A free, once-weekly round-up of all the best Nintendo Switch links, articles and videos from the past seven days.
Subscribe
by
published Tuesday, Nov 02nd

EA Sports MMA

With its growing popularity, it is almost no surprise that sports gaming giants Electronic Arts (EA) want a slice of the Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) action. It’s been two years in the making but finally this year they’ve released EA Sports MMA into the ring to go toe-to-toe with the superb UFC Undisputed 2010.


by
published Monday, Oct 19th

NHL 10 Review

What seems to be a common concept for all EA Sports titles, is the inclusion of a specific set of successful aspects from recent years, whilst continuing to incorporate new ideas that add to a growing list of what the user would want from a sports title. From simple team play, to taking over a team of players, playing the game can be as simple or as complex as the player prefers. NHL 10 has exceeded expectations by bringing this concept to the the latest edition of the Ice Hockey simulation series.

EA Sports has created a somewhat generic appearance for all titles in the annual range, not that it is unwelcome, and in fact it is without much flaw. The simple menu system shows everything clearly and concisely with everything navigated through one analogue stick. In-game the stadium scenes are authentic, although the figures in the crowd have mechanical and repetitive animations. The combination of music, genuine American commentary, and detail in ice and stadium objects presents a convincing atmosphere. Sports titles also tend to bring contrast to other games developing a dull and dark theme and this game does not differ from that with bright colours, lively character models and overall presentation.

The range of game modes encompasses large and small scale features, from a single shootout session, to manager and team seasons. The amount of custom options offers a number of different scenarios that allow for accessibility for those with interest in the sport, and include the small details that enthusiasts are looking for. Manager mode includes everything that is expected, but excludes the usually found ability to play with the team that is being developed. Instead, it is a more akin to a managing simulator where control over transfers, scouting, and management is emphasised – replacing actual gameplay with team lists and statistics. Season mode is the team management scenario that follows through successive seasons of hockey with championships and playoffs. Alternatively, there are playoffs and ‘battle for the cup’ modes for those looking for an end-of-campaign thrill.

The ‘Be a pro’ mode is the most valued part of NHL 10, with a character creation tool and surprisingly addictive gameplay. A management comment section shows evaluations of a particular performance of the player, whilst the feedback system presents grades and statistics that are coupled with targets for the player. Taking a solitary player from an affiliate team and guiding him through the ranks to a first choice NHL player is what drives this particular game mode and is especially good at dragging you in to loosing track of time. The only disappointment that this game feature brings forward is the ability for the artificial intelligence of the other players to become less fluid with stop-start motion. This makes the game cut back from reality and is especially apparent when motionless, and also in the new fight scenes, where the jagged movement can often make it frustrating.

The flow of the game can be measured by the controls, which are becoming increasingly drawn to one stick. The animation becomes corrupted with the directional analogue stick punch control, and the because of this the fighting mini-games are very disapointing. The fighting instances lack in complexity, and seem as though they haven’t been given much attention, which is a shame because physical contact is such a large part of the sport.

Most of the single player experiences are available to play competitively online. The inclusion of the small and large scale online features mirrors the single player modes, which includes leagues with a single or multi person team. The online features add to depth to each of the single player aspects, extending the life of the game and adding a social, team- building aspect.

NHL 10 is an all round solid sports game with plenty of different areas of play to explore. It has arguably shown the most improvements of any title across the series, and has seen plenty of attention despite the title not being as much of a successful as others. As a complete sports game, it supplies surprising entertainment value for those who may know little about the sport, and is a must for any fan of Ice Hockey.


by
published Saturday, Oct 10th

FIFA 10 Review (Xbox 360)

It’s that time of the year again where the next round of sports titles floods the genre. The FIFA series, now indulging in a 17th annual title, has been recognised for its effort to maintain a sporting simulation with in-game statistics, presentation and gameplay. With every title a new bid is made to improve this by implementing new ideas.

There are no new game modes to FIFA 10, and despite changes to these game modes, the only one that has been significantly improved is the manager mode. A problem with the FIFA 09 manager career was the unrealistic and often unfair simulations that left perfectly good teams rock bottom of a league whilst clearly less able teams are unsettling the top clubs too often. The revised version has a few attributes that, if left to its own devices, will let the table pan out the way you think it should.

