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Lift the Cup

by Yusuf Laher / 08.06.2010

It’s here, it’s happening. The World Cup kicks off this week but we’ve been playing it for a few months already. All the teams, all the action, and you get to control the outcome. Who needs to actually get off the couch and experience the real thing anyway?

“EA Sports, it’s in the game.” I’ve been listening to that load up clip for 15 years. Since FIFA Soccer 95 (the titles were so much simpler back then). Now it’s been replaced with a vuvuzela. And I know it’s just advertising, but seeing FNB, Telkom and MTN billboards in a FIFA game is pretty mind-blowing as well. When you play at the “Durban Stadium,” you can even see a bit of actual Durban skyline.

I remember when football games used the same generic clone for every player. When the crowd was a two-dimensional sheet of motionless pixels. And getting excited when one player had a sweatband and the others didn’t. Nowadays, EA have got their player likenesses down to a fine art. And everyone from Matthew Booth to Fabio Capello is represented in near photographic high definition.

But… What’s up with the font? I couldn’t believe it. What was EA thinking? It looks like something my mum might call “jolly” – and she’s a Comic Sans fan. But EA aren’t to blame. I checked it out and it’s the official World Cup font. According to FIFA.com, “The typeface is an original creation. It reflects our personality and reinforces the idea that in South Africa we do things uniquely. It is playful, naïve and free-spirited.” How Disney.

South Africa’s got some great designers, why the hell can’t we string together a World Cup ad campaign without using the word “woza” in Ndebele print? It’s tacky. All tourists aren’t Clark Griswold. They don’t all go for that cheesy, clichéd shit. And has anyone actually used one of those hexagonal footballs since 1954?

Apparently the font’s called Menyaka and was designed by font designer Jan Erasmus. If you like, you can even download a pretty decent working version called sOuTh Afirkas 2100 from Dafont.com. But I digress, back to the game…

The most impressive thing is the sense of weight and the improved ball physics. The gameplay is so fluid. Players move so slick, smooth and realistically. And EA seem to have ironed out glitches like sliding through players and dodging a booking when the referee plays advantage. I skipped FIFA 10, the last one I played was 09, so new additions like 360 degree dribbling, quick free kicks, creating your own set pieces and the improved player intelligence seem even more extreme. Even reasonably new additions like finesse and chip shots, lobbed through balls and one-twos seem more responsive.

But the problem with releasing the game early is EA’s inability to predict the future. Injured stars like German captain Michael Ballack and English supermodel David Beckham are in the game. So is dropped South African striker Benni McCarthy. Even sulky English defender Wayne Bridge made the cut – how could EA have predicted that one? But if you’re hooked up online, EA have set up a live service that “delivers matches from the 2010 World Cup™ directly to your console.” Still, I bet they groaned harder than Kim Kardashian every time another star athlete limped out of the showcase.

The irritating thing is the soundtrack only includes one South African band: Gang of Instrumentals. The rest of the tracks make up an eclectic EA mix tape, from indie champs like Florence and the Machine and White Rabbits, to India’s MIDival Punditz and Chile-based electronic hip-hopper Latin Bitman. Apparently, the soundtrack “celebrates the cultural vibrancy of the first FIFA World Cup to be held in Africa.” But imagine if all the bands on the soundtrack were South African? Bands like Tumi & the Volume, Kidofdoom, Fokofpolisiekar, Tidal Waves, BLK JKS… Oh well, I bet Brazilian pop star Marisa Monte’s down with the free publicity, whoever she is.

Other new features include the return of Captain Your Country mode, rendered versions of all the World Cup managers – from Alberto Parreira to Maradona – and a new, Two Button Control method (which I haven’t even tried yet) for players not used to the complexities of a FIFA game.

Overall, 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ captures the atmosphere, flair and excitement of the FIFA World Cup perfectly – even if the crowd shots are generalised and pretty generic without a makarapa or vuvuzela in sight (you can still hear them). Essentially, it’s a move tie-in sports game: FIFA 10.5. But as a South African fan of the series, it’s a must have. A lot of effort and research has gone into this game to make it unique, to give it something extra and validate buying a copy even if you do own FIFA 10. From the new “Vuvuzela Volume” option in the Game Settings menu to the splendour of Soccer City and The Moses Mabhida Stadium (even though it’s called Durban Stadium in the game).

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