For those that follow mainstream gaming to any degree, it goes without saying that EA Sports reigns supreme when it comes to most sports titles. Having licenses with leagues like the NFL and FIFA, that’s hardly unexpected, but now the gaming giant is bringing one of those licenses to Facebook. The brand new app is EA Sports FIFA Superstars, and while it’s not the first sports title we’ve seen on the social network, it is one of the better ones.
Essentially, Superstars is a team management sort of game similar in respect to Hive7’s Kick Off. Players start out learning the ropes from a non-player character coach, with the goal being to reach the top rankings in the league. In order to reach that pinnacle, however, users must manage their roster, training, stadium and formations.
As this is an Electronic Arts title, the roster itself is worth mentioning as all of the players are actual players from around the world. Each one has a certain level of talent and a number of skills associated with a number, just like in the console versions of EA’s titles. This includes pace, stamina, control, and depending on whether or not they are a goalkeeper, defender, midfielder, or striker.
As one might expect, the higher the number, they better they are at that role, and as users earn more money through playing matches or selling players, they can purchase packs of five players for in-game currency or the virtual currency Playfish Cash (eventually, you will be able to trade players). These packs, called Transfers, come in three varieties – bronze, silver, and gold – and contain better possible players the more expensive it is.
Once users have a nice selection of players to choose from, they can arrange their starting line-up as they see fit. By ensuring that players are placed in their proper positions, and as better ones replace the weaker, the overall team rating increases, and in turn, so does your chances at winning games.
The other aspect to improving your rating and winning matches is training. This is what is going to be most familiar to long-time social game players, as you can train your team in a quest/mission like fashion. This ranges from stretching to full practices, and will earn X amount of training points over Y amount of time. Obviously, the more training points to be earned, the more time (up to 24 hours) a training exercise will take.
However, this can be augmented through managing your stadium. Beyond hiring non-player characters such as a coach (which only lasts for a few days before you have to purchase him again), users can upgrade their stadium with training tools such as cones and dummies, or luxury items such as seating that will improve rewards from playing matches. Additionally, all of this, including your NPC team doing whatever training exercise you assigned them, is visible in a moderate virtual space, granting users a visual satisfaction and reward for what they are doing. The only downside, is there really isn’t a whole lot to buy. At the moment, there’s only six stadium items.
Once players have satisfied themselves with the management aspect of their team, they can move on to actual matches. These consist of four types of games including Friendly Matches, League Matches, Premier League, and 2010 FIFA World Cup. The first is typical friend challenges, while the last is not quite ready yet (which makes sense, because the real World Cup, happening in South Africa this year, doesn’t start for a couple more weeks).
Of the other two match types, most users will likely play the League Matches. This is actually the most social of the set-ups at the moment as players will play a limited number of matches a day against other Superstars users. The more they play and win, the higher ranked they become, moving from the junior leagues all the way up to championship and superstar leagues. Within each league, all users within that range are displayed and selecting them will show their relative player strength, training, team talent (how good each team member is on average), and formations.
From here, players will be presented with a rather epic Flash rendition of the soccer match, complete with play by play commentary. Users don’t control anything, but it does look pretty good and is interesting to watch the first time through. Of course, since most of the animations repeat over and over, most players will simply hit the skip button thereafter.
As far as leveling itself goes, the game’s primary gating is for what type of matches you can play, unlocking the 24 hour training exercise, and allowing new player formations. Off the bat, users can only use a 4-4-2 formation, meaning four defenders, four midfielders, and two strikers. However, once they level up and move up in rankings, new formations and more interesting match-ups tend to occur, forcing players to try and edit their team prior to games depending on if the opponent’s formation is offensive or defensive.
This is especially important when users unlock the Premiere League. Overall, it’s about the same as the League Matches, but rather than other Superstars users, they are Barclays Premiere League teams. The goal is to beat all 20 of them, and, oh, they’re a lot better than you are.
Overall, FIFA Superstars is a fantastic soccer game for Facebook, and easily one of the better and more fluid feeling ones we’ve played. The only real complaint to be had is there is a relative lack of things that the user can buy, other than players or extra matches for virtual currency. Currently, there are only six training exercises, one staff member to hire, and six stadium items. For now, they work fine, but here’s hoping more gets added soon. Either way, stretch those hamstrings, run those suicides, and practice that control. We’ll see you on the field.