FIFA 09 Review

Lee Abrahams

Let me start by saying that I haven’t played FIFA in years, for me the series was just too bogged down in style over substance with the latest teams and player likenesses dragged down by sluggish game-play. Every year promises shiny new features and more intuitive controls, which are usually greeted with a shade of pessimism from those of us used to hype. For me the fluid play of PES has always been a more attractive proposition and reviewing this title seemed more like a chore than a thrill. Imagine my surprise then when I actually started to enjoy myself and notice all the little changes that now seemed to make a difference and after the indifferent showing from PES in the last couple of years it may finally be time for FIFA to snatch the illustrious crown back.

EA have often tried to re-imagine their flagship sports series over the years and some of them have come out better than others. However, since the introduction of Pro Evolution Soccer it’s always been felt (at least in the opinion of the critics) that FIFA has lagged behind its rival. That seems to be the case on the 360 too, though at least since the diabolical, and somewhat shameless, Road to the World Cup 2006 and World Cup 2006 there has been a steady sense of progression. This year it would seem that EA have pulled out all the stops in a bid to prove once and for all that they are the kings of the sporting genre.

Scholes prepares a lesson in leg chopping.

Football is often called the beautiful game and EA have tried to live up to that expectation as the visuals on offer here are decidedly lush. Every player is an almost life like replica of their real world counterpart, even down to the individual skills and moves they perform. The game also seems to move a lot faster than previous installments with players jostling for space and involved in off-the-ball incidents. It’s the little touches here that make the game, as players run forward pointing for the next pass or try and hold off defenders to make space for a cross. You can also actively choose goal celebrations depending on what button you press – a fairly pointless feature in the grand scheme of things but a fun one nonetheless. When players are substituted they’ll also react differently based on how well the game was going or how much of a role they were having on proceedings. All nice little touches that make the whole thing feel realistic. Throw in over 500 teams across 30 different leagues and you’ve got a superb representation of global football.

Getting to grips with the game is also fairly routine, as the controls are simplicity personified. Most of the time you can get by with just the regular buttons for passing, shooting and so on, but if you want to add an extra layer to proceedings you’ll need to master the finesse moves attached to LB/RB along with the skills available through the right stick. These allow for deft chips, drag backs and step-overs to name but a few and can provide the key to unlocking the meanest defence. My only complaint would be the fact it can be hard to get your player to do exactly what you want with the skill moves, as the slightest error in movement or timing can mean you end up doing nothing at all. Practice makes perfect but it can be something of a chore to memorise moves that, while pretty to look at, are only of limited use in certain situations.

Now that you know how to play, the question really becomes "what to start with first?" and it’s the wealth of options on show that help set this game apart. The menu and pre-match "Arena" mode allows you to practice your moves one on one with a keeper, using the player of your choice. Once you’re bored of that you can play an exhibition match using any of the teams on offer, either solo or versus some friends. If you want something a bit more in depth then you can turn your attention to one of the main game modes. You can choose to play a whole season in any of the leagues on offer, or even set up your own league or tournament with full control over the participants and rules. You can also opt for the "Be a Pro" mode which lets you create your own player or take control of a current pro and try to guide them to international fame. This mode is particularly interesting as you’re locked as the player of your choice and must try to make an individual impact along with helping out the team. Finally you can choose "Manager" mode where you are given the chance of running your team including the buying and selling of players, training and even sponsorship. It’s not quite as in depth as Football Manager but is a nice diversion from the norm.

Players look incredibly life-like – unfortunate in some cases.

All of these modes offer something different and add a bit of longevity to the game. The fact you can also edit pretty much every aspect of each team, from players, tactics and formations, adds plenty of options for even the most compulsive football fans to take advantage of. The player creator offers a wealth of alternatives too but this time around it’s not a case of making a team of 99 rated supermen as you’ll have to earn the points to improve your players should you decide to go down that route. Even with such a wealth of options on offer though, it’s the core game-play that makes this title stand out, as without a thrilling game of football this would just be another also-ran. If you had to make a complaint then I suppose you could say that all the game modes are just very slight variations on the same theme (often offering almost identical options and statistics) so if you play one of them then you’ve played them all.