A ‘live season’ type player statistic tracking has been applied within the manager mode alone, which follows and changes all of the players through their characteristics depending on how well they perform in games. If enabled, an assistant manager will interchange the in-form players, and automatically remove tired, injured or suspended players from the oncoming games. Other clubs will automatically do this – organising a lesser group of players for matches against poorer clubs. This also allows for even the most inexperienced player in a squad to be played at least a few times a season, so that they improve and transfers would actually be used- things that rarely happened in last year’s title. Financial and transfer policies restrict from doing what you want – a club board will set a limit on all of the funds whilst incoming players are much more demanding on salaries, especially at the beginning of the career. A free choice of clubs is available at the beginning of the managerial mode but the ability to switch clubs freely at the end of each season and has been removed and replaced by a dire list of available positions, at least at the beginning of the campaign. This makes the decision of which club to take control of first crucial as the game will give unappealing offers, and will often never offer the club that appeals the most. However, all of this combines to make this integral part of the game deliver a much enhanced and faithful simulation.

The Create A Pro feature has been renamed Virtual Pro, and includes the same selection process of creating a personal player, but adds an ever more common user face-likeness option, and the opportunity to place this character in the manager, be a pro, quick game, tournament and lounge modes. The game-face can be rendered on the ea sports website, using photographs, and downloaded to the connected account and virtual pro within the game.

Purchasing the additional ‘Live Season 2.0’ packs joins a specified club to an online league running parallel to real world football. Each league match can be replayed online and the outcome added to an online table which is followed and compared each week. This Live Season also features friendly matches where the particular fixture can be practiced as many times as desired in time for the big game.

The overall menu layout and appearance have not been altered – ease of use with just the left analogue stick, but within the manager and be a pro modes there are significant presentational changes that streamline the system. A billboard style layout has been implemented, removing an in-depth menu with a scrolling list which displays the information and statistics you want without searching through different options. Despite a number of stadiums seemingly missing from the game (being replaced by generic stadiums), particular attention has been given to the weather – often changing the state of the pitch with each game. Where the rain effect does not look particularly convincing the appearance of a waterlogged pitch with each sliding tackle is very realistic. At winter portions of a campaign mode, or if it is set to be so, is when the snow effect makes this game stand out – as playing on a snow felled pitch looks very realistic and adds diversity to each match.

The action on the pitch, with a colourful palette and convincing environments, focuses the attention on an area of view, disregarding the crowds composed of ‘cut and pasted’ uninteresting and repetitive figures in the stadiums. Due to this attraction the imperfections are hardly noticeable and the characters are so detailed with nonstop, flowing composition, it makes this game great to control and great to watch regardless. There is a significant lack of stoppages that remove from each game, largely due to a number of refereeing decisions happening, and then with cautions and quick free kicks accounted for without a cut scene. This creates a style of play that incorporates constant anticipation and on the edge of the seat moments especially in online leagues and competitive standalone matches.

The audio and in-game commentary is certainly less of a thrill ride. Despite the availability of downloadable packs the default Andy Gray and Clive Tyldesley are bland and uninteresting in what they say – primarily due to most of it coming straight from FIFA 09, and even if it isn’t, they are extremely repetitive regardless. Nevertheless, when out of a game diverse music and sporting podcasts fill the time scrolling through team sheets and formations to full effect.

FIFA 10 is a solid, free-flowing football title that brings a vibrant setting and a convincing atmosphere. As an improvement to last year’s game, it doesn’t change a lot in the way it can be played but it does bring a fresh, light feel that makes it fulfilling. It will certainly entertain at every angle, at least until FIFA 11.


by
published Saturday, Jun 27th

Grand Slam Tennis Review

It’s late June and once again Britain has been swept up by the usual tennis fever that surrounds Wimbledon. As sales of strawberries & cream sky rocket, interest peaks and for two short weeks we’re suddenly enamoured with a sport that gets little coverage any other time of the year. So this small window should be the perfect time to release a tennis game into the market and that’s just what EA have done, with their latest title Grand Slam Tennis.

