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Daniel Golding
21 Oct, 2008

FIFA 09 Review

360 Review | The goal of the year, or merely offside?
Sprinting down the wing of the football pitch, a defender hot on your heels. The 89th minute of a tied match. You’re faster than him. Much faster. Metres from the touch line you pull up, shielding the ball from the defeated defender. Glancing up to the penalty box, you search for a target, hoping to score. But there’s only empty space, save the goalie and the opposition. Instead, a striker catches your eye, running in late from a distance. You take aim and cross in, the ball floating lightly through the air, bouncing several steps before the striker. It’s a decent cross, but the striker just stands there, listlessly, frozen, waiting for the ball to arrive at his feet. A defender reads the play, intercepts, and boots the ball. The whistle blows. A draw.

This kind of controller thrashing moment used to be common to the FIFA series. Not anymore. The gameplay niggles that often frustrated players and lent believability to the trope that FIFA was for the license only, while Pro Evolution Soccer was for the ultimate gameplay experience, are all but eliminated from FIFA 09. No longer do players stupidly act in a variety of stale and predictable moves. No longer do players have no physical effect on each other as the outcome of tackles are decided by seemingly random factors. No longer are games won and lost within tiny percentages of the pitch.

What EA Sports have crafted with FIFA 09 is an experience where no personal failure feels like the failure of the videogame. Every lost opportunity, every missed chance feels like your responsibility. Not only does the game feel more realistic and less constraining, but EA have opened up the back-end this year, giving players control over all the whirring levers and controls to even further tweak the experience. Custom tactics are a revelation, allowing players to change the play style and mentality of your team down to fine details, like how often players position themselves for crosses, or how much pressure your defence is putting the opposition attackers under. Once perfected, these tactics can be assigned to the directional pad, which means in practice, complex tactical maneuvers are only one button tap away during a match.

Kick it to me!

Kick it to me!
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The style of play is much faster and paced than in previous years. This would usually be equated with outdated, arcade-style soccer, but in FIFA 09, it means that players respond when you want them to, and how you want them to. They’re also intelligent, and will respond creatively to certain situations. Players will raise an arm, calling for a pass if they believe they’re in free space, and defenders will appeal for an offside ruling if they’ve caught a striker wandering. There is also a hefty physicality to FIFA 09 - going for a contested possession will often result in a tumble, and even an injury of the collision was forceful enough. Players can be knocked off the ball and their run through brief contact, and will stay down long enough to be realistic without reaching the diving levels of the real-life Italian team.

What all this means, apart from generally improving the mechanics of the game, is that every triumph, every perfectly timed through ball to a late run, every beautifully lofted cross feels fantastically rewarding. Though the game still holds your hand at points, the culpability you feel for errors makes triumphs seem equally achievable. FIFA 09 is a game that rewards good play and penalises bad play for justifiable and understandable reasons. The game, simply put, is just playable.

That’s not to say it’s perfect. There have been some shortcuts taken on development here: some player animations are too limited (keep an eye out for the synchronised jig of defenders waiting for kick-off), and the commentary recycles quite a few lines from FIFA 08. Locally, we had the gift of the A-League in last year’s installment, and while it again returns, the complete lack of Australian stadia is irritating. Playing through the A-League tournament with a handful of generic stadia is extremely unexciting to say the least.

Ow! My back!

Ow! My back!
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Perhaps the biggest problem with FIFA 09 is its hostility to newcomers. At this stage, the sixteenth game in the core FIFA series expects players to have followed the franchise through thick and thin, and be aware of basic mechanics. This is no doubt an advantage for the game, as it can therefore throw the player right into the action. But why isn’t there a training mode? There was a training mode as far back as FIFA ‘99. It’s inexplicable as to why it was removed - surely it can’t be difficult to create. As it sits, FIFA 09 only teaches through experience. The only way you’ll get to practice and perfect corners, or free kicks is by playing around with the real thing, and that’s disappointing.

One expansion that the FIFA series has taken recently is the ‘Be A Pro’ mode, and it receives a few enhancements in 09. Controlling a single player for the entirety of a match may be a culture shock for seasoned FIFA players, but here it works well as a nice distraction, as taking your player through four year’s worth of successes and failures is an engaging experience. The manager mode has also quietly received a few upgrades (you won’t find them in the manual or advertising material), and while not as deep as Konami’s Master League, is still an excellent way to squeeze more out of the FIFA package. Trading and budgets have never been more exciting.

The most immediately obvious enhancement to FIFA 09 comes in the shape of the Adidas Live Season, free for one league out of the box, which updates form from real-life games. So, if Michael Owen has had an off week (not entirely unlikely, given The Magpies’ current form), his virtual self will also suffer a form drop. It’s an interesting idea, and further blends the line between reality and virtuality in soccer, but we can’t help but wonder if some players will be lunging for the ‘disconnect’ button after a particularly bad match.

Players are now more human, and more intelligent.