The only other feature of note is a very interesting one indeed, the Adidas Live Season option. Basically it provides all the statistics behind what is happening throughout six leagues in the real world and affects the performances of their virtual counterparts. It’s an interesting idea in theory but one that is harder to judge in practice. Basically if players are performing well in real life then their form will carry over into the game, and likewise if they are having a nightmare. It will also track injuries and suspensions to make the game as close to the actual thing as possible. My only gripe here is the charge for this service, sure it’s innovative but surely it should be covered by the money you’ve just shelled out on the game. You do get one league of your choice for free, assuming you have an instruction manual, but it only lasts until the end of the current season. If you want more than one league you’ll have to pay and that seems rather unfair for what is basically a statistics service. It’s also hard to see the impact on general play so you’d have to play over a long period of time to really get the benefit.

Every free kick seems like a potential turning point.

If you take the game online you’ll be met with a bevy of similar features. Obviously you can play quick ranked or unranked matches with a team of your choice, including any of your created players should you so wish. Alternatively you can take part in "Interactive Leagues" based around certain countries, or even set up a league and club of your very own. Club games add a very interesting touch as you can have games featuring ten players a side, with everyone locked in a certain position. The only weakness here is that very few people choose to pick any role other than a striker or attacking midfielder, so it means you’ll have a few players on each side forced into playing out of position which greatly diminishes their effectiveness and enjoyment. It also leads to certain disgruntled players dropping out of matches altogether if they can’t play where they prefer, which is a constant nuisance really. Overall the online mode runs well enough but you’ll soon tire of it unless you know a few likeminded individuals.

The achievements on offer here seem pretty tame compared to most of the previous sports offerings from EA. Most of them consist of doing things that would come naturally during a football game, scoring a header, scoring on the volley or with a defender to name but a few. They’ll come with natural progression or you can even play with two pads to make things easier. Even the league and ‘Be a Pro’ achievements can all pretty much be simulated too. Your major challenge will come online as you have to organise a 10 vs. 10 match and play a few Interactive League games which seem hit and miss to acquire. Even then you can be looking at 999 points in a few days with some dedication. Then you have to play for 50 hours (match time) for the remaining one point. Oh EA, and you were doing so well until then.

A few minor gripes aside this is a pretty damn good football game and one that actually surprised me due to the quality on offer. Again you could say that it is little more than a yearly update but if you, like me, haven’t given the series a go in a long time I’d urge you to at least give it a try. The action flows superbly and the options are nearly limitless in terms of what you can do. Playing in set leagues or building your own from scratch, even taking your own player to the pinnacle of the profession if you so wish. Online things are a bit more bog standard and won’t hold your interest for that long unless you’re a real fanatic, but overall it’s a tantalising package.

Good commentary and the usual mix of sub-par EA Trax make for a few highs and lows. Once you hear Andy Gray saying the same phrase for what seems like the millionth time you’ll soon decide that custom soundtracks are the way to go.

Beautiful looking players and stadium that have finally escaped from the cardboard cut out dark ages. With plenty of tricks and skills on offer everything moves smoothly through the gears.

Easy to pick up and play, not to mention the fact you can jump into any number of different modes. The game is a lot faster paced than previous FIFA games that I’ve played and seems to flow better as a result.

With up to date teams, and the chance for constantly updated player performance via the Live Season option this game tries to cover all of the bases. Even online you can opt between any number of game types and leagues, or even form your own club. It’s football on a very grand scale.

A bit of a mixed bag here but one that shows EA have finally decided not to force players into playing 100’s of games to get everything done. Theoretically you could have everything done in a couple of days (probably barring the ludicrous 1 point achievement for playing 50 hours) but it would probably require a boosting buddy.

A very pleasant surprise and one that finally appeals to football fans of any ability. This game is simple to pick up and play but offers enough depth for veterans to still find something new. With plenty to do both on and offline it’s a real turnaround for a series that has had its share of criticism down the years.

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