Most of their sports franchises get very little fanfare outside the usual suspects like Tiger Woods and FIFA, but this is quite a special release for two reasons. The first is that it’s a tennis game, a sport EA have barely touched during their long history; second, Nintendo have released a new peripheral as a pack-on with this title, something that’s even rarer than a Brit winning Wimbledon. The new hardware in question is Nintendo’s much-vaunted Motion-Plus device, which slots into the bottom of the wii remote, effectively adding another gyroscope and giving the controller a better idea of how to interpret your movements. Nintendo will be releasing it alongside Wii Sports Resort later next month but for now it’s down to two tennis games (Sega’s new Virtual Tennis title also utilises motion-plus) to show off this new level of control.

And it’s this we need to speak about first, because for all the hype surrounding the new device, does it actually make a difference and have EA actually implemented it right? The answer to both questions is empirically yes. Let’s go over the controls without motion-plus fitted first, because it’s still very playable without motion-plus attached. Making your shots is very similar to Wii Sports Tennis as it’s all down to timing your swing correctly to direct your shot. Unlike Wii Sports, however, lobs and drop shots are pulled off by holding the A or B buttons when you swing. It doesn’t quite feel as imprecise or random as Wii Sports sometimes did, and it’s certainly better than Take Two’s Top Spin. And if you plug in motion-plus then you have the best tennis control system on the Wii. When you first get started it’s highly recommended that you give yourself a bit of time with the in-game tutorials, not because it’s hard to use but because it takes your brain a little time to get used to the amount of control you now have over your shots. Rather than using your timing to determine where your shot ends up, any follow through you add will make a big difference and when you get your head around it, you’ll find you can place the ball pretty much wherever you want. Lobs and drop shots still need a button-press though and this does make it feel a little less intuitive.

The major issue we had with the controls was in directing your player around the court. There are two methods available to you for this: either you can let the game control your character like Wii Sports, which makes it easier to concentrate on your shot but removes some of the strategy and makes some balls impossible to return; or you can use the nunchuk, which obviously gives you better control but feels very sluggish. Having made such a great leap forward, it’s disappointing that this aspect wasn’t as fine-tuned as the shot controls.

Elsewhere, EA have included a lot of different modes and content, giving this much greater depth than either Top Spin or the newly released Virtua Tennis. There are full career modes, letting you create a character to battle the likes of Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and the sour-faced Andy Murray on your way to Grand-Slam glory. There are several other exhibition and party modes, which can be fun diversions, but the other main draw here is the excellent online mode. Other EA titles have ignored Nintendo’s horrendous fiend-codes and once again they are nowhere to be seen here, replaced with EA’s own user accounts. You can get an online match set up within a few minutes of starting up the game and it’s pretty easy to find and compete against friends. Matches are short and sweet, lasting just a few games, which is just about perfect for the online arena. One of the most interesting additions amongst the online features, which has been seen before in FIFA, is the worldwide nations ranking system. This totals up the results between online players around the globe, giving each nation an overall score and a place in an international leader board. At the time of writing Britain was languishing in 33rd place, behind such great tennis nations as Cambodia and Kenya…Consider this a call-to-arms for British tennis fans to instil some national pride and prove that we don’t suck as bad playing online virtual tennis as we do playing the real thing.

There’s no doubt that this is the best tennis-sim on the Wii, and possibly the best of this generation, depending on whether you prefer motion controls over traditional pads. But with some more attention and refinement on the player movement this would have been nearly perfect. It should still be an essential purchase for tennis fans, and for anyone who wanted more depth than Wii Sports could offer.


by
published Monday, Feb 02nd

Skate 2 Review

Skate 2 is the sequel to the much loved Skate, developed by EA Blackbox, and known for its difficulty. Skate offered a fresh perspective on skateboarding genre in which Tony Hawk had dominated for eight years. The innovative ‘flick it’ trick system employed on Skate was a revolutionary turn for the extreme sports genre, yet the game was not without its flaws. The inability to move up stairs or around other obstacles along with the difficulty of objectives made it frustrating. These issues, among others, are addressed in Skate 2, along with bringing new features to the franchise.

The career for Skate 2 begins similarly to the first with a quirky opening video that introduces the professional skateboarders that make appearances throughout the game. The silent player-controlled character that was used in the previous game is faceless in the video so that he/she can be customised directly afterwards. Included in the wide range of customisation of a male or female character is the usual eye-brow placement and facial hair but also an impressive array of options for apparel. A great example is instead of purchasing set t-shirts there are a number of different colours and logos to design your own.