Players are now more human, and more intelligent.
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Features, though, is probably the direction that FIFA should be going in now. There was certainly a period where the gloss outweighed the substance of the series, but now, we feel safe in saying that the core grunt of FIFA is well established and going well. So, if what goes on inside the pitch is all peachy, for next year, we’d like to see FIFA expand outside the pitch, rather than continue to reiterate in the same direction. And it might just be us, but has it ever occurred to EA Sports to include female leagues in the game?

Soccer videogames rarely play like their physical counterpart, and FIFA 09 is no exception. The flow of the game is somehow lost in translation: where there would be space on the pitch of Wembley Stadium, there are seemingly hundreds of players all pressing for the ball inside gaming consoles the world over. In terms of graphical quality, a passing observer could be forgiven for mistaking FIFA 09 for the real thing, but only the most inexperienced sports fan would claim that the games move in the same way.

Despite this, FIFA 09 is a videogame with such internal consistency, freedom and sheer playability that it’s just as addictive and involving as the real thing.
The Score
FIFA 09 might not be a photorealistic replication of the beautiful game, but it’s finally reached a point where you can care about the type of game played within your console as much as the one played in Old Trafford. 8
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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12 Comments
5 years ago
I have to say this is the best Fifa ever - I loved Uefa 2008 but it was lacking in content and this iteration fully makes up for it. Totally worth the admission price, I am thoroughly enjoying Be A Pro Seasons - one game a day after office and I am trully addicted....
5 years ago
Dead Space, Mirrors Edge and the vast improvements made by FIFA over the last few years are some of the examples of EA are listening to what gamers are saying.

EA have been criticised for bringing rehashes year in year out and they have taken that criticism to improve their games. EA went as far as asking PES fans what they didnt like about FIFA so they can improve on those aspects in their game.

I just got my PES yesterday and so far it is really is laggy online. I havent even finished a sinle online match as they keep crashing and disconnecting. Yet in FIFA 08 at was as if you were playing someone in the same room. Thats how good the online was.

FIFA is a more complete package with its robust online modes and and vastly improved gameplay. Whilst PES just feels the same with nothing much added over the years.
5 years ago
I have bought all previous Fifa editions on the X360 & PC.
I think I made a mistake this year though buying the PS3 version, as this review makes the X360 sounds like it has been coded well and plays alot better.
PS3 Fifa 09 is sluggish with reactions and game play though the simulated play has improved dramatically over previous iterations.

Decisions Decisions, do I trade my PS3 copy in for a X360 copy...
5 years ago
AlphaDark wrote
Decisions Decisions, do I trade my PS3 copy in for a X360 copy...
I have my copy on the PS3 as well - I have played the demo on the 360 (I have UEFA 2008 on 360) and it controls almost the same...
5 years ago
I've been a PES fan for the past 4 years, and EA's effort this year was good enough for me to buy it as well as PES. It's not perfect, the omission of the training mode was a really bad oversight for one, but the Be A Pro mode is a big plus.

I'll still pick up PES for the master league, as the player stat increase/decrease and the trades over the years also gives me a bit of a buzz. It's still something that FIFA hasn't been able to implement.

Although, from memory, the EA NHL series definitely had player growth in it. I wonder why they can't do something similar for FIFA!
5 years ago
^ In my manager modes in Fifa there is player growth. :/
5 years ago
While the BAP Seasons mode is fun I think the fact its a separate mode is a disappointment considering that it doen't include alot of stuff that is in Manager Mode (no club cup games, no assist tracking...this was even in Euro 08's CYC mode!, only 4 seasons, no CPU transfers etc).

All BAP mode is "player lock"...how hard could it have been to include that WITHIN Manager Mode, like most other sports games?
5 years ago
^

Is there? Might check it out then, as the last time I played Fifa a while ago it wasn't there.

If they included it this time then it makes things a lot more interesting.
5 years ago
Player growth was in 08 and is still in 09. But from my experience when its set to Auto, it doesn't allocate points at all, so set it to Manual and take the time to allocate points to player in between games.
5 years ago
I'd give this a 9, it's harder to score games like football because there's so many things that could go wrong. A small problem is always going to snowball in a much worse way than a minor issue in say, a shooting game.

Probably the best game of football I've played along with PES 3 and 4.
5 years ago
PES wii changed the way i think about sports games.
5 years ago
hinduguru wrote
Player growth was in 08 and is still in 09. But from my experience when its set to Auto, it doesn't allocate points at all, so set it to Manual and take the time to allocate points to player in between games.
Not anymore, I have mine set to auto and it allocated points all season long. Eg. Torres went from an 88 to 94 without me having to do a thing but play the games (and score a fuck load of goals with him.)

I definitely agree with your comment on BAP, hopefully next year they add more of the features and increase the length. I think they don't want to add too much in one go, as they might run out of ideas.
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  Pre-order or buy:
    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Australian Release Date:
  3/10/2008 (Confirmed)
Publisher:
  Electronic Arts
Genre:
  Sports
Year Made:
  2008
Players:
  4

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