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FIFA Soccer 09 REVIEW

FIFA Soccer 09 Review (PS3)

For the first time in years, EA Sports’ soccer simulation has hit stores with lofty expectations. Coming off a very successful '08 campaign, the chance to succeed yet again has been set up nicely by EA Sports.

The depth and variety of game modes is where FIFA 09 really shines. Returning is the tournament mode, where you can either control up to four clubs in a premier league, or if you want a challenge, play in the lower divisions and try to work your way up the tables. Creating your own tournament as well is still an option; unfortunately, you still can’t hand pick the teams you want in the tournament and that hurts the non-PES soccer gamers looking to create their own UEFA Champions League.

Nevertheless, the heart and soul of FIFA 09 for offline players is Manager mode. Putting on the managerial hat for your club, your duties range from on-field team tactics to financial expenses like arranging sponsorship deals, negotiating players’ contracts, and dealing with the transfer market. You don’t necessarily have to pull a Chelsea and spend the cash on the big names to have fun though; you could choose to go the Arsenal route and nurture your young talent or even send scouts out to different regions of the world in search of future stars à la Manchester United.

Also, fans who have been frustrated by how long negotiations take in the old FIFA games will be happy to read that the contracts, scouting and transfers work at a faster pace this year, allowing you to make some quick changes to your squad before the summer transfer window closes and throughout your career as a manager.


FIFA Soccer is here once more. Did it meet expectations?


Be A Pro: Seasons


Combining what EA Sports started in FIFA 08 and continued in the form of Captain Your Country mode in UEFA Euro 2008, FIFA 09 boasts the latest version of controlling one virtual footballer on a team in the Be A Pro: Seasons mode.

You can either create your pro or just choose a real player on any of the gazillion clubs in the game. Being the Manchester United fan that I am, I chose Nani as my pro, with hopes of improving the young Portuguese winger who in real life hasn’t quite lived up to expectations quite yet. Unfortunately, the same can be said for BAP Seasons as well. Despite having to work your way up on two teams (club and international) the experience on the pitch still feels half-baked. For starters, before you become the captain of your squad, you have no access to the team management menu; this means you could play some games being played in a position not suited for your pro. You also have to play not only against, but also with the sometimes erratic A.I. The rating system is yet again inadequate and assists aren’t recorded, a setback for Nani since his role on the team is to primarily set up goals. However, this mode enables you to see and play the game from a different point of view and is especially fun if playing as a forward.

Adidas Live Season

As for new features, we can’t talk about FIFA 09 without mentioning the Adidas Live Season. This feature, somewhat like NBA Live DNA, updates the ratings and form of players on a weekly basis in the game. This feature allows you to set up your team’s lineup with the players who are at their best -- so you would know not to select Ronaldo after he has gained a few extra pounds. While this might be worth it for the stat geeks or die-hard fans who want up-to-date player ratings, the feature is in some ways limited.

First off, it can only be utilized in online matches and exhibition quick games, and it is only available for six leagues; five European and one Mexican division. Adidas Live Season also comes at a price; you can choose to either buy leagues separately or purchase all six in a packaged deal. The fact that the service only lasts until May of next year isn’t all that thrilling either, but at least there is a trial code in every manual, so you can decide if it’s worth your hard-earned money.


FIFA is an improved game as far as the sound and graphics are concerned.

Presentation

In the audio-visual department, FIFA 09 definitely has made strides in the last year. The top-notch soundtrack contains 40-plus songs from 21 different countries, while the commentary is, as Martin Tyler and Andy Gray would say, "spot on." Tyler and Gray have great chemistry once again as their exchange of words always seem to directly relate with what's happening on the pitch. There are a few odd moments though, like when they can tell the prognosis of an injury as soon as it happens, or when they react to a goal after the ensuing kickoff. Some may be tired of the duo, but I still believe they work great together in the game.

As for the player models, they are much better this year. The jerseys have more realistic wrinkles and the body frames are less stocky. From the wide-far angle that soccer game cameras utilize, the visuals in FIFA 09 are second to none, but a close up during cut-scenes or slowed down replays show facial animations that are somewhat lacking. Let's just say despite not being directly affiliated with either of the two soccer games this season, pretty boy Cristiano Ronaldo wouldn’t be too pleased with EA’s graphics crew. The graphics also drop off quite a bit when playing online, but that's one of the few negatives when it comes to online play.

Online Play

Online leagues makes a debut in this year's FIFA, but the highlight for online gamers this year is BAP: Online Team Play. With up to 20 consoles around the globe being able to partake in one match of the beautiful game, it’s an idea great in concept. However, it’s not so practical once the game begins. Everyone tends to go out of position and do a little too much on their own. While decent with randoms some of the time, the mode is at its best when playing with friends or in an organized setting such as the new FIFA Clubs mode.