Skate 2 is a difficult game which, like the first requires patience and determination. There are a number of features in the game that will help the player overcome the challenging tasks, making the game less frustrating and tiring. Newcomers to the Skate trick system can use an optional tutorial for basics at the very beginning of the single player career, other optional tutorials appear when objectives require the player to perform certain types of tricks such as grinds, grabs or flips, all of which aid the player in becoming a custom to the radically different control scheme on offer.

The career path is essentially the same as the first game, you start as an amateur skater working your way up to a professional level by taking part in photo-shoots, videos and events with professional skateboarders, and eventually signing sponsorship deals. An important change to each of these is that there are now no tasks that require specific tricks to complete. This allows for more freedom in the criteria for objectives, giving the player an opportunity to perform any one of a number of tricks, where as in Skate the requirements were extremely specific and progression in the game often became difficult. Tasks in Skate 2 vary from a linear career path with optional races, spot ownerships and challenges, all of which can be accessed and instantly travelled to via a map on the pause menu. There are always additional activities across the game area, and the map is a great tool if you don’t want to travel on foot or skateboard.

Moving across areas of the aforementioned map is certainly an improvement to that of the original, with stairs now conquerable with walking. The ability to do this was defiantly a key simple gameplay tool missing from Skate, but now going up stairs and around obstacles has been made much simpler. Although an essential addition on paper, the skater looks extremely awkward, inflexible and slow without a skateboard under his feet. Where animation for each slight turn, intricate trick and gruesome bail is outstanding on the board, movement is extremely poor and disappointing when on two feet. The controls, which work extremely well for skating, become heavy, sluggish and imprecise when taking control of the player to walk and climb up stairs. The ability to move objects to more advantageous positions has been added to complement the off-board movement. This is only really useful in challenges when objectives require a trick over or on top of a certain objects. However in these cases a ramp is rarely more than 6 feet from where you start and it is no more than an annoying task to move it.

There are noticeable AI improvements, not only in opposing professional skateboarders but the pedestrians now move out of your way if they see you, an addition which creates less frustration and a smoother ride.

Skate 2 is a good looking game but is no step up from the original Skate. There are common technical issues when playing the game including texture loading and a generally washed out look, with textures looking less detailed, and overall not appearing as visually sharp as the original. The professional skaters on the other hand look a lot better, there is a lot more detail in textures, with good use of colours and tones. Attach this with superb voice recordings from all the cameo appearances and there is a large selection of life-like characters. The player-controlled character looks just as good, and even becomes scratched, damaged and scraped after a particularly harsh bail.

The sound in a sports game is critical to get right and in Skate 2 it is superb. The movement of the skateboard sounds extremely realistic with normal riding, grinding down rails and landing flips. The music soundtrack leaves a little to be desired although there are some tracks that fit well.

Online play is simply great with a good range of game modes. In both ranked and unranked matches there is a choice of Deathrace, Hall of Meat, Spot Battle, S.K.A.T.E., Best Trick, Jam, and Free skate. Free skate is particularly fun, although instead of the full game map reasonably sized areas are added for the player to choose from a list. In Free skate players can challenge the group to complete a high score, gap certain areas and other activities under a time limit. Video replays and photos from the single player career can be uploaded to the Skate.reel, where others can view and rate them. Players can also create their own “Spots” and upload them for other users to play and rate.

Overall Skate 2 lacks enough improvements to be essential. The most surprising problem with the game is the off-board movement, time spent off the board may be minimal but only adds to frustration when the most needed improvement to Skate was the removal of any annoying gameplay elements. By no means a bad game; it has many good features, but is below expectations for repairing and expanding on the original game.


by
published Friday, Dec 12th

Facebreaker K.O. Party Review

Fans of Punch Out!! and Ready 2 Rumble Boxing have been squirming with fist-happy glee sinceFacebreaker was announced in January. Distinctive characters, cartoon violence, and a worthy challenger to the Punch Out!! throne were all promised. Two of these things have been achieved. Guess which one wasn’t.

