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Games of 2009: FIFA 10

For me Andy, he didn't even need to be there!

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.

Special Eurogamer FIFA 10 tip: The Beast! Julio! Baptista! Seriously, give him a run-out.

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.