Is this the best FIFA instalment yet?
Another year passes and another FIFA is upon us. For football fanatics, this means hours upon end refining the skills they’ve developed over the past 12 months mastering FIFA 08. But a new version of this popular football franchise brings new challenges as well as more hours of fun. In this regard EA has certainly hit the right note with FIFA 09.
- Graphics, improved AI, smoother game play, ball physics, Be a Pro mode, Adidas Live Season
- Issues with advantage rule, manager mode numbering system, Adidas Live Season requires payment for more than one league
FIFA 09 isn’t perfect, but it remains the best football game around. The improvements to gameplay, ball physics and AI combine to produce a rewarding experience and the new game modes are excellent and provide hours of fun.
EA Sports has been busy on the football front of late. In addition to the launch of FIFA 08, it has also launched UEFA Euro 2008 to coincide with Europe’s premier tournament. With FIFA 09 the third football game to be launched in a little over a year, the changes in this version are mainly tweaks rather than groundbreaking new innovations, but this isn’t a bad thing.
The biggest improvement on the previous edition is the skill and lifelikeness of the AI. Getting the ball off the computer is as difficult as ever, but it’s also much more realistic. Where at times you used to sit back and scream at the computer in FIFA 08 for of its displays of stupidity, the new AI is particularly fluid — from pushing up to activate the offside trap to adjusting tactics mid-match, the AI is the best it's ever been in the FIFA series.
Gameplay speed has significantly increased from the previous edition. You can now adjust match speed (slow, normal and fast), which is excellent for multiplayer matches. The entire game seems smoother and much more natural — from runs to tackles to jockeying, the game has a silky feel and flows much better than we’ve previously experienced.
General gameplay is much more difficult. If you’re not passing the ball around the field in an effective and efficient manner, you’ll struggle in this game. Of course, you can definitely vary your tactics. For old schoolers, hitting a precise long ball out to the wings and cutting in towards goal is achievable, but it certainly takes some time to get right. The same applies for a short passing game — FIFA 09 really forces you to think while you’re playing and this is an excellent attribute if you’re right into these games (like we are!).
Ball physics are also excellent. It now seems like the ball has its own brain, rather than feeling like it was stuck to the player’s feet in previous editions. In FIFA 09, the ball will take different directions and move realistically when it hits a player or comes off the post, just to use two examples.
With all the pros in gameplay and AI, there are, as always, some downsides. As good as the AI is, there are still some annoying errors. The most common one is goalkeepers who run to punch a ball that's flying well wide of the goal. This was also evident in the last edition. It still hasn’t been corrected and it is extremely frustrating. The biggest issue in FIFA 09, though, is the advantage rule. You can be in the centre of the pitch just outside the box, dribbling with the ball and advancing towards goal and suddenly the referee will bring you back for a free kick. Also one-on-ones are very difficult to score, probably too difficult. You hit that perfect through ball and get one-on-one and the goalkeeper more often than not makes a ridiculously good save.
The game modes remain largely the same, though the main new feature is Be a Pro: Seasons. This builds on FIFA 08’s Be a Pro by enabling you to control a single real-life player or your own custom character instead of a whole side. In addition to trying to win games, you need to fulfil certain criteria, including a set number of passes, tackles or goals (depending on your position) to gain experience points and move up in the elite footballing world. Playing as your own created player is great, but it’s a little too easy — after a few games in the Sydney FC first team we were quickly on our way to the Serie A, a little unrealistic. Be a Pro can also be played online, with up to 20 people joining one game. A lobby system allows you to pick your position and the first in, best dressed system allows selection of the captaincy to control game options and match tactics.
Adidas Live Season is another new feature and this enables real world stats to be sent to the game on a weekly basis. This means if your player is performing well in real life his stats will rise, but if he is performing poorly or out injured, the stats will drop. You get one free Adidas Live Season access code, but the rest will cost extra and the system expires in May 2009 — the end of the current European football season.
Manager mode remains a great feature, but an issue that we can’t believe EA have missed is the numbering system — when you purchase a player in manager mode you are unable to assign him a squad number. Lionel Messi running around on the right wing wearing number two is highly annoying and frustrating.
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