FIFA Soccer 09ESRB:
Platform: Xbox 360
Developer: EA Canada
Publisher: Electronic Arts
1-4 Players (Offline)
2-4 Co-op (Offline)
2-20 Players (Online)
2-4 Co-op (Online)
23MB Game Save
EA is back with its third Soccer title in the last thirteen months, FIFA Soccer 09. Wanting to ensure that soccer fans know they are not being short-changed by buying the same title over and over again, the game states clearly that this edition has more than 250 improvements from last year. Changes range from subtle tweaks to major additions. Being a fan of the series I took some time away from EA’s NHL 09 to see if they’ve fixed some of the annoyances in previous games and if EA Canada did indeed make this game better.
EA's presentation in the FIFA series has always been fantastic right down to the large amount of stadiums and pitches, both authentic and fictional. The attention to detail is incredible. All are done extremely well which lends to the game’s incredible realism. This includes varied attendances depending on the type of match or opponent you’re playing against too. The players themselves are also incredible feat in itself. I don’t think it would be an easy task to get the likeness of 22 or more players from over 300 different clubs and countries, but EA certainly has done an admirable job in doing so. Those big league players are easily recognizable as they look every bit their real life counter parts. Lesser players can and do bear familiar likenesses but on the whole they are not as generic as other soccer games. This all creates a truly engaging soccer atmosphere for the fans of the sport.
On the pitch the game runs pretty well. There is some minor slowdown here and there but never to the point of frustration. I loved the matches at night with the weather effects on. The rain slicks up the players and water begins to gather in lower areas of the field. Wind also affects the ball psychics, with sometimes maddening side effects. I found a few times while trying to cross the ball into the penalty area that the ball would carry with the wind and it was very noticeable visually speaking.
There are still problems with collision detection from time to time. This was primarily with tackles where the attacking player lost the ball even though no proper contact was made. It reminded me of a similar problem with the NHL series where you poke check an opposing player and sometimes the stick will somehow trip the him even if the stick is nowhere near him. The FIFA specific version of this issue is an annoying problem and I hope EA can address this in the next version.
Outside of the minor problems with collision, animations are fairly well done. Player’s size is now taken into affect both in regards to speed and strength. Small players will are quick but a small tackle will take them off the ball while larger players are slower but harder to check. It’s a nice touch and it is visually represented quite well which really gives more depth to the game. The goalkeeper also has a few more animations this year too. In the past if a goalkeeper dropped to the ground after the first shot, the animation where he gets up was really awkward. This year the animation is much more realistic and smooth as he will try to jump or attempt to block the second challenge at goal. Overall it looks like the development team is really beginning to get a handle on the next-gen hardware and optimizing the engine as needed.
The commentary and in-game sound effects in FIFA 09 are still as solid as ever. The commentary team of Martin Tyler and Andy Gray work really well and they seem to have a great chemistry. I really liked the fact that if you play with different teams the commentary is quite varied. If you decide to stick with one club you will eventually hear some repetition, but that is to be expected over the long run. There is enough dialog for a really interesting match thanks to the insightful comments of both gentlemen.
When it comes to the music of FIFA it never fails to introduce gamers to a large variety of different sounds. Unlike EA’s NHL 09 which caters towards fans of Rock, or any NBA game which includes a large selection of Hip-Hop based soundtracks, FIFA comes with a little bit of everything including some great foreign language songs. You won’t know what they’re singing about but you will still hum along.
Of course one of the biggest factors in the game is the ever-present crowd. They also play an important role in creating an exciting atmosphere, often singing team songs to inspire you to win. They can be raucous loud and boisterous, all the ingredients for an even more enjoyable and realistic experience.
For me the biggest and best change to the FIFA experience is the addition of Be A Pro mode. EA Sports has included the mode in every one of its titles this season, with mostly good results. I found the same mode in the NHL series to be quite rewarding and fun; sadly the feature doesn't work quite as well in FIFA. While the creation tool is very robust and impressive, the practical side of playing the game can be a bit of a chore and boring at times. To be honest the mode will get a bit of a bad rap. Playing as one player on the pitch with nine others fighting for control of the ball can get a little boring and tough. As with hockey teamwork is the key here, without it the game was rendered virtually unplayable. While for some football fans this may seem ultra realistic and true to form, others will see this as a boring jaunt on the pitch. By playing as a forward you will see the ball more often, and this position also allows for XP to accumulate a little faster. I would have liked to seen a mode for less diehard footie fans, but this really defeats the purpose of the mode itself. For those who want to play as one player and build him up over years of play, Be A Pro is the answer.