Simply put, the controls are a tragedy. If you want to see two people in snazzy clothes slap wildly at each other, you could walk to your local bar at closing time. Facebreaker K.O. Party charges £20 for it. Jab as fast as you can, a’ la Rock ’em Sock ’em Robots, to interrupt your opponent’s blows. You can dodge the hundred-hand-slap, but it requires you to yank the Wiimote towards you, and it’s so finicky and unresponsive that you end up flailing about like an idiot. It’s almost as if they ported the game right across from the Xbox and PS3 versions, where you actually have buttons to bash.

To that you might say, ‘Big deal. So there are no tactics. Plenty of games have simple controls, to attract casual gamers.’ Wrong. The computer AI is so difficult, even at the easiest setting, that playing the single player mode is akin to fighting off a wolf with a feather duster. They may as well rename the game “AAGH! LET ME DODGE!” and be done with it. And to that you might say, ‘It’s called K.O Party. It’s multiplayer. So what if the solo mode is a pain?’ Well you’d be wrong; half of the characters and most of the stages need to be unlocked, and guess how you do it? Six championship belts, each more difficult than the last, totaling 18 matches, and if you decide to switch characters mid-way you have to start all over again.

So now let’s focus on the good. There are a few attractive aspects to this game. To start, we have the stylised and original characters. Each has a personality, a distinctive look and manner, and unique stats that alter the gameplay (though this comes down to either ‘punch slow’ or ‘punch fast’). Then we have the between-round break, where the characters show off their warped, bruised faces. Finding their jaw where their ear should be is, admittedly, entertaining – if only for the satisfaction of knowing your character has suffered like you have.

The game’s main attribute is the soundtrack. 24 tracks of licensed music, including material from the likes of The Hives, Gogol Bordello, the Dropkick Murphys and The Go! Team, as well as many electro and hip-hop songs, play as menu music and character theme songs. The inclusion of such high-calibre music really makes you want to like Facebreaker K.O. Party. But if anything, it causes this awful depthless game to stand juxtaposed against the soundtrack, like an old man doing the Charleston at a rave.

So, we’re back to the criticism.

Here are some features of boxing: wearing down your opponent, provocation, stances and footwork. And here are some features of not-boxing: kicks to the balls, glowing fists and charging up your Facebreaker-bar to instantly win the match with a special move.

So, as opposed to being a boxing game, it seems Facebreaker is an impaired beat-’em-up, with two kinds of block (one of which being too finicky to be valid), punching, and damageless throws. Each character has a different move-set, plus one special move. That’s five moves. Pitiful though it may be, this is some incentive to unlock more players. The game isn’t entirely unplayable, just entirely frustrating. Occasionally you’ll win a match, but then you’ll return to the character-select screen to find some nasal American singing emo-pop and tainting the only good aspect to the game.

In conclusion, Facebreaker is superficial, weak, and an apology of a game. If EA Freestyle put half the time and money into the gameplay as they did the soundtrack, it might have worked. But yet again, the studio formerly known as EA Sports Big – the once-great brand that gave us SSX Tricky – has shamed itself with another game of the lowest calibre.


by
published Saturday, Nov 08th

Celebrity Sport Showdown Review

A quick look at the box confirms it – you’re in for the night of your life. Celebrities, sports mini-games, and Avril Lavigne making devil-horns on a 4-fingered cartoon hand. “The latest must-have party game!” Oh boy!

Starting single-player tournament mode, you’re offered 25 characters, 15 of which are generic stereotypes, including a goth guy, a wild girl, a fat guy, etc, and the other 10 are celebrated people, including LeAnn Rimes, Sugar Ray Leonard, Avril Lavigne, Fergie, and Nelly Furtado. These are the 5 recognizable names. The other 5 may as well be additional generic characters. Given that this is GameBrit, and not GameYank,  EA has not considered its audience. What European gamer, especially the early-teens age group this game is aimed at, could recognise an American football star, or a female American soccer player? On that note, we move onto the gameplay itself.

Avril Lavigne is arguably the main star of the game, so anticipate failure, it only seem fitting. After that you can select 3 rivals to compete against, in this case Fergie, avec digital lady-lumps; Nelly Furtado; and Paul Pierce, who looks like a basketballer of some sort.

