them as the play happens. As such, there’s a pretty serious learning curve for players new to the game, especially those (probably American) players that are unfamiliar with the ins and outs of soccer strategy to begin with. Where most sports games are Hungry Hungry Hippos in simplicity, 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa is Monopoly. This isn’t a critique necessarily, but it is a pretty significant departure from traditional sports sims that require little more than controlling a star player and exploiting those relatively limiting pixels.
On a macro scale, however, 2010 FIFA World Cup: South Africa is disappointing. As the title suggests, the end goal of the game is to win the World Cup, a process that in its most exhausted form lasts only a handful of games (qualifying and the various World Cup rounds). For fans of more elongated gaming experiences (specifically the Franchise mode that is standard to most other EA games), this football iteration will feel limiting, despite its other modes of play. The way that 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa remedies this is by drastically ramping up the challenge—or rather by lowering the AI of your own teammates, frustrating as it is—on the difficulty levels.
2010 FIFA World Cup: South Africa is a beautifully constructed game right down to the incessant buzz of the vuvuzelas during World Cup games, but one that is only a necessity for hardcore soccer fans. It’s the equivalent of buying a March Madness basketball game: sure the excitement of the tournament is fun but ultimately proves to be limiting. If you’re really jonesing to live out your World Cup fantasies, run, don’t walk. Otherwise, the rest of us can wait for the next FIFA proper.