Written November 2008. My first review for http://www.xboxgamezone.co.uk/
EA’s Fifa series of games has been around forever…well not quite forever, 15 years to be exact, but as there are gamers younger than that now, it might as well be forever for many. Every year a new Fifa game comes out, and every year, it’s essentially the same old game with updated player stats and a few minor improvements made…..
Until, that is, this year’s release of Fifa 09. Let’s get one thing straight first though. I really like football games, the first game I ever played was a football game (International Soccer on the Commodore 64 for anyone who wants to know), I adored Sensible Soccer but wanted more realism so I solidly stuck by Fifa, until the arrival of ISS and then Pro Evolution Soccer. Pro Evo may have lacked the real player names but the flow of the game was so much better than Fifa at that time. It dominated for a good few years and many happy hours were spent playing it. Where am I going with this? The tides have turned yet again and Fifa is back as the King of football games.
The Fifa games have always oozed quality in terms of their presentation and 09 is no different in that respect. As soon as the game loads up and once the action packed FMV sequence ends, you can instantly start kicking the ball around, much the same as previous instalments and other EA sports games. Sure it’s only around a pseudo training ground and your only opponent is the goalkeeper but it’s nice to be able to jump in so quickly. I spent a surprising amount of times messing around before actually choosing a mode of play. It gave me plenty of time to hone my tricks. Once I dived into the menus, I realised I had a hell of a lot of options to choose from. The regular tournament modes, league play, online play, and good old manager mode are there, shining in the middle of it all: Be a Pro. I’d heard about its addition in Fifa 08 (what can I say, I was still a Pro Evo fan then) but it had been quite restrictive but with that glimmer of a brilliant idea. In 09, it is so much better and the type of game I have been dreaming of ever since I was a child.
You can go for the easy option and choose to be Ronaldo playing for Man Utd and watch as the season unfolds to huge success, or you can go down the more challenging route, create your own player and start out as a reserve for a team and work your way up. Each match you’re given a few targets to achieve such as reaching a certain average rating or position dependent on things such as scoring 2 goals if you’re a striker. For each target achieved you gain extra experience points, and what do points mean? Improvements to your general ability that’s what, it’s all a bit RPGish which is probably what made me particularly keen on ‘Be a Pro’. You can decide to put extra points into speed to make you the fastest winger in the West, or you can choose to be a bit slow but brilliant at heading for example.
The ultimate aim of course is to become captain of the first team and of your National side. It’s a pity you can only play through four seasons of ‘Be a Pro’ but that’s still plenty of time to sink your teeth into things. It’d be great to see the option of importing your player into the next Fifa so fingers crossed on that front. The actual gameplay for ‘Be a Pro’ was very good in my experience. It involved more thought than ‘regular’ football as a lot of points are dependent on keeping to your position. There’s no rushing off as a defender to score a cheeky goal, you need to keep to your set position to be deemed a ‘good’ player for your side. But it was also much more satisfying than the regular game of football. I have honestly been waiting for something like this for years and it’s nice to see EA pull it off so well.
For those preferring a few more stats, Manager Mode is perfect. It offers a slightly more tactical edge with the ability to control transfers, stadium sizes and various other titbits to keep the statistician happy and you can of course still play every game if you choose to besides simming the games, if you’d rather not bother (in which case, why did you buy Fifa 09?). Stats wise, there’s the welcome addition of Adidas Live Season, which dynamically updates player forms and attributes based upon real life performances every week. It’s not technically free at £4.99 per league, but each new copy of the game is provided with a free code enabling you to choose a league you can have for free until the end of this year’s season. An interesting feature but admittedly I didn’t really notice huge differences in my time of playing.
The online features have also been revamped with the ability to play 10 vs. 10, Be a Pro matches with friends and the most exciting new feature: clan based online play in the form of online clubs. Always wanted to form a club with mates, but you just weren’t good enough in ‘real life’? Fear not, now you can do it online! Unfortunately I was unable to be part of an online club before writing this, but from what I’ve heard, it’s just what a football fan would want. It’ll be nice to see if Fifa 09 clans become as big a thing as Halo 3 or Gears of War clans, and variety in online multiplayer is always good to see.
So Fifa 09 has loads of bells and whistles to it, but you don’t really care about that, do you? How does it play, you’re desperately asking as you read this. Just like the Beautiful Game should, is the answer. It is simple to pick up, yet challenging to master, the perfect mixture as after all you don’t want to become godly immediately. Each difficulty mode does make a small but potent difference the higher up you go meaning the top difficulty is a real challenge. There are many, many options regarding how much CPU assistance there is for passes and crossing amongst other things. All perfectly arranged to ensure that both novices and pros can enjoy the game in the way that they want to play it. As well as this, there is improved responsiveness all around, the AI seems more accurate and the physics engine has been ramped up a notch.
Goalkeepers in particular appear to be more intelligent with a wider range of reactions at their disposal making it much harder to score, but not impossible. Instead it makes goals all the more satisfying, as helped by the many improvements made to the shooting system. It really makes a difference depending on what side you are and your opponent’s skill level, if you play as Man Utd; yes you are at a significant advantage if you’re playing Swansea City. It might be infuriating for Swansea City fans but it is definitely realistic in that aspect. The only problem is it can make online matches seem unfair as most online gamers do seem to pick either Manchester United or Barcelona in my experience. Besides AI improvements, graphical improvements are abound too. Nothing too major as the 08 engine was looking pretty good anyhow, but subtle animation improvements such as seeing a player come off the bench and warm up, and a sliding tackle actually looking quite painful.
All in all, I have nothing but praise for Fifa 09 as you can see. It really is plain old fashioned fun and provides everything I want in a football game. I have no doubt that Fifa 10 will add some more bits and pieces, but I suspect EA will be building upon the success of 09 more than anything as they seem to have their bases covered now. However, it’ll be interesting to see if Konami take on aboard recent comments about Pro Evo and give Fifa a run for their money. Competition is perfect for the consumer, after all. So what are you waiting for football fan? Go out and buy this now!