Scoring a goal is the path to many celebrations... some would consider unnatural.
There's no worse feeling than conceding a goal, so when you do score one in FIFA 10 it's imperative to be magnanimous. Don't run around in circles spinning your arm like a windmill. Don't slide along your stomach into the goalkeeper's legs. And definitely don't line up that celebration where you jump and punch the air so that it looks like you're smacking the goalkeeper right in the face. Be dignified. Hold the right trigger, flick the right analogue stick to the right and then to the left. And then stoop down, pick up an imaginary baby, and cradle it.
Do the baby. Do it in the back of the net for maximum sportsmanship credibility.
One of the byproducts of this year's Brave New Christmas is that while pretty much every game we're covering is someone on the staff's game of the year, not everyone gets to write about their actual game of the year. Otherwise you'd be reading a dozen articles about Uncharted 2, a few more about Batman and Demon's Souls and a couple of others about Plants vs. Zombies.
I do get to write about FIFA 10, however, because nobody else on the editorial staff seems to care about it. It's my game of the year, despite the undoubted charms of Uncharted 2 (which I gave 10/10!) and countless others I've spent far too much time playing when I should have been defending our reviews against the machinations of evil publishers, or developing social marketing strategies, or whatever the hell it is I'm supposed to do when I'm not playing FIFA.
This is in spite of the fact that, rather like my beloved Liverpool FC, sometimes I can't even bear to look at FIFA 10 again after a defeat. Still I always come back, and it's for more than the mere warmth and comfort of familiarity and expertise. I may know that when I'm through on goal with a bit of space the best thing to do is time a chipped shot, because the goalkeeper is about as well equipped to deal with a flying object as Gatwick Airport during a mild downpour, but if anything that's a drawback rather than a boon. The thing that draws me back to FIFA 10 is its unpredictability, foremost, and the manner in which games are won.
It's relatively easy to make a game where being good is enough to conquer all. What I like about FIFA 10 is that while it often is, it very frequently isn't. Even people who stick with it for months can still be upset by the endeavours of relative amateurs, because a great deal of it is played in the head and not simply a product of muscle memory.
It's something that's usually only true of the very best games. As the best person in the world at Street Fighter explains, mere gaming proficiency is nothing if you can't analyse an opponent's mental weaknesses as well. The best football games - and FIFA 10 is the best football game, and I say that as somebody who swore by Pro Evolution Soccer for nine years - are just like that.
It's for this reason, I suspect, that Eurogamer's long-serving, increasingly hirsute and lovely designer Martin Taylor, who doesn't even like football, has taken to FIFA 10 like an Asari consort to a charmless space marine with a stupid face in Mass Effect: not very inevitably, but with wicked results. Even though I know how to score free kicks almost every time, and even though I know not to rush my defenders towards the ball because it leaves big gaps, he can beat me because I make stupid decisions. He likes that.
I like using the right stick to flick the ball past people, which doesn't work very well if they're sliding into my legs and I've forgotten the button combination to hurdle them. And I may know not to rush my defenders towards the ball, but that doesn't mean I have the discipline not to do it. As a result my defence frequently has more holes in it than a Dan Brown story treatment. Similarly, I can predict that Martin will forget Eurogamer Rule No.1 Of Football: you can't play football back there. He always tries to pass it out of his own half, and more often than not I tackle him and set up a shot. Yet on and on he goes, just as I will not give up on my beloved right stick.
There are a few exploits - the long-range shots and chips in particular - but there's nothing that seems to work with certainty like FIFA 09's elevated through-balls and fast strikers. That only works in FIFA 10 when the opposing player plays a high line with sloppy defenders and defends suicidally. The looping, elevated through-ball out to the wing is often useful to bolster an offensive - owing a lot to the game's newfound ability to deal with fast-moving aerial passes - but one of FIFA 10's many checks and balances prevents a speedy player from controlling a long ball without losing momentum. Similarly, crosses are seldom converted unless the receiving player is in space. There's artificiality in this, but it's not impossible to score from crosses - just improbable - and until there's a better solution that allows for subtle skill-based determinations it's not the worst prominent tactic to blunt.
Football in real life is a game of skill, subtlety and tactical acuity. And of dodgy officiating. (And, apparently, of unofficial £10,000 guided tours of the training facility with your friend "Tony Ticket"). It's these things that draw us back again and again, and it's these things in FIFA 10 that retain the interest of the more than half a dozen of us at Eurogamer playing together regularly, who also make it the most popular office multiplayer game of the year as a result of their numbers and persistence (Modern Warfare 2 lasted about one week).
But it's not just that - it's also the fact that unlike the FIFAs of old, these days the game has a personality. The commentary may be dreadful and repetitive - an insurmountable problem, presumably, given that most of the things the sound designers can select for Martin Tyler and Andy Gray to speak about are precisely the things neither of them would ever commentate on - but it has a certain charm. Robinho with his dribbling skills! Tevez with his bulldog-like approach! DIMITAR BERBATOV! And if you don't have 25 shots on target, the only good thing Andy Gray will be able to say about that half is that we did see a goal (undoubtedly scored by the opposition, by lobbing the goalkeeper). And did you know Andy Gray is always optimistic about football?
And while we once mocked the decision to let you choose your goal celebration in FIFA, it's tempting these days to view it as the full stop on the argument that EA Canada understands how we feel about football better even than ourselves. In a game that gets heated, even played among friends, there is surely no finer way to draw matters back from the brink of a physical altercation than sliding the ball underneath the goalkeeper, running towards the camera, and doing the baby.
All hail the baby, and all hail FIFA 10, my game of the year. Even if the Manager and Club Modes are broken, and it doesn't punish quitters properly, and the menus are so bad they initially prompted the reaction, as I settled down in my Liverpool PJs to play the game for the first time, of "WTF". Happy Christmas everyone. Do the baby.
Check out the Editor's blog to find out more about our Games of 2009.