2010 is not only the start (or the end) of a decade, it’s also the year of yet another FIFA World Cup, much to the satisfaction of football fans around the world.

Even more so this year for New Zealand, since we've qualified for the World Cup for the first time since 1982. Developers must love World Cups, it gives them the ultimate excuse to sell two soccer games in one financial year to the same fans. Often enough we’ve felt a bit burned by this, however EA clearly are committed to retaining their crown as football video game champions.

In EA Sports 2010 FIFA World Cup it's obvious that no effort has been spared, and gamers can rejoice that they are not being taken for a ride.

Being a World Cup year, the title comes in with all the extras, such as the enormous emphasis on atmospherics and experiencing a virtual World Cup unfold before your very eyes. Don’t be fooled though into thinking that this is simply FIFA 10 with a little more gloss here and there, that is not at all the case. The game from the ground up is designed to encompass the experience of the football World Cup. Carefully selected tracks from around the world gives the game that sense of nations (199, to be precise) coming together to fight over the most prestigious trophy in football history. It also includes all 10 licensed World Cup stadiums along with others from around the world, and a real highlight is the inclusion of national chants.

Graphically EA have made some distinct changes which certainly are noticeable and appreciated from the players perspective. The atmosphere and sense of realism has been enhanced considerably over previous iterations. The pitch becomes literally littered with confetti and streamers, and the crowd is pumping with national flags, face paint and anything else they can lay their hands on to cheer for their teams.

The graphical game engine seems to have received an overhaul as well, with noticeably less slow-down than was often present previously, particularly in the pre-match fly-bys. The player models and pitch graphics have really been cleaned up. The players faces are still a bit blurry during play, however the players now look far more realistic than ever before. The plasticity that has been present previously is nearly entirely gone, making it definitely the most awe inspiring game of virtual soccer to date from a spectators perspective.

The motion capture for player movements, collisions and speciality moves seems to have been refined somewhat as well, with collisions, stumbles and the like all being ever better than before. The AI plays a fast and powerful game of football, depending on the difficulty level, but this is much the same as in EA Sports FIFA 10. Unfortunately the referee again has a slight tendency to get in the way of the ball, which can be excruciatingly frustrating and certainly makes us want to slide tackle his shins.

EA have apparently also overhauled the way teams play in home and away matches, meaning a weak team will gain a slight advantage through playing a home match, increasing their likelihood of clinching a victory and also affecting their defensive line-ups. EA Sports have also overhauled their penalty kick system, allowing you now to do a stutter shot in order to put the keeper off. This is highly effective, and hard enough to implement well that it is not a something that will get exploited too much. EA Sports have not only enhanced already present features, they have included a decent number of new features which are well thought out and designed to make the experience even better.

The new Captain Your Country mode allows you to play with up to three friends in order to play an individual position, and fight your way to the World Cup victory. This is not totally new in the sense that EA Sports FIFA titles have for some time now allowed a player to jump into a single position, however being able to have the support of your friends all the way to the World Cup is innovative. Another rather clever and entertaining feature is the "Coke Zero Story of Qualifying", which allows you to jump into certain exciting moments in the qualifying story, and relive them in an effort to change history.

For example, you can play the All Whites Vs. Bahrain game in order to see if Bahrain can make a comeback in the final 20 minutes of a match after conceding a goal to the All Whites. Similarly, "Coke Zero Story of Finals" will be updated as the world cup goes on to allow you to replay any pivotal moments of the event.

In the online realm, despite the fact that EA have consistently managed some of the best online integration into their series, they are clearly motivated to improve. A nice addition is the ability to upload your settings from EA 2010 FIFA World Cup in order to have them consistently imported into all future EA Sports football titles. Probably a good idea considering how new football games are released more often than some would like. But anything to get us hitting the pitch faster has got to be a good thing. Possibly one of the most interesting modes which we unfortunately weren’t really able to try out due to the lack of people to play against, is the Battle of the Nations. You lock yourself into supporting your country, and then you play against opponents and each win or loss is attributed to your nation, counting towards your nations scoreboard. EA have said that playing with underdog teams will count higher towards the score, which should even things out and allow players to play with the teams they want, rather than selecting only ever the top teams.

EA Sports have successfully made one of the most atmospheric and exhilarating football titles to date. The sheer level of excitement and passion for the sport that they have managed to capture for the World Cup is outstanding, and really helps gamers to get into the swing of the event. The enhancements to the goal kicks, and general tweaking has made virtual football even better than it was before, however for us the real highlight came from the graphical overhaul. The lack of plasticity was very noticeable, and the sense of realism very much enhanced.

The jump from FIFA 10 to EA 2010 FIFA World Cup might not be a big one, but the refinements presented makes the entire experience worthwhile. What better way to enjoy the fun in South Africa this year than to jump into the shoes of the All Whites and take away the cup?