Real Soccer 2010 for IPhone

Are you a Liverpool supporter who wants to re-enact that epic Champions League triumph from a few years back? Or are you a Ronaldinho fan who always wanted to retrace his steps through his career? Or perhaps you don't rise to that level of fanaticism--you just want to play a simple, intuitively designed soccer game on your handheld.

Regardless of your soccer background, Real Soccer 2010 is worth a look. Gameloft's sequel to the 2009 edition is sure to please both dedicated football fans and casual gamers alike. Graphically impressive, easy to pick up, loaded with features, and offering some of the deepest gameplay on the iPhone, Real Soccer 2010 isn't just an upgrade over the previous edition, but one of the best games to come to the iPhone this year.

Real Soccer 2009 was one of the App Store offerings that first highlighted Gameloft's potential to be a serious developer in the iPhone world. In the ensuing year, Gameloft established itself as one of the most highly regarded app makers out there--any time you start one of its iPhone programs, the high-end opening cinematics makes it clear the developer tales the platform quite seriously.

Like any major platform, the iPhone is now home to several sports games franchises. But instead of superficially upgrading the game and replacing the year in the title, Real Soccer 2010 offers significant upgrades that returning fans and newcomers will appreciate.

The graphics are noticeably better, with the detail on the players much more refined. The ability to change camera views means you actually can zoom in a bit more and see your players up close. Wayne Rooney still doesn't look like much, but he's at least a more detailed generic player model.

The most important new feature is the vastly improved multiplayer functionality. Instead of being limited to local wireless matches, you can now register on Gameloft Live and square off against players from all over the world. Registering your account only takes a few seconds, and afterward, you can challenge players to ranking matches, friendlies, and even see your international ranking.

I played a couple matches online, and experienced some significant lagging and even the occasional disconnect. I can't blame the game for these problems entirely, however, as I'd much rather blame AT&T's terrible coverage in my city. While its great to see an active online community, I'd like to see some kind of ban or filter to prevent your opponent from picking an all-star or legends team.

The controls have been tweaked slightly as well. Now instead of a single movement joystick in the corner, you can basically plant the joystick on any part of the left hand half of the screen. In addition, you can now simply tap on a player to control him, addressing a difficulty in playing defense in Real Soccer 2009. However, this creates a new problem--sometimes, when you want to switch players, you'll end up creating a joystick in the middle of the screen or vice versa. I also found the new sprint function to be a bit harder to master than the previous "double tap" system. On the whole, I found the controls to be less smooth than the previous version but offered better precision when controlling the ball.

While Madden NFL 10 is getting all the press, it simply cannot compare with Real Soccer's depth. There are many new modes for fans to enjoy, including the heavily-promoted Enter the Legend mode that will let you play as only a single player as he makes his career. You can upgrade his skills, personalize his body type, and eventually get him traded to a better team. You'll love the feeling you get from being named the "Man of the Match" and enjoy watching your player get better. But you'll scratch your head at the menu system and calendar interface where you'll have off days and weeks where you simply have to keep clicking and wait until you can play again. And while you can call for the ball from your teammates, it's frankly boring to watch your little icon in the mini map for half the game as the action takes place far away from your position on the pitch.

You can also partake in a franchise mode called Season Club Master where you can negotiate transfers, release players, earn money to upgrade your team, and also guide your club on the pitch. It'll take you a little longer than you'd like to earn enough funds to get to the best players, but the inclusion of the mode means you can finally see Raul and Thierry Henry on the same team.

There are also penalty kicks, exhibition, season, league, and cup modes to enjoy. Real Soccer 2010 takes full advantage of iPhone 3.0's push technology by incorporating rewards, updates, and ranking news that you can receive notifications for at your discretion.

There are smaller details I really appreciated too. Using licensed players is nothing new, but the diverse and realistic stadiums make the game seem more fleshed out. The new commentary isn't anything to brag about, but the soundtrack is pretty catchy and has a definitive international flavor with influences from all over the world. I also really liked that when your players slide tackle, you'll see tracks in the dirt. It's a small detail, but it adds realism to the game.

While some minor tweaks in the original formula may have been misguided, the staggering amount of new content and improvements makes Real Soccer 2010's $7 price tag a steal. Arguably one of the best iPhone games released this year, and certainly the best sports game, Real Soccer 2010 should be on every fan's wishlist.

[Assistant editor Chris Holt would like Arsenal's board of directors to know that he's available should this Arsene Wenger character fail to pan out.]

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