Year after year EA's FIFA team have to go head to head with Konami's Pro Evolution Soccer team. And each year football fans alike have their difference of opinion. Before I start this review, I am going to categorically put it out there. I used to be a PES fanboy. There, I have said it. But over the past few years I have been swaying over to the dark side, and after writing this review, I think it will become evident that I am no longer a PES fanboy, but a proud FIFA fanboy.
Well that spiel was worthy of winning any presidential election. But why have I changed? Let's find out.
EA had 2 bites at the cherry this year, with their first bite being a test case as you like. Being a Euro Cup year EA were able to test their plans for FIFA 09 in UEFA EURO 2008. Based on community feedback, EA were able to make tweaks to the game, easily changing what gamers didn't like about the game, while keep the things that gamers did like - in (I'm looking at you here custom celebrations). This did however mean that EA had no excuses if FIFA 09 ended up to be bad - thankfully it isn't.
As in previous FIFA games, on booting up the game you are able to play around with the ball with your desired player in the arena. You can take free-kicks or penalty's, but if you just feel like blasting the ball from 30 yards, that's fine too. Once you're ready to start your main FIFA experience you can enter your preferred game mode. The modes that you would all expect are here. Custom tournaments, Exhibition mode, and Quick play. You then have your main single player games; Manager Mode and Be a Pro Mode, so there is certainly enough to keep you very busy on the pitch.
For those unaware, in Be A Pro mode you control 1 player and 1 player only. You can start as a created player, or as an already created player. Your aim is to eventually play good enough to catch your national coaches' eye and make it into your Nationalities International team. This time your career lasts 4 seasons rather than just the 1 found in FIFA 08. You gain stats depending on your performance, and you will need to perform well in order for your national coach to notice you. If playing as 1 individual player isn't your cup of tea, or you get a little bored playing as only 1 player (which you will), you can head to the other main single player game mode, Manger Mode.
In Manager Mode you control the running of a team of your choice from player transfers, wage salaries, scouting and staff, to managing what goes on the field, players, positions etc. You can however simulate the game, but where's the fun in that? This mode hasn't changed much from that seen in previous FIFA games, but you will still spend months building up your perfect team by buying the best players in the world, or at least attempting to anyway.
For me, the major problem playing previous FIFA games was that I found them to be too slow. But from FIFA 08 till now I have seen a major improvement. It is now possible to dribble past a player, especially if you are the talented Cristiano Ronaldo or the speed demon Lionel Messi. It's still not as easy to dribble past players as in the previous PES game, but I have however gained an important lesson when playing FIFA 09 - let the ball do the work, that's what it is there for after all. Use the fluent one-two technique to aid you in victory. This year EA have also changed the shooting. It is a lot more responsive and first time shots seem to flow better. Although, you still won't score if the ball is bouncing all over the place.
There are a few other things that have changed in FIFA 09, gameplay wise, and there are a few that I love. Jumping for a header just seems a lot more realistic. You have to time both the jump along with your positioning on the ground to make a successful header. This makes it possible for the smaller player to actually win a header, if timed correctly. They have also changed the way the players react to both the ball and players around them. It's great to watch as your running down the wing, then the defender takes you out and you go down like you have been shot by a sniper - not pointing at anyone in particular, Ronaldo. It is great to watch, as the players fall like you would expect them to in a real game. Those players who have previously played FIFA 08 should notice these changes instantly. You will also notice that the AI is a lot smarter. They close you down a lot faster, and do score some cracking goals at times.
EA's presentation in the FIFA series has always been superb. This is mainly down to the fact that they have the licenses for almost everything. Nine out of ten top team players are easily identifiable as their professional counterparts. The stadiums are superb, which also replicate the real thing in outstanding detail.
The commentary team in FIFA 09 is the same as FIFA 08. Made up of main man Clive Tyldsley and joined by the husky sounding Andy Gray. I cannot fault the commentary one bit. They simply add to the excitement of what's going on the field. The crowd also play an important part in the excitement, often singing your team's songs to inspire you to win.
One of the best features I like in FIFA 09 over FIFA 08 however is the inclusion of custom celebrations. Staying similar to that off UEFA EURO 2008, the custom celebrations allow you to taunt the crowd by a series of gestures (not rude ones) as well as embarrass yourself - singling out Rio Ferdinand on this one for attempting to do the robot, rather Amusing.
If you are finished with the single player side of things, or fancy another challenge then fear not, FIFA online is here. There is a variety of online modes for you to participate in, including EA's pride and joy the 10 vs 10 online games. As in Be A Pro mode, you and 9 other friends (or randoms) can take part in a 10 vs 10 game. I was a little hesitant about this feature at first, as I wasn't too sure how it would work exactly. After playing the game however, I was pleasantly surprised. You command one player's position, but what's even better about this online feature is that if one of your teammates leaves, the game continues and you can change which player it is you control. It is truly breathtaking what EA have achieved here, and an idea which may change the way we game online in the future (for sports games at least). I can quite easily see this idea being adopted in games like NHL, Madden and NBA in the future.
If 10 vs 10 isn't your thing, then you can test your skills in the ranked matches section. Online mode plays with very little lag, if any. You might get the occasional jitter here and there but you would get that no matter what game you were playing. Although as far as multiplayer goes, you can't beat a night in with a few beers (or cokes if you're under 18) with your mates. This is something that PES usually dominates in, but so far, PES has been gathering dust in the cupboard.
The beautiful game. That's what football is all about, and that's what FIFA is all about. With 30 fully licensed leagues, over 15000 players and a shed load of other features, FIFA 09 has really set the bar high. EA Sports, it's in the game. Next Up.... Konami.