Playing the first mini-game, volleyball, the first thing you’ll be aware of is the lack of sophistication in controls. Flick the remote up to knock the ball up, flick down to knock it down, and the A button has you jump four-times your own height, all while your character is moving independently of you. Understandably it’s meant to be easy, but not win-first-try easy, surely? A possible upside is that it’s so easy that you can play it with your older relatives, and you could lie and say that Paul Pierce is an SAS war hero, and that Fergie of the Black Eyed Peas is actually Sarah ‘Fergie’ Ferguson, Duchess of York. They’ll like that. Of course Avril may have been given the best stats as a character, being the top dog. Except that’s not the case, even chunky American footballer Reggie Bush, who’d you expect to be slower and stronger plays the same as does every character plays the same. The celebrities are just a gimmick. They don’t even say anything. Their names and smiling likenesses are the only evidence of character throughout.

The tournament mode takes ten rounds, and allows you to unlock further generic characters, including Elise from the SSX series. As these characters have no unique statistics, it isn’t really worth completing the tournament mode with every character in order to get them.  Multiplayer mode improves the game, but after trying each of the 12 mini-games you’d only want to play dodgeball. 1 out of 12 is not a great result, EA freestyle. One player, a seasoned gamer, called it “Pathetic”, and the other, a sports fan who doesn’t own a console, found it “Gimmicky and substandard.”

If you visit the EA Extras section from the main menu, expecting a Making Of, a music video or two, maybe footage of the celebrities posing so designers could record their likenesses, just to reward the gamer for their purchase you’d be disappointed. What you get is a Credits option, solitary in the entire section. It’s like calling a DVD’s Scene Selector an Easter egg. Nice.

Here’s the breakdown of the best and worst of the mini-games:

Downhill Skiing

My character’s wearing a snow hat with a bobble on top, presumably to compensate for the short skirt and tank top. Simple (steer, boost, jump), few obstacles, and if I come off a ramp and slightly lift my remote then Avril flips upside-down and spins her skis 1080 degrees like a helicopter. EA, you’re not even trying.

Joust Duel

Like Robin Hood and Little John, and to a lesser extent ITV’s Gladiators, stand on a beam and paste each other with a big stick. Could have feasibly been fun, even replayable, but controls as reactive as a geriatric’s libido make for a dissatisfying experience. I’ll stick to manikins and horse blood for future interactive celebrity-beating simulation. This is a frantic button-bashing farce.

Cliff Hangers
Free-climbing up a cliff face, avoiding obstacles, and throwing water balloons to stun each other. With a fiddly combo of the D-pad and an upward flicking-motion, it feels like trying to hold the handle and metal of a frying pan together whilst flipping pancakes, and is just as inconvenient. The upside is watching Avril fall down a cliff.

Curling

LeAnn Rimes is running on ice in heels, wielding a broom, clearing the path for a rock. How Freudian. This game is difficult to play, as the controls are now over responsive, with the slightest twitch of the wiimote sending your scrub-ice-with-broom meter to full. Takes some time to get used to, as you can alter the velocity and curl of your stone, so takes more skill than most other mini-games. As curling is like a game of bowls on ice, it may be of interest to Grandad, though I doubt he’ll take Paul Pierce the War Hero to victory.

Dodgeball

In a break from the cynicism, this is a fairly good mini-game. Roll, duck, dodge, hide behind walls, and catch balls in mid-air with good timing. Explosive and invincibility balls diversify the game, and only being aware of everything happening on-screen will protect you from the barrage. Multiplayer was a good laugh with this one. Plus you can paste Nelly Furtado in the face with a bomb.

Air Racers

And now for that ever-popular sport, flying armed fighter jets through hoops in a canyon. Brings back childhood memories. Awkward controls and narrow levels, combined with slowing to turtle-speed if you miss a hoop, cause this mini-game – though attractive in concept – to be very tedious. Despite this, it’s easy to win, because the computer AI is about as wily as a beached whale; running into walls and firing their missiles at the ground.

In conclusion, though Celebrity Sports Showdown Wii wasn’t ever going to be a hit with experienced gamers, it fails its British audience of Avril-loving teenagers with poor controls, unrecognisable American stars, and a lack of variety in contestants’ abilities. Stick to Wii Play and Wii Sports.


by
published Tuesday, Oct 07th

FIFA 09 Review

It seems almost obligatory that the start of any review for a FIFA game must reference the fact that the franchise itself is as old as the hills, and its yearly iterations are as predictable in their appearance as the rising of the sun each morning.  The cynical among us will have no doubt already decided then that this year’s version isn’t worth looking at. They will have convinced themselves that FIFA, for all its sheen and polish, is still the same old clunky football experience it always was with a fresh coat of paint, different player names, and an all new ‘youth orientated’ soundtrack.

