The late 2000s and early 2010s were an extremely important time for EA Sports' FIFA series, which had spent much of the past decade losing out in the gameplay department to Konami's Pro Evolution Soccer. With the arrival of the likes of FIFA 08 and FIFA 09, however, the development team began to craft the perfect formula both on and off the pitch, taking the series to new heights while also introducing new features such as Pro Clubs and Ultimate Team that would become literal game-changers for not only FIFA, but EA Sports as a whole.
The team behind the FIFA franchise was riding a massive high going into 2010, and with the South Africa World Cup taking place that summer, EA Sports delivered a dedicated Xbox 360 game to celebrate the tournament. I've personally been playing FIFA games since all the way back to FIFA 95, and I think 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa might just be my favourite of all time. Yes, it was really that good!
The first thing you notice about 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa is just how much care and attention has gone into making it feel like a unique experience for that specific tournament. The user interface is bright and colourful, the soundtrack is masterfully curated to suit the vibe of the competition, and the game does an incredible job at building immersion through the atmosphere in the stadiums - which includes everything from fireworks, confetti canons and streamers, to the constant noise of Vuvuzelas.
Then, you've got the fact that the game includes not only the 32 teams that competed into the official 2010 World Cup, but nearly every single team that tried to qualify for it as well. Sure, you can just jump into the main tournament with Spain or Brazil if you want to, or you can embark on a gruelling multi-year qualifying campaign with the likes of American Samoa or the Faroe Islands in the hope of somehow finding your way to the big tournament. I almost always chose the latter option back in the day!
2010 FIFA World Cup was also the first game based on the competition to offer a proper Online World Cup mode, and while it obviously doesn't function anymore, it was an incredible experience at the time. Again, this allowed you to pick from one of 199 teams in an attempt to win the World Cup, but unlike FIFA 23's limited knockout-only format, this original version allowed you to play through the group stage as well, racking up points to try and make it through to the Round of 16.
While the 2010 World Cup game didn't include the likes of Pro Clubs or Ultimate Team, it included plenty of unique features that made it stand out from the mainline FIFA titles. Captain your Country was the game's take on "Be a Pro", allowing you to take control of a single player in their country's quest to win the World Cup (it was really good!), while a scenario mode provided players with a variety of challenges to complete, including live challenges based on what was happening in the real 2010 World Cup during that summer.
And as for gameplay? Well, personally I think this was FIFA at its best, adopting the perfect balance between an arcade and simulation style while also adding some improved tactical variation and play styles for AI teams, along with minor new features that actually became franchise staples in the future, such as an overhauled penalty kick system. The FIFA gameplay of the late 2000s and early 2010s had such a fun, realistic and responsive feeling to it, and in my opinion, 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa still plays better than even FIFA 23 to this day.
There's unfortunately a sadness that goes along with this story - the game's Lead Producer, Simon Humber, passed away a few years after this release following a fight with cancer. EA Sports went on to include the stadium of Portsmouth FC in FIFA 16 as a tribute to Humber, complete with a wreath of flowers sitting next to the goalmouth.
When I look back now at 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa, I had such an amazing time playing that game on my Xbox 360. Sure, I enjoyed EA Sports 2014 FIFA World Cup as well as a few years later, but it didn't quite gel with me in the same way, and I felt the gameplay actually wasn't quite as enjoyable. And then, unfortunately, EA decided to cancel the dedicated World Cup games entirely and turn them into free DLC expansions. That might sound good on paper, but the reality is that they don't contain anywhere near the same level of detail that we saw in the games prior to 2014, and I'd honestly be much happier paying for a more in-depth experience.
If you find yourself getting World Cup fever beginning this Sunday, I definitely think it's worth giving 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa a try if you've got an Xbox 360 lying around. 12 years later, the gameplay continues to hold up extremely well, and I've been having a great time recently rekindling those amazing memories. What a game!
Do you remember this game? Let us know what you thought of it in the comments below.