Being able to join a club or create one of your own depicts what "being a pro" is all about, and it therefore really takes soccer online gaming to new heights. As the captain of a club you can scout players via their stats and invite those that you think may be able to help you in your quest to be the best FIFA club online. Although it can’t yet be said how well this mode will be carried out in the long run, it definitely adds another aspect to this game and offers something more than the PES version of be a pro.


On the pitch, FIFA performs very well, although there are still some drawbacks.

On the Pitch

In comparison to the competition, FIFA’s clear-cut prowess in the game modes and features department isn’t new to most, but is this the year the same can finally be said on the turf?

The folks at EA Sports promised a gameplay experience with more than 250 improvements for FIFA 09. While I can’t quite testify how true that is, I can tell you that there are a few very noticeable additions on the playing field this year. Once dubbed a gentleman’s game played by the rough, FIFA 09 finally brings to life the physicality and ruggedness of soccer. Player collisions on and off the ball are very believable and realistic looking; gone are the days when a minute stature like Robinho would be able to jostle a Patrick Viera for position. With this enhancement, you can reap the benefits of having a physical specimen such as Wayne Rooney or Chelsea midfield maestro Michael Essien on your side to go up against those bullying defenders.

The heading animations are also very evident and perhaps the best ever to grace a footie game. Finally the players actually reach back when trying to put a head on a ball during those swerving crosses from the wing, showing off so much more than just neck action. This addition does a lot for toning down cheap header goals, something that has plagued the FIFA series for years -- mistime your header this year and your player will not be making any contact with the ball, let alone putting the ball in the back of the net.

New animations and other player interactions also look crisp and happen naturally during the game. When trying to get back defensively, you can visibly see your last man back signaling to his teammates what positions they should go to while he himself is trying to cover up some ground. Players’ emotions also add an authentic feel to the game -- many times you can spot Paul Scholes' or any other United player's frustration after Nani’s poor decision-making in the final third, or Adebayor clapping his hands above his head as a sign of appreciation for a Cesc Fabregas through ball that almost got him a goal.

The controls are almost identical to last year's, but as a PES gamer as well, one new addition that stands out to me is the insertion of the dummy. Now upon receiving a pass in a congested area on the pitch, you can hold R1 and watch as your player deceivingly runs off without the ball, taking his marker with him and leaving the ball for his teammate behind -- beautiful.


Custom tactics take team managerial aspects of the game to a whole new level.

Another addition this year is the new custom tactics that takes team management to a level never before seen in a FIFA game. Custom tactics allow you to not only edit formation and player roles, but also change the positioning of players, set what areas of the field a player should cover, and design how your team plays as a collective unit. More tactical squads like Chelsea and Bayern Munich have more organized buildup play, while Barcelona and Arsenal are much more free-flowing in how they approach their opponent’s goal line. All these settings can be modified to your liking and uploaded to your FIFA Locker for online play and sharing with others.

Despite these new additions however, FIFA 09’s gameplay is held back by some not so intelligent A.I. and a lack of attacking variety.

The A.I. on professional difficulty (the default setting) has zero to no offensive ambition. The A.I. plays you tight in its own half, making tackles and covering up open space, but once it crosses midfield, it noticeably stops running and making passes to the open man. On the two higher difficulty levels, the A.I., thankfully, doesn't only play on one side of the pitch, but those levels are plagued by goal-keeping errors and players at times running the ball out of bounds.

When it comes to the goalies, there are times when no amount of holding the charge button will get your keepers to the loose balls; they just stay on their goal line while you the player are left helpless, conceding a cheap goal. There’s also the "where’s the ball?" glitch in the game. Regardless of difficulty, game mode, or offline/online play there are weird times during the action when players running onto a loose ball stop and look around like the ball has disappeared. It doesn’t happen all the time, but it happens often enough to assume that EA Sports has a patch in the works for this gameplay issue. Other than that, the A.I. does shine in some areas. The CPU when in attacking position does take shots from long range, and on the harder difficulties all the big name clubs play just like their real-life counterparts.

My main beef with FIFA games in the past has been the defending. Although greatly improved, FIFA 09 sadly hasn’t quite squashed this beef. The closing down speed of defenders is a tad unrealistic and the tackles when made are still too effective. There’s hardly any wiggle room after a defender gets stuck in, and this doesn’t depict the freedom and flow of a real soccer game accurately enough.

