2007’s FIFA 08 was a fantastic football game. This was the first time in a long time that the words “FIFA” and “fantastic” could be used in a sentence, the improvement in the series immense but greatly overdue. While Pro Evolution Soccer never quite made it through the vetting stage of so-called “next generation” gaming, EA Sports bulldozed the door down and made itself at home. Konami was left to lick its wounds and wait – both games release new additions yearly – while football fans everywhere suddenly decided that FIFA was the hardcore choice. So, a year on, we have FIFA 09. Have EA Sports sought to improve an already fine game or merely sat on its laurels? Can it be caught now? Read on to find out.
One of the first things you’ll notice about FIFA 09 is how fast it is. The series has, in recent years, been known to make a real effort to strive for realism. Visually, this was usually accomplished; graphical power pushed to the limit to provide the closest thing to watching a game on TV. Sadly, the gameplay usually suffered with FIFA 08 even guilty of playing a tad too sluggishly.
FIFA 09 is a different story altogether. Players move how they should, reacting sharply to each analogue stick movement, meaning you really feel in control of a bunch of well-trained, fit athletes. Sharp turning is accompanied by various levels of skill and speed in each individual player, their personalities and style somehow being rendered brilliantly by the development team.
Finishing has been worked on massively – one-on-one chances ended too frequently with near-post finishes, which eventually took its toll on the experience last time around. In FIFA 09, these situations, for example, can end in any number of ways. Shooting across the goalkeeper (like we are told to in real life) has been made significantly easier, resulting in a greater level of realism and immersion. Instantly the game feels so much more enjoyable.
Ball movement and behaviour really feels like it should. Gone is the leather bag of rocks that FIFA all too often presented us in the past, while passing is based entirely on how long you hold the button down, making the game feel how a simulator should. This goes for so many aspects of the game, as you really feel in control of the destiny of the ball – it’s just a matter of how much composure and patience you have in your build-up play, as well as your skill level, as players move into great positions and signal when and where they want the ball played to them. It makes for a truly living and breathing football match.
The human physics on show incredible in too. Players bounce off of one another due to the collision detection system now employed. This means when you are controlling, say, the powerhouse that is Emmanuel Adebayor of Arsenal, and are chasing a ball alongside a slightly smaller defender, you can out muscle them and reach the ball if you are determined enough; players will even fall to the floor when under enough weight, which can be satisfying and infuriating in equal measure.
Headers too are hotly contested, with players often hitting the deck if challenged by a player who is stronger in the air, while timing of jumps and jostling for position before the ball comes down are all important (a mistimed leap can result in a striker pouncing in on goal behind the defence). Again, EA’s ability to really draw you in and make you feel like part of the action is displayed in great effect.
While the game features all the modes you would expect from a football title, it is the Be A Pro function – much improved since 2008 – that really helps it stand out. In true EA style, you are able to create your own character in-game. You are then given the option to play for the team of your choice and, with four seasons to prove your worth in whichever position you choose, are thrown into the reserve team to build your way up. The smart camera (third person adventure-esque) allows you to control one man throughout each match, with small challenges really giving you something to work for individually, in an environment that also heavily relies on a team ethic. The possibility of captaining your own national team at the end of it makes this journey very much worthwhile.
Graphically, the game is absolutely superb. Player models have become sleeker and more realistic, losing the puppy fat that plagued every player in FIFA 08, while animations are the most realistic ever seen in a football game. Meanwhile, true to the FIFA series, stadiums – both visually and atmospherically – are fantastically well recreated. The roar of the crowd is different wherever you play, with different countries providing a whole host of different chants and roars.
EA’s familiar menu screens are perfect for the game, even giving you a chance for some target practice when waiting for a match to load, while the soundtrack includes some choice cuts from indie and dance music (CSS and Ladyhawke FTW!). Commentary from Sky Sports (here in the UK anyway) stalwarts Martin Tyler and Andy Gray is second-to-none as you really get the impression you are watching a top-notch broadcast; Tyler seems to call everything as you see it on screen.
Nothing new at all here for the series though, it’s always had the bells and whistles. But the fact that FIFA 09 plays such a fantastic game of football means that this is a genre-defining title, the best of its kind. Rarely has a game felt like such a labor of love and it’s difficult to see how things can get better. Online play helps the experience last all year round, which means another year for Konami to sit on the sidelines and watch EA show them how the game is really played.
Reviewer’s note: The Playstation 3 version was tested for this review
Beautful character models and a truly realistic look to how the game plays. Remarkable.
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The most accomplished virtual game of football to date. New physics system makes for greater immersion.
The music may not be to everybody's taste although the quality can't be denied. Commentary and crowd atmosphere are fantastic.
Endless possibilities. No match is ever the same, while "Be A Pro" just adds greater depth.
The best football game ever made.