IGN Review of FIFA Soccer 09
It appears that EA Sports has gotten over its initial growing pains when moving from last-generation consoles to the HD era. There's no doubt that the inaugural batch of sports games had its fair share of bugs, hitches and inaccuracies, but with every passing season EA Sports has been able to up its game for each release in its large stable of titles.
FIFA Soccer 09 is no different than the rest, delivering the tightest gameplay that we've seen from the series -- current-gen or otherwise. The feature set is there, the visuals are as sparkling as ever and the finer points of the game are finally starting to round-out the FIFA package.
The biggest and most immediate change to the FIFA Soccer experience is the addition of Be A Pro mode. It's in every EA Sports game for this season and it doesn't look like it's going anywhere anytime soon. Sadly, the featured addition (as far as modes go) doesn't work quite as well in FIFA as it has in other sports games. While the creation tool is tight and the presentation of your career is acceptable (though not as impressive as in UEFA), it's the general gameplay that draws my criticism.
It's not a fault of the developer at EA Canada but playing as one player on the pitch with nine others all fighting for control of the ball can get a little boring. It's inherent to the sport of football, but I would have liked to see a mode for less diehard footie fans. There are some who will dig the realism of only getting three touches in a half, while others (like me) will be bored by it. Having a mode where people man the middle, forward and back parts of the field and rotate in between those players seems like it might be a fitting addition to next year's game.
Still, for those who want to play as one player and build him up over years of play, Be A Pro is the answer. But that's not why I'll be playing FIFA for the next few months. Instead it's the refinements that have been made to the core gameplay. EA loves to tout the fact that there have been more than 250 additions to the gameplay formula. While I wouldn't go quite that far, the development team's efforts are immediately evident.
FIFA 09 is much more in tune with the physical play that happens in football. Bigger athletes now carry their appropriate weight, knocking down guys and winning jostles a bit easier than a smaller forward or midfielder. You also have much greater control while vying for a header in or out of the box. It's something that I've been clamoring for the last few years and it's good to see that it's finally in.
Through balls are as big a part of an effective offense as ever, but they're a bit more effective and fun than in the past. You'll now see AI obviously calling for a through to be delivered, pointing their hand as they begin their run to the goal. There are few feelings as rewarding as lofting a lob through deep into a defense and watching your forward win the ball and score the goal. Good stuff indeed.
All of this finely-tuned gameplay is tied together by the locomotion of the animations. There has been a lot of work done to the tackling system which pays dividends for the most part. There are times when a player will lurch and fall in the wrong direction, but overall I was impressed with the outcome of most of the physical play. There are also some different moves that can be pulled off, most of which are context-sensitive in relation to the ball's position, but they all help bring the virtual incarnation closer to the genuine article.
The artificial intelligence has also been tuned, mostly for the better, though there are a few wrinkles. Starting with the good: the headache of delivering passes in the wrong direction or length has been all but eliminated. The few times when I did deliver a bad pass it was all user error, I didn't feel like the game screwed me as it has in the past. Next, goalie AI has been cranked up a notch. There are still a few moments when he'll let a ball go out of bounds that he could have grabbed, but for the most part he's as aggressive as he should be.
The spotty artificial intelligence shows itself mainly when the opposition is trying to negotiate the sideline. Sometimes they'll let passes cross the sideline that they could have easily stopped, other times they'll dribble out of bounds because they didn't realize their position on the field. These guys are pros and such silly mistakes simply do not happen.
The online game has seen a few improvements as well, now making room for the 10-on-10 gameplay that inherits the spirit that so many of EA Sports' creations are adopting this year. Twenty players can link up, each taking the reigns of one player on the field and if you like the squad you're with you can even join up in a FIFA Club. There are 15 divisions, all of which are vying for that coveted number one ranking.
Another change to the online package is Live Season. This continues on the path of NBA Live's Dynamic DNA as you can select from a set of European leagues and then download things like player tendencies and changing skill levels throughout a season. It's not as swanky as NBA Live 09's free Dynamic DNA -- you'll have to pay for the Live Season after your free trial expires -- but the idea is the same. Now all that's left for you to decide is how much importance you put on the extensive stat tracking that the feature affords. For me that wasn't much.
Graphically, the game is just as sharp as it was last year with very few improvements aside from the aforementioned animations. The grass looks green and sharp and the player models have some solid detail, especially in the Be A Pro camera angle and in close-ups. The only real gripe I have is that some of the less important animations (players getting ready before the opening kick) repeat way too often. Celebrations could be a bit more dynamic as well.
The commentary of FIFA Soccer has always been a high point for the game and this year is no different. Andy Gray and Martin Tyler provide excellent accented insights that, while they could be a bit more plentiful, are entertaining for most games. The crowd noise is also great, enveloping you in the atmosphere of a match if you have a proper 5.1 surround sound system.
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