Excellent ball physics can be seen almost everywhere on the field in FIFA 09, except in the final third of the pitch. It seems no matter how hard you hit a shot, there’s still some sort of ball-floating issue just before a shot gets to the goalie. It’s very frustrating to see Steven Gerrard strike the ball with a high amount of velocity and power only to have the keeper calmly place his hands under the ball and secure it. I don’t care if I shoot it straight at the keeper, not even Petr Cech can hold onto a hot potato like that. Because of this imparity, creating chances outside the box still aren't as rewarding or as exciting as they should be.

Yes, the ratio of goals outside the box when compared to tap-ins still aren’t favorable, but during my time playing the game, I hit the bar way more times than I scored from outside the box. The placement shots, done by holding down R1 when shooting, are well implemented but way too effective once you learn them. It reminds me of the old FIFA games in the late '90s when all shots had a wicked curl on them; thankfully though, it isn’t nearly as bad in FIFA 09.

Skills are one area where EA Sports can take a page out of the PES book. The moves are increased in number and are still visually appealing, but they are still not as essential to the gameplay as a fan of the beautiful game would like. Skills should be more player-specific and position-based to give the gamer a genuine feel when playing with his or her favorite players -- rather than just doing moves with controls that feel like they are from the beat 'em up genre.

Ending on a good note, passing the ball in FIFA 09 is more intuitive than in any of its predecessors. Not only are through balls more fine-tuned, but there are also lovely little flick-ons and backheels that occur every now and then that mesh beautifully during the flow of the game.

Final Thoughts

Despite its nagging drawbacks, FIFA 09 is the best overall soccer package on video game shelves, and it is clearly EA Sports’ most simulation-based soccer title ever. It’s a must have for the FIFA faithful and would surely make PES fanboys take a long hard look. The better of the two games is your choice to make, so at the end of the day the true winners here are soccer gamers.

On The Pitch:
FIFA 09 still plays a great game of football at every position on the field, although it can seem a bit repetitive at times and has some A.I. issues.

Graphics:
Facial models could be better, but everything else is world class. The stadiums are perfectly designed, and player frames look more human that last year.

Sound: Soundtrack plays at a lower volume than most sports games, but it’s still a joy to listen to. In my opinion, the great commentary is unrivaled by any other sports title.

Entertainment Value: The Arena can even keep non-gamers busy for a little while as they try out skill moves. Online Be A Pro and FIFA Clubs are sure to keep soccer fans busy over the next nine months, while creating and sharing custom tactics provide some off-the-pitch fun.

Learning Curve:
As steep as last year for new FIFA gamers (one week), but FIFA 08 players shouldn’t miss a beat. PES players looking to switch would need some time while getting accustomed to the more methodical FIFA engine.

Online:
BAP Online is bigger than what any other sports game has to offer in terms of team play, although you need to be wary of whom you take the pitch with. FIFA Clubs is to BAP what online leagues are to ranked matches. Some games might lag a bit, but servers are for the most part very stable.

Overall Score: 8.0 (Excellent)


FIFA Soccer 09 Score
Variety of game modes.
Custom tactics.
Adidas Live Season.
Paying for Adidas Live Season.
Spotty A.I.
Skills are an afterthought.
8
out of 10
FIFA Soccer 09 Videos
Member Comments
# 1 ofdman @ 10/19/08 11:01 PM
Cool! I am not a huge fan of soccer but I haven't purchased a soccer game in YEARS and have been wanting to for awhile and I think I just may have to pick this up along with NHL 09-another sport I haven't purchased in years. NHL 09 and FIFA 09 should be a lot of fun this time around! Thanks for the review!
 
# 2 SHAKEDOWN @ 10/19/08 11:50 PM
EA MIGHT NOT BE ABLE TO WIN ME OVER WITH ITS SPORTS TITLES BUT I MIGHT JUST GIVW THIS 1 A TRY
 
# 3 Maddenforlife @ 10/20/08 12:03 AM
This game is one of the best EA titles along with NHL 09. The Be A Pro:Seasons has to be the most enjoyable game mode in the game. I do think the prices for the Live season are a bit high though. All around I would have to give this game a 8.75 with the only big flaw is the bad A.I. with Be A Pro when they just foul way to much and get carded which happens 2 out of the 3 times there is a foul.
 
# 4 teambayern @ 10/20/08 12:38 AM
Great review, but I disagree with your comments about defense. I think this is one of the strengths of FIFA 09, as your backs tend to defend as a unit, and realistically react to the flow of the game. Star backs like vidic and ferdinand shine as well, with a real difference between them and lower league generics. This is particularly true when compared to PES defense over the last few years (which you may be more used to, as I was) which has individual defenders taking bad angles, running out of position, and doesn't adequately reward size and strength.
 
