The football season may be reaching its climax, but FIFA 09 certainly isn’t thanks to the Ultimate Team game mode released by EA Sports. This latest downloadable content for FIFA 09 introduces a card system that has never been seen before in the series – and I’m not talking about the referee’s red and yellow cards either.

Ultimate Team sees players collecting bronze, silver and gold cards in order to build up the ultimate football club. Cards, collected in packs – depending on the colour, range from the likes of players and staff, to celebrations and contracts, each of which could prove helpful when choosing your squad to compete in matches and tournaments.

Matches can be played online against a human opponent or offline against the AI and it’s a similar case with tournaments. In my experience with online play, late comers will struggle to cope with the already highly-built teams. I strongly believe EA should have resorted to a ranking system in order for the game mode to work; playing ‘Edwards’ against the likes of Ronaldinho and Wayne Rooney isn’t the most enjoyable of experiences.

Depending on your performance in matches, players earn coins to which can be spent on card packs. Therefore the more games you play, the more developed your team will become – hopefully. Unfortunately, EA have added the option to purchase card packs using Microsoft Points, so right from the start you can buy any packs you desire. Sadly this just loses the whole sense of building your team up and takes the majority of the fun out of it.

Another not so enjoyable experience is the EA servers, which aren’t that reliable. Failure to connect and even random connection losses mid-game doesn’t make the Ultimate Team experience that ultimate. It’s also quite disappointing to see that the game mode can only be played whilst signed into Xbox LIVE, so if the online service goes down, you’ll be left to play with ‘real’ teams.

But despite all the game mode’s bad points, I do have a lot of praise to offer. This is by far my favourite game mode on FIFA 09, and there’s a definite hint of addiction. After each game, you quickly want to move onto the next one in order to build your team as rapidly as possible.

The card system itself is very in-depth and every aspect of football is covered. My favourite is the inclusion of gameplay cards, which can give your team that vital little boost in order to overcome the opposition. This includes the likes of making the referee lenient and statistic boosts.

So the game isn’t unbelievably easy, players have contracts tied to them, which must be re-signed using a contract card, otherwise they are removed from your squad after a number of matches. The lower status of the player, the longer you keep them for. It may just be me, but this is a great feature which has that true managerial feel to it. It almost makes me want to lose my life to Football Manager again.

Something I wasn’t expecting was updates to features such as the commentary, which has new phrases to listen to as you indulge yourself into the football experience. Whilst they will no doubt get old quickly, it’s still good to be able to hear something different. Something I was expecting was new achievements, these new challenges can be earned by making progress throughout the game mode. They range from being very easy to collect, such as buying your first silver pack, to more time-consuming objectives, such as winning all the online tournaments. The new achievements are certainly a good addition to the already great list.

Overall, for the 800 Microsoft Points price tag, FIFA 09 Ultimate Team is a worthy purchase for fans of the game. It certainly adds new life into the title, despite some poor development choices by EA.

David Wriglesworth

David Wriglesworth is a Northern lad with a passion for gaming, who graduated from the University of Lincoln with a BA (Hons) Journalism degree. If you can drag him away from the consoles, you can probably find him Tweeting or watching Coronation Street.

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