Review: FIFA ’09
EA take a resounding lead.
It’s that time of the year again with EA and Konami dusting off the gloves and going toe-to-toe for another round of ‘who’s got the best footie game’. They’ve been doing this for ten years now and a few years back Konami, with the Pro Evo series, looked unbeatable but, and do forgive my French, only a fucking imbecile would think that Pro Evo has gotten any better in the last five years whereas EA’s FIFA series has rallied in recent years to the point where professional games journalists have had to admit, through gritted teeth, that EA may have finally caught up.
Here’s the facts. EA’s last footie outing, Euro 2008, shat on anything Konami has done since PES4 (the last really good one). Not only did it sort out the basics (it played a good game, so to speak), they also innovated. The ‘Be a Pro’ mode was fully-fleshed out and was a full game in itself but the new control system also offered you (dons wankhat) all the tools you needed to express yourself out on the pitch that you could ever need.
Euro 2008 has probably been my game of the year so far and, to be honest, I wasn’t expecting anything other than a club team makeover for FIFA ’09 despite the claims that there are ‘over 250 improvements over the last game’ (they mean FIFA ’08 rather than Euro 2008 here I’d wager). There are a couple of issues, and I’ll get to those, but the headline here is that this is the most complete football game since Sensible World of Soccer.
In terms of clubs and leagues, you get the same teams as last year which includes all the lower league English ones (which is all we’ve wanted for years, right?) and all the major leagues you can think of. After years of seeing no Coca Cola Championship but having the fucking Mexican League in there, this is excellent, especially when compared to the clueless fuckwittery of the Pro Evo rosters (Berbatov still at Spurs? Oh do fuck off, Konami).
Aside from the usual exhibition, cup and league modes, FIFA ’09 concentrates its efforts on three major fronts. First up is the ‘Be a Pro’ mode. Here you can set yourself up as an individual player in the team of your choice and play through four seasons. As with Euro 2008, good performances are rewarded with Experience Points which can be used to upgrade your statistics in order to help you progress from a squad player through a first teamer, captain and eventually a ‘club legend’. Extra points are awarded for completing match day objectives such as having a certain number of shots or scoring goals. It’s just a shame that these don’t change when you play as a defender.
As expected, the flexibility of the control system makes this mode a complete joy to play and it is ultimately satisfying to see your goals take your team to the top of the league. The controllable goal celebrations (exactly the same as in Euro 2008 although now annoyingly liable to cut off early) and decent player customisation do help you to stamp your personality on the game.
One problem here is that the refs are extremely card happy and you’ll often find your team down to 10 men or less thanks to the AI’s unerring ability to mistime a tackle. This is what I think of as a Pro Evo style annoyance. Something added for no reason that makes the game slightly less good than it should be. Annoying. Also, you only get to play four seasons which seems ever-so-slightly like a cunt’s trick and they’ve scrapped all cup competitions including the play-offs. Annoyingly I finished fourth which meant I had to spend another quarter of my career in the Championship. Hnnnghh.
The â€œBe a Proâ€ career mode was the main selling point for me. While last year’s edition only allowed one match to be played, FIFA ’09 has a four year career. In said mode you take control of one player for the whole of the match with the computer AI controlling the rest of your team. You can either select an existing player or create your own from scratch â€“ I chose the latter option. Starting off in the Manchester United reserves, slowly working my way up to the captaincy and breaking into the first team feels like a real achievement.
Another of the big additions is the Adidas Live Season service. This basically tracks the stats of the player’s performances in real life and updates the game with them weekly e.g. Rooney has masterclass performance against Liverpool and his in-game player rating is increased. This service isn’t free but, in an unusually generous move from EA they have included a code to receive it for free until the end of the 08-’09 season.
Apart from being greeted by Ronaldinho’s ugly mug filling the screen when you start up, I can’t really think of anything negative to say about this game apart from the dodgy goalkeeper AI, but that plagues every football game.
While at first glance it looks almost identical to last year’s edition (the menus are pretty much exactly the same), the difference in ball physics and AI are clearly noticeable. While the gap between 08 and ’09 isn’t as big as the jump from 07 to 08, this is still worth a purchase – even if you own the previous version.
Secondary Score: 8/10
The other mode where you’ll be spending a lot of time is the ‘Manager’ mode. Here you get to pick the tactics, buy and sell the players and then play the matches (standard ‘as the whole team’ style). Despite the fact that there will be another game out next year (possibly two knowing EA), this could last you well past the next World Cup.
So with the single-player portion of the game set to steal months of your life from you, there is also the online component to consider and the big news here is that you can now play 10 v 10 online matches. On the plus side, these actually work quite well (regular online matches are also lag-free most of time). On the down side the FIFA community, predictably, is full of absolute cunts. Also, 1 v 1 matches rarely end properly if you dare take the lead but that’s not EA’s fault I guess.
The presentation is suitably up-to-scratch with excellent graphics and animation along with lots of lovely touches such as the pitch cutting up realistically and players mimicking their real-life counterparts. The sound is a mixed bag with decent sound effects but a horrible soundtrack (it is an EA game after all) and a disappointingly lacklustre commentary with Andy Gray and Martin Tyler struggling to compete with Euro 2008’s excellent Andy Townshend and Clive Tildsley commentary.
Overall though, it’s a spectacular game. After years of repetition from both EA and Konami it’s great to see FIFA finally pushing things forward. From actual updating player stats (a paid-for service that is free until the end of this season) to uploadable goal replays and images, this game offers more innovation than we’ve seen in the last ten years from this genre (Euro 2008 aside) and unless Konami finally ditch Seabass, EA will have Konami in their pockets for years at this rate.