Every year around September/October, the two juggernauts of videogame football go head to head. EA Canada’s Fifa and Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer (PES) release within weeks of each other every year. It used to be a case of comparing the two against each other, with both games highlighting each others flaws. Even though comparisons may be made, it appears that what we have this year is two games that are going in very different directions. Whilst the arcade nature of the Pro Evolution Soccer franchise may appeal to some, a more realistic representation of the beautiful game is found in the Fifa series (so from now on, no more Fifa-PES comparisons in this review). This year EA Canada have built on the solid foundations laid by Fifa 08, as well as Euro 2008, and have produced an incredibly realistic game. The improvements that have been made ensure that for those looking for a true football simulation, Fifa 09 is closer to the sport than any videogame has ever come.
Going into this years Fifa, executive producer David Rutter claimed they had made around 250 key improvements for Fifa 09. Although you would be pressed to name each of these improvements, the game feels like it’s running on a completely different game engine. This is for the most part down to the revamped collision system. Where in Fifa 08 players with statistically high pace and acceleration dominated powerful but sluggish defenders, the new collision system makes physical attributes like strength and jumping more noticeable. Don’t expect the pace of Theo Walcott to be the deciding factor when he’s up against a heavily-built centre back. However, it also means that strikers with more power than speed like Emile Heskey can shrug off light tackles and are now more of a handful for defenders. It seems EA worked hard to ensure that attributes are more pronounced than ever before and make each player seem much more like their real-world counterpart.
Whilst physics have always been a big part of football games, never before have I seen a ball react as realistically as in Fifa 09. Corners and crosses arc as you would expect them to, passes have that extra zip in wet conditions and shots swerve and dip as you they do in real life. Expect a hit-and-hope effort from the left foot of an off balance Gary Neville to be curl as high and wide as you would see on television. With all the calculations that must be going on in the background, it is amazing that EA have managed to produce such impressive visuals. Tons of new player faces have been added or remade from last year, stadiums look exactly like they do in real life (see the visually stunning Emirates stadium below) and player animation is simply incredible. I cannot stress enough how realistic the animation is and you’ll be astonished by the variety of animations that you will see. I saw defender Rio Ferdinand wrap his arms around striker Jermaine Defoe, before adjusting slightly put his arms on Defoe’s shoulders. He then proceeded to jump and push himself upwards in order to win the header. As he nodded the ball to Vidic (his defensive partner) the striker collapsed under Rio’s weight, with Rio sent tumbling down on top of him. As good as the referees are I didn’t get a foul for this clear infringement, but for all of the decisions that the refs get right, anyone would find it very hard to complain.
The sound has also been improved over Fifa 08. Fifa 09 has arguably the two best English speaking commentators in the world, in Martin Tyler and Andy Gray. Crowds can be heard singing songs for their team, from ‘Glory, Glory, Tottenham Hotspur’ to ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’. All of the sound effects in the game sound as you would expect them to. Crowds roar when a player scores and does his custom celebration, but also boo penalty decisions and bad tackles.
In terms of new gameplay modes, Fifa 09 offers an abundance of options for users. An new ‘Be A Pro’ mode (‘Be A Pro: Seasons’) has been added in which you take a user created player and lead him up from the reserves of his club team to his national side in the space of four seasons. Last years ‘Be A Pro’ online team play mode has been expanded to 10 v 10 and I can honestly say that it runs smoothly and is an absolute blast to play. Another new online mode, Fifa Clubs, gives the more hardcore users a chance to play clan style 10 v 10 matches against other clubs. Users can join or create clubs, with each club containing up to 50 players. Much like ‘Be A Pro’ online team play, each user can take the role of a generic outfield player on the pitch. Come kick off, the club manager selects the team from the users available to play. Stats are tracked, with clubs being assigned to divisions based on their success. Although the standard manager mode has seen little to no changes from last year, it appears that EA have realised that much of series’ future lies in the ‘Be A Pro’ mode, as well as its online aspects. One would tend to have to agree. Who wouldn’t want to play a Fifa Clubs mode where you get to play as your created player and gain experience to improve your attributes.
Online play also sees the addition of Adidas Live Season in Fifa 09. Real player form for each week is noted by Live Season scouts, with player form represented an preset attribute adjustment. As well as being able to use this new feature in single player modes, player can use Adidas Live Season in online play – providing the team they are using is in top league of England, France, Spain, Germany, Mexico or Italy. Users can choose one free league to receive updates for, with the rest being priced at 560 points each (or a lower total fee of 1600 points if you buy all six). However, although Live Season is a very impressive addition, it seems that players get unrealistic boosts to their attributes if they happened to play well that week. Needless to say it can be turn on or off in whatever mode you choose.
Customisation would appear to be one of the more understated improvements in Fifa 09. Player creation is deeper than it has ever been and I was very impressed that I was able to create a player that looked a lot like me. The general customisation that you would expect, but that most games don’t have, is also there. Users can customise all of their buttons, turn assists on or off, choose from five different difficulty settings and search for only those online matches that meet a variety of user set conditions. There is also an incredibly deep tactics and formation editor (possibly one of the best additions for this year) that allows users to define exactly how they want their team to play. Users can upload tactics online and these can be rated and downloaded. Screenshots and videos of anything in an offline match can be uploaded to the EA Football World website.
For all the large additions that have been put into Fifa 09 (did I mention more stadiums, leagues and teams?) it really is the small things that makes it shine. Players pointing to where they want that pass to come, applauding the through-ball that almost made it through, or reacting angrily to that tackle from behind. Seeing an animation that you haven’t seen before after literally hundreds of games highlights the amount of work that has been put into Fifa 09.
Almost everything in this game works to perfection. Sure, there are a few very rare gameplay glitches (like keepers missing easy shots or crosses) but they are hardly persistent. What EA Canada have done, using their years of experience and fan feedback, is create a game that is almost perfect. This can be said about the best of games, as no game is ever perfect. Not only is Fifa 09 an incredibly fun and addictive game, it’s also the best football game to date.
- Stunning graphics and sound
- Realistic ball and player physics
- Tons of offline/online modes, as well as deep customisation
- One or two bugs that should have been ironed out
- Yep, that’s about it