EA claims that FIFA 09 includes 250 additions to this year’s gameplay engine. I’m not sure if most will notice all of the improvements but some of the development team's efforts are immediately evident. I have always had a problem with FIFA’S control scheme in the past but FIFA 09 finally feels like they have addressed this. The control feels like it utilizes full analog control, if I turn left or right my player will do so more responsively than in previous years. I can do circles with such fluidity that it is quite refreshing. The stiff awkward and clunky feeling stick of previous versions is now smooth and extremely accurate. Gamers will also find some plays easier to execute as a result of tweaking the control. Through balls are a big a part of an effective offence as ever and now they are more effective and way more enjoyable than in the past. You will see your AI teammates calling for a through ball to be delivered, pointing their hand as they begin their run to the goal and you can do this with more efficiency. I must say it is pretty rewarding watching your ball lofting deep into an opponents defence and seeing your forward challenge for the ball and score a goal.
Another change I noticed was the passing game. Just like in any FIFA title you will need to utilize effective passing if you plan on beating your opponent. In previous versions this could become quite frustrating when your computer-controlled teammates would refuse to make proper runs and linger offside. The AI has been improved and now they even wave their hands in front of them asking for the ball when they’ve cleared a zone or are ready to make a run. The goalkeeping AI is also improved with far less fumbles. They also come out of the net more often in an effort to get the ball rather than wait for your instruction.
Something new to the series is the inclusion is a 10 vs. 10 mode. Online junkies will love this mode as it allows up to 20 gamers to play with or against each other. If you have a large friends list with plenty of FIFA players you can actually have two full teams playing against each other. Unfortunately I only managed some 6 on 6 play, but even then it was a shockingly smooth experience. The EA server was cooperative as it was very easy to sign in and get a game going. That being said the EA servers can be unreliable from time to time. Sure, they are much better than they once were but they can still appear sluggish and at times can even be down completely. The only gameplay problem may be with all the egos on the field. Things do get frustrating if your team refuses to pass the ball.
This year’s version boasts over 30 different leagues to choose from, with obvious highlights including England’s Premiership and Mexico’s Primera Division. There is even the option to play as teams from the MLS for fans on this side of the pond. More importantly though is the fact that no matter which team you select the players will react appropriately, and this is where FIFA 09 excels. Player weight, height and speed are taken into account during a number of different scenarios; collide with a much more powerful opponent and you’re likely to suffer an injury, heavier players now slide farther on the pitch, and likewise stronger players can strike and head the ball farther than weaker ones. The realism is becoming scary as EA tweaks the popular series.
There are some pretty impressive new additions to Manager Mode in this year’s version of FIFA. You can now set ticket prices, accept different sponsorship opportunities for the season (each with their own payouts), and even dish out Staff Upgrades. By choosing where to spend these upgrades (basically equivalent to cash) you can target individual areas that your team needs to improve upon. It may seem a bit overbearing at first, but adding additional training for your depleted midfield, or paying extra attention to your Team Scout or Contract Negotiator can really pay off in seasons to come. There is even a handy Stadium Manager who can make sure you fill the venue, or even increase the number of seats if your team becomes too popular. You can also set the vendors prices as well, use a well appointed chart showing what projected prices can do over the course of a season. The up and coming GM’s and team managers can have a field day with the sheer amount of options included.
Scouting has also seen major upgrades this year. You can now scour and travel worldwide looking for that special player needed to improve your team. Of course each trip has its own expense which must be accounted for on top of the team’s budget. The amount of time spent on the trip and number of player positions you want to target can also be customized. For example, a trip to Africa looking solely for a goaltender may cost you 50,000 while a trip to England to scout multiple positions can cost several hundred thousand. The amount of depth seen here is astounding! I spent a very short time tinkering with some of the games modes and found that I was only scratching the surface.
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