FIFA 09's Ultimate Team downloadable expansion was something of a surprise hit last year. According to EA, downloads numbered in six figures and there were reportedly around 35 million in-game card packs purchased, either with real money or in-game coins earned by playing the mode. This means that not only did those hundreds of thousands of players invest Ł7.99 in Ultimate Team, but a large portion of them either sunk a ton of playing time into it or opened their wallets and spent.
Once these figures came in, it was a pretty safe bet that FIFA 10 would include an Ultimate Team mode - and, now that it's finally here, it's likely to be an ever bigger success than last year's DLC. Why? Firstly, it offers a far faster, deeper and altogether better package than the FIFA 09 equivalent. Secondly, it's being sold at the cheaper price of Ł3.99 (or 400 Microsoft Points).
If you're new to the concept of the Ultimate Team mode, then imagine the FIFA manager mode played as a hybrid of FIFA, speed chess and top trumps. Players start the game with a randomly selected set of playing cards which include players, a stadium and handy items such as player contracts, training cards and staff cards. They then select a squad and a formation and can begin to build their teams.
The objective is to build up the best side possible by swapping cards and buying booster decks. Players can buy these cards using either real-world cash or in-game coins that they earn through playing games against online opponents or the local AI. Anyone who played this mode last year gets a couple of perks going in: the new DLC imports the name of their club (although you can feel free to rename it) and tags it with last year's date, to advertise the fact that they've already put in a season. More importantly, they get two free gold booster packs.
The number of players available for use this year has been widened to include around 7500 from 29 leagues. Cards can be acquired from other players in the trade section of the game, if you're prepared to do a bit of haggling. Player cards can also be bought at auction; a new aspect of the mode allows players to monitor ongoing auctions and swoop in with a bid at the last minute. The in-game Coins are the only type of currency that can be used at auctions, so players will need to have logged a decent amount of playing time to have any chance of outbidding the opposition.
Those who can't be bothered with this sort of horse-trading have the option to buy player cards in booster packs which are available from the store. The booster decks come in three tiers: Bronze, Silver and Gold. However, those have now been broken into a further two categories, standard and premium packs, which guarantee players a higher return on their investment. They're priced accordingly; the decks start at 500 Coins for a Bronze pack. At Silver level players can start spending real-world money; the cost of the decks starts at 45p for a Silver and ends at 7500 Coins (or around Ł1.19) for a Premium Gold pack. This of course, means that players with deeper pockets have something of an advantage to begin with.