It would be fairly safe to say that if you are considering purchasing FIFA â€™09 you already own or at least have played its predecessor. Last year FIFA â€™08 pushed the boundaries of what we could expect in a football title, bringing innovative features and cosmetic touches that surpassed its long-time rival, Pro Evolution Soccer (although some will still argue this claim). Now EA have used this foundation and built upon it, adding a ridiculous 250 new features to FIFA â€™09â€¦ we counted around 12 but we donâ€™t doubt there plenty hidden away somewhere.
The first thing a FIFA fan will notice is the lacquer of polish that has been plastered across the presentation of â€™09. The loading arena screen has been given a face-lift, animations for every player seem more realistic and lines-men will now raise their flags to signal offside. Although the overall look and feel of the game is still FIFA â€™08, enough has been done to the interface to make it seem updated. But the main improvements kick in with the gameplay.
This latest instalment seems a bit slower in pace than EURO 2008, but quicker than last yearâ€™s FIFA, and most people will find the gameplay speed perfect. However there are options for you to tweak the match speed to suit your needs in the settings menu. FIFA â€™09 maintains all of the realism that fans appreciated, but the flow of the game seems to have been improved significantly. You will find that a lot of the matches take place through the mid-field, where stringing solid passes between players will allow you to move forward. The end result is a free-flowing football game that is accessible to players of any level, mainly thanks to responsive controls and realistic physics in both the ball and the players.
Players no longer perfectly predict the path of the ball, meaning you have to help position the player to latch onto a goal-kick for example. Usually this means jostling with your marker to get the upper hand and your ability to muscle players off the ball will even depend on which player you are controlling. For example using Chelseaâ€™s Didier Drogba (who looks more like a professional boxer than a footballer) will sometimes give you the upper hand when working for the ball. However all of these player physics are well balanced, so playing as Rooney doesnâ€™t mean you can weasel your way past any defence. It will depend on your playerâ€™s stamina and also how you position yourself when making the play. The end result is very slick. These attributes follow through to all facets of the players as well, Christiano Ronaldo is a speed demon, Fernando Torres is an excellent finisher in front of goal, Shane Smeltz has a magical forehead and Ronaldinho is an absolute bastard. Player fatigue seems to play a better part now too and you will definitely notice the drop in performance towards the last 15 minutes of a close match.
The management and tactical sides of FIFA have also been well addressed in â€™09. Apart from the typical pre-match settings of formations and strategies, now you can adjust your teamâ€™s playing style on the fly to suit your opponent. These new custom team tactics might be a bit simple for some, but they give you instant access to three attributes: defence, attack and chance/counter-attack creation (there are a total of 140 attacking and 40 defending options to mess around with). For example if you take the lead towards the last 10 minutes of a match, youâ€™re not going to want to push everyone forward. Instead you would want to drop back to your half and try to maintain possession, possibly hoping for a counter-attack if the occasion arises. Even when you are not in control of the management of your team, the AI makes excellent decisions for your team. Substitutions are strategic, bringing on a striker if you are behind or taking off yellow carded players appropriately. The whole area of substitutions seems to have been improved too, with fewer delays for players to come on and off the pitch and less bizarre â€śthree-all-at-onceâ€ť exchanges that happened all too often in FIFA â€™08.
The Be A Pro feature was one of the finer aspects of the last game and â€™09 continues to build on it, adding features so good it makes you wonder why they werenâ€™t there to begin with. Be A Pro mode allows you to take either a real-life player, or to create your own and play through four seasons of football. The object is to impress at a club level and earn your way into the national side and represent your country. Depending on your choice of position, or your current rank of player you will have different objectives that you can try to complete per match. For example a striker can earn extra achievement points so scoring a goal and having your team win by a two goal margin. These points go towards building up the attributes of your player, including speed, shot strength, marking ability, volleys, crossing, dribbling and plenty more. It allows you to custom build your player to suit your playing style perfectly. For those who canâ€™t be bothered there is even an auto-improve feature that will add points automatically depending on your position and what needs work. Be A Pro also includes a new camera angle which looks up the pitch from an elevated angle. It takes some getting used to, but it can be a thrilling experience thanks to a clever camera zoom for when play enters the penalty box. It will allow you to get past defenders easier and gives you a great angle for taking a shot on goal. Luckily though, you can still opt to change the camera angle to a more traditional one.
EA have treated customisation in FIFA â€™09 with a much appreciated high regard. The Player Creation feature has had some improvements since â€™08 and making a virtual you to place in any team seems a smoother process now. Similar to EURO 2008, players can now choose the celebration of their choice upon scoring a goal too â€“ ranging from â€śalong the grass divesâ€ť to the â€śdouble-pumpâ€ť that you control by pressing buttons, triggers and moving the analogue stick straight after scoring. There are dozens of different animations to try and you can learn how to perform them before a match to find your particular favourite. My personal celebration of choice is â€śthe robotâ€ť â€“ which is especially hilarious when scoring with David Beckham.
Single-player FIFA â€™09 is brilliant. But amazingly EA have even given the multiplayer features new life as well. â€™09 now boasts an impressive 10 versus 10 online mode making for one of the most realistic football experiences to date. With 10 players per side, it means that every player takes a real-life position on the pitch (the goalie is still AI unfortunately) and ensures that playing as a team is the only way to ensure victory. Of course having nine human team-mates that youâ€™ve never met before can bring its own problems, but with a good group of players nothing comes close to this online football experience.
Finally, being an avid Wellington Phoenix FC supporter, I have to mention the local content of FIFA â€™09. Like last yearâ€™s game, the A-League tournament is still here and all of the rosters have been updated for the 2008/09 season. The likenesses of each player appear to have been improved as well, with Dodd, Gao and Smeltz all roughly resembling their real-life counter-parts. And Draper still looks like a freak so everything is in order.
FIFA â€™09 pushes the boundaries once more and it will hopefully give Konami something to think about. Graphically this game is superb and although there are some still slight glitches, offers the most comprehensive and realistic football games on the market. Some people might complain about the offside decisions being too precise (it appears that the linesman can spot an offside within an inch). Perhaps the game could be designed with some human error in mind, but then there would be greater complaints with decisions against you when you see you are not offside in the replay. Overall this is a beautiful gameâ€¦ for the beautiful game.