# 5 southernbelle @ 10/20/08 06:04 AM
a fair review.
 
# 6 mercalnd @ 10/20/08 10:02 AM
Good review. However, the following is simply not true:

Quote:
Creating your own tournament as well is still an option; unfortunately, you still canít hand pick the teams you want in the tournament and that hurts the non-PES soccer gamers looking to create their own UEFA Champions League.
When creating a custom tournament, you can indeed hand pick every team.
 
# 7 poster @ 10/20/08 11:45 AM
Odd review. Why aren't the major Manager Mode issues touched upon? That tiny little blurb is hardly enough information regarding the mode. No wonder EA doesn't fix these issues year after year. No one calls them out on it. Fifa-Blog did the same thing. You should re-write the review to include these issues, do you even know what they are?

As mentioned above, the tourney team selection is absolutely false. I created a pseudo World Cup last night and picked every team myself.

Also not sure about zero offensive ambition on PRO level. One major issue with the game is the pacing. It is way to fast and unrealistic. Teams can't wait to get to your goal. There is no build up at all, it is rush, rush, rush. With the tactics, at least teams get there in different ways (short passing, wings, long balls over the top), but they still get there way to fast. I wish they would slow down.
 
# 8 htfdthewhale @ 10/20/08 12:23 PM
Quote:
Originally Posted by poster
Odd review. Why aren't the major Manager Mode issues touched upon? That tiny little blurb is hardly enough information regarding the mode. No wonder EA doesn't fix these issues year after year. No one calls them out on it. Fifa-Blog did the same thing. You should re-write the review to include these issues, do you even know what they are?

As mentioned above, the tourney team selection is absolutely false. I created a pseudo World Cup last night and picked every team myself.

Also not sure about zero offensive ambition on PRO level. One major issue with the game is the pacing. It is way to fast and unrealistic. Teams can't wait to get to your goal. There is no build up at all, it is rush, rush, rush. With the tactics, at least teams get there in different ways (short passing, wings, long balls over the top), but they still get there way to fast. I wish they would slow down.
I've been looking into FIFA for the Manager Mode. Could you breifly detail some of the major issues, poster? Much appreciated.
 
# 9 asu666 @ 10/20/08 12:37 PM
I was really excited about FIFA 09 after having played FIFA 08 a ton. It was disapoointing to learn that not only did the Manager Mode not really improve, but EA actually took some things like the ability to change knit numbers out. I guess the dev team wanted to just focus on the pitch this year, but Manager's Mode needs to finally get some love too. It bugs me that other teams are picking up star players in the transfer market and not playing them too.

I'm going with PES 09 this year because the demo showed me Seabass' team has finally got its current gen act together this year. Having taken last year off to focus on FIFA 08, I find myself missing Master League mode too.
 
# 10 Methlab @ 10/20/08 01:03 PM
I would give this game a 9. Online is far more fun then Madden to me, and the game play is the best of all sports games released this year IMO.

Be a player is actually a viable online option that really makes you feel like you are playing in a game.
 
# 11 AstroLad @ 10/20/08 02:11 PM
I'm seriously at a total loss as to why anyone--short of being stuck on a 56k or being a Dynasty Mode freak--would focus on offline modes. And if you think PES is going to solve your issues with AI :LOL have fun with that. PES AI has been getting progressively worse since Winning Eleven 9 (which was the last semi-decent single-player football game) and, whereas FIFA AI is typically dreadfully dull and uninspired, PES AI simply outright cheats constantly (I can't speak to FIFA 09 vs. AI because I've stopped wasting my time with it).

Simply put, if you're playing single player only, you're a masochist. Get online and join a club, play with some friends in Be-a-Pro Teams, etc. Football vs. AI has been a joke this entire gen and it always leads to frustration, annoyance, and boredom. Here's hoping EA realizes this and puts a bit more polish in to the ambitious online modes (e.g., in-game player stat-tracking for Clubs, better league interface, etc.).
 
# 12 kerosene31 @ 10/20/08 02:43 PM
Quote:
Originally Posted by AstroLad
I'm seriously at a total loss as to why anyone--short of being stuck on a 56k or being a Dynasty Mode freak--would focus on offline modes. And if you think PES is going to solve your issues with AI :LOL have fun with that. PES AI has been getting progressively worse since Winning Eleven 9 (which was the last semi-decent single-player football game) and, whereas FIFA AI is typically dreadfully dull and uninspired, PES AI simply outright cheats constantly (I can't speak to FIFA 09 vs. AI because I've stopped wasting my time with it).
I prefer offline play for Fifa because:

-I'm not very good at it, and would get destroyed online

-Soccer/football is not my #1 game. I simply don't have as much time to devote to it to make myself better. In order to play online, you better practice a lot, and I don't have the time. I play online for NHL, and that's it. Even then, I stick to franchise offline most of the time.