Shame on them.

Undoubtedly this reputation stems from the early days of the series, where EA seemed content to sit on their laurels and keep changes down to a bare minimum. A new mode here, some updated graphics there but essentially the same broken experience remained, albeit with an official FIFA license. Somewhere along the line however, Konami released a football game, triggering an arms race of sorts, the benefits of which we are really beginning to see. In 2009 things are better than ever.

There’s probably a saying out there which sums up nicely how the foundations are the most important aspect of any system. The same is true for a football game. Before the glossy menus and hi def visuals comes the gameplay: how it feels to command eleven men around a pitch using naught but an analogue stick and a handful of buttons. The answer, in FIFA 09’s case, is pretty good.

Gone (mostly) are the floaty controls that plagued the FIFA’s of yesteryear. Things are now tighter and more responsive than they ever have been, and that’s a very good thing. This is probably due to EA’s inclusion of their all new physics based animation system, meaning players have weight and momentum. Attempt to muscle a bigger player off the ball and you’ll soon see how these additions effects gameplay. The all new physics based jiggery pokery, which seems to draw on hundreds of varying animations, forms the core of the 09 experience. Players jostle for the ball and position. Matches become entrenched midfield affairs where careful use of the L2 button, which is responsible for close control, is the key to cutting your way through the defensive line of the opposition. Simulation is the name of the game here. Complimenting the weighty gameplay is the improvements to AI and team management. No longer do AI controlled players idly wander around the pitch, clustering around the ball. Instead, the team really does behave like a single entity, with each player attempting to maintain position and close up gaps as they appear. This leads to a very realistic, satisfying feel, which is eerily unusual for a football game from EA.

Graphically the game is everything you would expect from a new EA sports title. Pretty much every trick in the ‘how to make a next gen game’ book is put to good use. Player models are convincing for the most part, and the stadiums are simply excellent. Lighting effects are used to great effect, with dusk turning to night with a very definite subtle beauty. Weather effects have also made the feature list, with rain and snow really adding a little something extra to the experience. Pro Evo fans, at least from a graphical perspective, must be wondering how wide the gulf is going to get before the boys at Konami really step up and add a few bells and whistles to their game. Next to Fifa 09 it looks more dated than ever.

All sounds perhaps too good to be true? Well, yes, it is: nothing is perfect after all. Things have improved, as you’d expect, but the game still feels a little unresponsive at times. Just a little mind you. Also, compare it to the latest Pro Evo it does feel slow, at least on the default speed setting. Animations are good, as mentioned, but not perfect, with occasional hiccups becoming apparent when the ball comes in from an unusual angle or is kicked with the player slightly out of position.  Players will occasionally stutter on the spot as they attempt to align themselves prior to a kick or challenge. It’s not really a big deal however, and is easily overlooked. One major omission to the game appears to be any kind of training mode. This means that there is no real way to practise passing, controlling the ball or working out set pieces aside from actually playing a game. Admittedly, most people probably won’t even notice, but some will, especially those new to the series.

Network play in Fifa 09 pretty much ticks all the boxes, and then adds some more boxes that you’d never thought possible and ticks them too. How does 10v10 online gameplay sound? Impossible right? Not for EA Montreal it would seem. Surely this mode alone will elevate FIFA’s standing among the hardcore more than any other. As well as this new addition pretty much every other mode you could imagine has made it in. Ranked matches, a league mode, persistent online teams, a subscription based statistics system that keeps everything nicely up to date and a legend mode that see’s you player one player through multiple seasons from a unique camera angle, to name but a few.

It used to be the case whereby FIFA represented everything that was sour about the game industry in general. Lazy iterations inspired by the prospect of easy cash-ins combined with a feature list created by board room meetings between stuffy middle-aged Americans armed with feedback from irrelevant focus groups. These days are over, due no doubt to the now epic battle that seems to be playing out between our friends in Canada and Konami’s finest. Somewhere along the line FIFA has managed to not only catch up with its rival, but position itself as a genuine alternative, offering a hedonistic wealth of game modes, a solid core experience and more polish than should probably be aloud.

