Normally I'd start a review with a big build up about history, story, plot, context and where the game finds its roots etc, etc... Well, this one's nice and simple. If you don't like football, or football games then stop reading and go spend your money elsewhere. Its not like there's a shortage of games around to buy at the moment! Believe me, its bad when the only thing keeping me from declaring my wallet bankrupt is that I don't have the time to play them all!
Right, now they're gone it's just me and you... You understand the beautiful game, you know that if I say greatest goal ever scored you're not going to mind me saying for me it's between Paolo Di'Canio's Volley for West Ham or Marco Van Bastens Unbelievable strike in the Euro's against USSR.
So are you here because you want to see if we agree on our opinions of this game? Are you here to see if you should swear allegiance to FIFA over PES? Or are you just wondering how 09 compares to 08 and what improvements have been made?
Its been said many times that Football is the beautiful game, and every year its a two horse race to see who can provide the closest example of this in the virtual stadium.
A few years ago PES was the undisputed football king with EA's FIFA series lagging a distant 2nd, it just didn't cut it. Then with FIFA 07 they completely re-imagined the series and built it again from the ground up, creating a more realistic simulation of football to separate itself from PES's more Arcadey feel, so much so that apart from the subject matter, you're almost dealing with two completely different animals now!
Let's start at the beginning with a simple overview of this year's iteration of FIFA. Quite simply put, they've improved over last years by working on the basics and creating what comes close to the best football game I've ever played.
EA have been shouting from the rooftops that they've made 250 changes to the core gameplay of last years version, the most obvious of these that you'll pick up on within seconds of your first game are, they've made it play faster (you don't feel like your players are underwater anymore), they react quicker, they tackle better, they pass the ball better, they are more accurate with passing play, all in all, I still make mistakes in this game but I no longer feel like I'm not in control and that I'm incompetent. I know that the mistakes I now make are mine and that things don't work for me in-game because I'm just not that good at the game! But I'm getting there, and it's really enjoyable to try!
Graphically its not a massive leap from last time, with this Gen of consoles we're getting the best graphics we've ever had from games and sometimes its easy to forget that they don't necessarily need to have improved as games develop, granted Facial likeness's are better than ever now, and players are much more recognisable as ever-so-slightly caricatured versions of themselves, even down to their animations of how they run, stand over dead-balls and how they hit it.
Where 09 has made strides forward (excuse the pun) is within the animations off the ball and in the general flow of the game. You'll actively see players pointing where they want the ball played before they make their run into the space, when you receive the ball facing the wrong way, with a quick flick of the left stick you can change direction with a backheel, turn or even a quick kick-up over the head and you're away. Everything feels fluid and real, it doesn't feel scripted, it feels like they're movement and their skills are totally on the fly and completely unique.
Weight and build has been considered now within players build. Hulking Defenders now carry their appropriate weight, knocking down nippy wingers and winning jostles a bit easier. You also have much greater control while vying for a header in or out of the box and overall it makes you consider who's on the ball and what they're up against a little bit more. Its something I'd been hoping they'd add but didn't think they'd get it quite this right!
A nice touch that has made it into FIFA 09 that first appeared in the Euro Champ 08 game is the ability to customise your goal celebration. Dependant on a sequence of buttons that you press once you've scored your man will either quiet down the fans, slide to the corner flag or backflip his way down the touchline. This feature, although simple, does give you some serious bragging rights online when you hit that 89th minute winner and top it off with a gymnastic celebration!
As game-modes go its fairly cut and dried and what we'd expect. You have exhibition games, the manager mode where you take control of the entire back-room goings on, buying players, getting your players fit, running the team. etc and building a world conquering squad from one of about 16 different nations and about 25 different leagues. Personally, although I'm a Wolves fan, I decided to take control of the mighty, mighty Shrewsbury Town and guide them to the dizzy heights of European Glory, a stage they took to with Gusto!
There's tournament mode, both traditional and custom ones, plus it's nice to see after last year's debacle that the FA cup final is now played at Wembley (You have no idea how much it annoyed me that not being in 08)
The Be a Pro mode that was introduced last year is back and this time its bigger and better, you can take control of any player for any team or if you're like me, you can create yourself and start your career in the reserves of your team of choice and work up to becoming National Captain and guiding your country to World Cup Glory.
For anyone unfamiliar with the BAP system, you play a full match but have control of only one player for the full 90 minutes on pitch, you have to hold a position and undertake the tasks related to that role, so as a defender, you're main role is to keep attacks out, as midfield its mostly to support defenders and move play forward, or as a front man its to basically put it in the back of the net. It is such a lot of fun to play, and the addition of being able to work towards becoming the national team captain makes it even more fun!
The usual online options are available with one new addition that's a pretty cool one to play, taking the BAP gameplay to the next level you can take control of one of 10 players on a team vs. another team of 10 (goalies are computer controlled) each person on the pitch is a unique individual somewhere in the Xbox live world and its a fantastic feeling to play as a real team and win games (voice chat can become a bit hectic though!). I definitely recommend trying to get a fill team together to try this mode!
Something worth mentioning is a feature that I won't be able to take them up on yet. (EA PLEASE TAKE NOTE!)
Introduced this year is a system known as Adidas Live season. How this works is a simple concept.
By activating Adidas Live real world stats of current form are added to the players in game. So for example, a team doing particularly well at the moment (at time of Writing) in the English Premiership is Hull City. As a standard team they are rated as one of the weaker premiership teams, but, Adidas Live stats in theory will mean that their players are now rated higher because of their current form. Inversely Tottenham are currently bottom of the premiership wherein their in game rating will have been affected dropping them down in overall rating.
Whilst I think this is a great idea, its a shame to see that you are only offered one league for free with your game (which I wasn't as I didn't get a booklet in my review copy and the code is on the back) and every other league (of which there are another 7 available) cost you about £5 each for the season. Meaning that on top of the £40 to buy the game you've got to shell out another £20-30 to get all the facilities that Adidas live offers. I think it's a shame that this is considered a viable way to make more money from gamers and isn't included in the initial fee of the game but then that's the corporate animal at work there. So it's a nice idea that maybe needs to be re-thought next year!
In-game commentary is provided by Andy Gray and Martin Tyler as it has been for a few years, its as good as it is hearing them on Sky Sports and (barring the occasional misplaced comment) is as engrossing as it is listening to them commentating on a real game!
The stadiums sound like real stadiums and in certain grounds, real world chants will be heard which is a really nice touch, there's nothing like playing at Old Trafford and hearing 'Glory, Glory Man United' being sung over the action!
As a conclusion I'd say as a football fan you'd be robbing yourself to not play this game, gone are the days of FIFA and PES competing for the same market, they both have their places, FIFA as a true football simulator an PES as its arcadey little brother.