They say a striker never really starts for his new club until he’s scored his first goal.
It doesn’t matter how well he plays. Until the ball flies into the onion sack, there’ll be questions over his status.
The same could be said for sports titles on the the iPhone. The lack of one of the biggest multi-platform games has been a gap on the App Store. We’re talking, of course, about FIFA.
We needn’t have worried. It's apparent that FIFA’s no-show was never a lack of faith in the platform on EA's part. Rather, it wanted to hit the ground running with the franchise and to nail the touch controls at the first attempt.
FIFA 10 shows these efforts have paid off.
Although there remains plenty of room for improvement, EA’s game is arguably the finest footy game on iPhone.
The main reason for its success lies in the pace of play. While Gameloft's FIFA rival Real Football opts for a fast-flowing kick-about, EA recognises the inherent wooliness of virtual controls suit a slower, more considered game. You feel far more comfortable when on the ball as result, and able to assess your options without too much fear of the controls letting you down.
As a result, the sting has been taken out of running play.
There’s no potential to beat a full-back with a change of pace, or to knock the ball past a defender and sprint past. Pushing the virtual analogue stick as far as it goes will put you into the sort of run you’d see in an 800-metre track event, and that’s as fast as you’re going to get.
It is possible to beat your man, but more with a swift change of direction and a bit of muscle a la Wayne Rooney.
Shooting is largely a success, with plenty of variation possible in terms of the goals you can score. The ball pings off posts and flicks up off defenders convincingly, leading to a good smattering of scrappy and improvised finishes – just like real life.
I did detect a weakness in the system in that low powerful shots from around the edge of the box (with decent players) were a little too effective, but in general it’s a rewarding system. Naturally, only time will tell if there are any major exploits to be had.
Understandably, given the extreme scaling-down of the controls to just two command buttons, there have been some compromises - not all of them instantly successful. Finesse shots and chip shots share a context-sensitive command (double tap of shoot) which takes a certain edge off goal poaching for example.
Also, the implementation of lofted throughballs and one-two passes seems too tricky to become wholly instinctive. Both require sliding between the two buttons and back again, which is never quite dependable enough in the heat of the moment.
Slightly more concerning is the unreliability of pulling off a long ball. This requires a double tap of pass, with the first tap dictating the strength of the pass. It works well in isolation, but is tough to pull off consistently in a match situation – not without considerable practise, at least.
Regardless of these control foibles, though, FIFA 10 plays a very decent game of footy. You can dive straight into a solid kick-about without too much fuss, perfecting the more advanced controls as you become more adept.
You’ll get plenty of time to do this, too, as the two main single-player modes – Manager and Be a Pro – should keep you absorbed for months. Manager Mode lets you to take any one of the fully licensed clubs through the football season, trading players and making tactical alterations.
At the start of the season you’re given several Season Objectives depending on the team you’ve selected. Your goals with a top team like Manchester United might be to finish in the top three of the league, to reach the final of the FA Cup and to win at least 19 league games.
These targets all feed into a wider Prestige system.
At the end of each game you’re awarded points based on your performance – a 3-0 victory would be recognised for the goals scored and for keeping a clean sheet. Getting all of your shots on target is also worthy of points, as is moving into the top half of the table. It makes every game worth something in what can often become a grind in footy titles.
Elsewhere, the transfer system is a little crudely and inaccurately implemented, with player values all over the place (is Arjen Robben really worth £5 million more than Sergio Aguero?). Still, its inclusion is welcome for allowing you to build your dream team, particularly with 12,620 players to pick from.
Be a Pro mode, meanwhile, puts you in control of a single player and asks you to develop them, RPG style. During matches the view is switched 90 degrees and centred on your player at all times. It’s up to you to stay in position by following an on-screen indicator, making the right choices both with and without the ball.
You’re awarded experience points for everything you do well in each match, such as scoring goals and completing passes. This ultimately awards you points to spend on developing your player’s skills.
Both of these modes (in addition to the self-explanatory Tournament mode) are thoroughly compelling and suitably distinct from one another. You’ll quite happily have a save file running on each simultaneously, dipping into them according to your mood. It’s almost like having two games in one.
It makes up for the lack of online multiplayer, the omission of which is slightly disappointing. Still, the mode is mooted for a future update, so if it works well when it arrives (unlike Real Football 2010’s multiplater) we’ll be happy to wait.
Indeed, if FIFA’s late arrival to the iPhone has taught us anything it’s that EA intends to do things properly and in its own time on this platform.
While there are a number of rough edges and minor omissions, they only stand out because EA has produced a near console-standard product in other areas (not least the excellent presentation).
We’re looking forward to seeing what improvements EA makes for 2011 but, with FIFA 10 installed on our iPhones, we’re more than happy to wait.