My how times have changed.

 


by
published Monday, Sep 29th

Facebreaker Review (PS3)

Facebreaker is not the usual game you’d expect EA to release. Their back catalogue is lined with great sport simulators encompassing the sporting worlds of golf, ice hockey, American football and boxing as well as many others. Serious and realistic games designed to satisfy fans of the sports. So what does Facebreaker have to offer? Is it a step in a new direction for EA or simply filling a gap until their next proper boxing sim?


by
published Monday, Sep 22nd

Facebreaker Review (Xbox 360)

EA have taken quite a bit of stick over the years for churning out endless updates of their sports titles, but despite most feeling like carbon copies there have been some series that have really shaken up the rest of the competition and introduced some neat control ideas. Tiger Woods was one of those; the analogue control gave golf games a big kick in the clubs and was a major departure from the traditional 3-click control system. Another series was Fight Night. Again EA took full advantage of analogue control, this time making each analogue stick directly control the boxer’s gloves and giving an unprecedented level of control over each punch and jab. This alongside the impressive graphics made it one of the better boxing games available.

With the series seemingly given an indefinite break, EA have brought out something a little different to fill the boxing glove shaped gap in their release schedule. And despite coming from the same team, Facebreaker couldn’t be more different.

The analogue control has been thrown out of the window in favour of a return to buttons only, meaning fights are less about finesse and more about who can hit the buttons quicker. The parry/dodge moves lend a bit of credibility to what is a weak control system but it’s just not solid enough to make enough of a difference. It’s a far-cry from the epic, crunching bouts of Fight Night. Facebreaker feels too shallow; it’s all glorified razzmatazz without the substance to back it up. Think less Nigel Benn and more Frank Bruno.

Graphically, EA Canada have gone for a style about as far removed from the realism present in Fight Night as you can get without using wizards and scaly creatures of unimaginable horror. Gone are the real life boxers, instead they are replaced by a bunch of cartoony brawlers that look like the forgotten rejects of Punch-Out or Ready 2 Rumble. Unfortunately none of Facebreaker’s cast are as memorable as King Hippo or Afto Thunder were; instead you get to choose from 12 pretty stereotypical fighters to hit the ring with. To be fair they do play quite differently, aside form the usual balancing act of strengths and weaknesses each fighter has a distinct weak spot you’ll need to exploit in order to win. Finding the Achilles heel for each opponent can be quite gratifying if you spend enough time with the game.

Unfortunately EA haven’t managed to balance this very well. Fights against AI opposition quickly become repetitive as each fighter sticks rigidly to his or her AI routine. Until you work out your opponents weakness fights can be pretty frustrating affairs; once you find it you can guarantee a win every time. It isn’t helped by the eponymous facebreaker punch – land enough combos and you can eventually unleash a devastating punch that leaves your opponent ‘s face looking a bit like Sly Stallone’s mum. The result is impressive enough (using an exaggerated version of Fight Night’s realistic damage feature) but it means fight’s can be decided more by luck rather than pure skill.

Facebreaker’s longevity is seriously hampered by a lack of options in single player; you can fight, or you can fight to win characters and arenas. But the AI battles can quickly become tiresome and the unlockables don’t feel worth unlocking. There aren’t any variations on the one-on-one fights, so no career modes or arcade-style tournament progression here. Only the create-a-boxer options give you a reason to come back after you’ve unlocked everything and these don’t feel as fleshed out as some of EA’s other titles.

In multiplayer, however, Facebreaker can actually be pretty good fun. The flipside of simplified controls and cartoony graphics means that you can have an evenly matched brawl with any of your friends and the cutscenes showing off each fighter’s mangled features are funnier (and slightly less annoying) when there’s a crowd. And fighting with your own tailor-made characters (or ‘guest star’ Peter Moore) can make these fights more interesting.

Facebreaker showed some early promise but it fails to deliver anything more than an average brawler. It might appeal to the casual crowd but there’s precious little here that will keep the hardcore interested. If Michael Bay ever decided to make a boxing game, he’d probably come up with something similar to this. But with more explosions. And Bruce Willis.