Name: FIFA 09
Genre: Sports – Football (Soccer)
Platforms: Xbox 360, Nintendo DS, Nintendo Wii, PC, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, PSP (Reviewed on PS3)
EA’s FIFA series has always sold pretty well, but just never quite met the level of gameplay Konami’s Pro Evolution (formerly Winning Eleven) presented gamers with. FIFA 08 was a step in the right direction in this department, helping to close the gap between the two franchises. While it has been a while since I really immersed myself in a good football game, after seeing what EA had done with their 2009 NBA, NHL, and NFL games, I was actually looking forward to hitting the pitch.
FIFA 09 is the best game this franchise has seen to date. With the exception of 08, the next generation versions of the series have been anything but memorable. FIFA 09 more than washes the bad taste left in your mouth by previous iterations. Graphically, I don’t think there’s been a better-looking football game ever. That may seem easy to say since you could assume the most recent game will always be the strongest graphically, but I’m not just talking about how the grass looks (it looks good, by the way). Big name players look nearly spot-on, and while reserve players tend to look a bit generic, it’s forgivable when so much else looks as perfect as it does. Player animations are plentiful, and just watching someone else play, you would honestly believe there was a live match on TV. Every man on the pitch not only moves well, they also each have their own bit of physicality. Stronger players can push smaller men right out of the way. When fighting for balls in mid-air, you’ll notice players muscling for position, and while there is minor clipping during positional battles, there’s nowhere near as many legs passing through bodies as there were in years past.
Once you pick up the controller, you’ll find a system that’s deep when you want it to be, but still completely accessible to inexperienced players. Actually, I found myself screwing around with the fakes and dekes way more than I should have been. In FIFA, much like in NHL 09, the right analog stick acts as your leg when trying to perform ball maneuvers. Holding L2 while flicking the analog stick allows for the more complex moves, should you want to do more than deke left and right. Like I said, the tricky stuff can be as deep as you want it to. Shooting and passing are fairly straightforward. The only issue I had in this area was with in picking which guy you want to pass the ball to. While running, it’s never really clear which player you’re currently targeting to advance the ball. Teammate AI is also occasionally sketchy. Occasionally you’ll find that computer players will run out of bounds, or not save a ball from traveling out of bounds when it is clearly in reach. This was a problem in Madden 09 as well, and even though two different EA houses developed the two games, you have to wonder how this managed to happen in both games. Ball physics are also impressive this year. If you’re using too much of your speed burst, there’s a definite difference in how the ball will react to your foot. Likewise, over-kicking passes and shots sends the ball sailing realistically high and wide. Scoring is incredibly difficult, but that’s part of the sport. I found it practically impossible to score more than 2 goals in any mode other than the stellar Be a Pro mode.
There are plenty of game mode options for those of you looking for more than a quick match. Manager mode has gotten deeper, and not only do you decide how to spend your money, but you’re also in charge of deciding who gets experience earned during matches. Post-game interviews impact how fans, players, and owners view you, and can either help or hamper how long your career lasts. Outside of the ridiculously intricate management mode in Pro Evo, you’ll have to look pretty hard to find a franchise mode in any game that’s as deep as the one in FIFA 09. Adidas Live Season is FIFA’s dynamic DNA, and allows you to get constantly updated player ratings for one league (Premier League, Serie A, Bundesliga, etc.) for free, or pay a nominal fee to have more than one league updated daily. It’s a great feature that I wish was in all of EA’s games, instead of just NBA and FIFA. In all honesty, when playing FIFA 09, I spent most of my time in both the online and offline Be a Pro modes. Offline, you can either create a player, or use an existing player (Miroslav Klose FTW), to take from the ranks of reserve player to captain of the National team in 4 seasons. The game grades you on positioning, passing, shooting, dribbling, tackling, juggling, and whether you can perform secondary tasks like taking 2 shots in one game. Higher game ratings mean more playtime during the season, and thus having more attention paid to you by the National scouts. Online Be a Pro limits you to being an actual player, but allows for 10 on 10 matches. It’s an absolute joy to play this game with 19 other people, and leads to some pretty interesting games. There are also online leagues, and I’m a bit jealous they’re handled much better than Madden leagues. You’ll follow the actual fixtures, and be matched up with another online user playing as the proper team you’re scheduled to play against.
If last year’s FIFA title started closing the gap between EA’s franchise and Konami’s, then FIFA 09 is right on Pro Evolution’s tail. The gameplay is tighter, the franchise is deeper, and the online and Be a Pro modes more than match anything Pro Evo puts on the table. FIFA 09 is yet another worthwhile 2009 effort from EA, and while the publisher has been a sales juggernaut for years, it’s possible EA might finally be a critical juggernaut as well.