-People online are... not always conductive to a perfect gaming experience. I only have 1-2 hours to play most nights (if that) and I don't need some teenager screaming in my ear for that time. Also there are so many cheesers and idiots ruining every game out there.

-I don't always want to play ManU, Barca or whatever other top teams everyone uses online every time.

-AI in sports games should not be dismissed as irrelevant. Lots of people play offline. Every AI cheats... they have to or we'd all figure them out. Still, you can get good single player sports games. PES 2008 was fun offline (far from perfect, but it gave you a good offline game). The PES 2009 demo feels like the AI is much improved (we don't have the final version here). The backline is much smarter and they defend the wings better.
 
# 13 AstroLad @ 10/20/08 02:58 PM
Well I definitely don't mean to say there's no purpose in offline whatsoever, just that my experiences with all of the next-gen games have made me swear off it (especially considering how much more fun online play can be). Your complaints about online play are valid, but I would point out that they all relate to playing with random people. If you can play with a group of people you know (e.g., from here), then I don't think any of them would be applicable. I wouldn't say playing with randoms is worthless, but it pales in comparison to playing with a group of friends/acquaintances.
 
# 14 mercalnd @ 10/20/08 03:07 PM
Quote:
Originally Posted by htfdthewhale
I've been looking into FIFA for the Manager Mode. Could you breifly detail some of the major issues, poster? Much appreciated.
The main issues have to do with the CPU teams not managing their lineups well. They play the same lineup every game regardless of fatigue and they don't even insert big name players that they buy on the transfer market. Those guys basically sit on the bench, occasionally being subbed late in games.
 
# 15 Methlab @ 10/20/08 03:41 PM
Quote:
Originally Posted by mercalnd
The main issues have to do with the CPU teams not managing their lineups well. They play the same lineup every game regardless of fatigue and they don't even insert big name players that they buy on the transfer market. Those guys basically sit on the bench, occasionally being subbed late in games.
I wonder if some of these things will be patched.

I consider offline mode a fantastic way to get your game tight enough for online play. It is really key to figure out what formations work for your style.
 
# 16 kerosene31 @ 10/20/08 03:48 PM
Is it true that the Adidas live season only works for quick games? It doesn't apply to other offline games? (like tournaments?)
 
# 17 AstroLad @ 10/20/08 03:50 PM
Yes. The Adidas Live Season is one of the worst and most meaningless EA gimmicks ever, which is saying a lot. I can't believe they got it branded. Hey EA, how's about creating online leagues that are on par with leaguedaddy, or at least barely functional, and getting that branded?
 
# 18 italianguy @ 10/20/08 04:09 PM
Good points but I believe the game is better than an 8.0

As a player of soccer for 18 years this is as good as it gets minus a couple problems with the A.I. which can be patched by EA but this game has the flow of the game and you can actually play defense.

You can notice a clear cut difference with playing guys like Nesta and Terry online, they can shut down players.

This game imo is sports game of the year. This is the first time in a long time that I've had so much fun playing FIFA in an realistic way.

I played online with 20 players and I had no lag and it was a ton of fun being able to control one player and have a great group of people and dominate.
 
# 19 therizing02 @ 10/20/08 04:36 PM
I love FIFA 09 in spite of the limitations in Manager Mode and some of the AI issues. I know I'll be able to overcome the AI deficiencies the more I play the game.

The thing that I like best about this game as that each team plays liek their real life counterparts. Additionally, they adjust tactics based on what's happening in the game. Adaptive AI! What a concept! maybe the Madden and NCAA teams should talk with the FIFA producers. (I couldn't resist)

Because each team has pre assigned custom team tactics EVERY game plays out differently. That will keep the game in my console for a long time.
 
# 20 steveeee @ 10/20/08 07:28 PM
thanks for the review.. sounds like a good fair review

Quote:
I'm seriously at a total loss as to why anyone--short of being stuck on a 56k or being a Dynasty Mode freak--would focus on offline modes. And if you think PES is going to solve your issues with AI :LOL have fun with that. PES AI has been getting progressively worse since Winning Eleven 9 (which was the last semi-decent single-player football game) and, whereas FIFA AI is typically dreadfully dull and uninspired, PES AI simply outright cheats constantly (I can't speak to FIFA 09 vs. AI because I've stopped wasting my time with it).
I noticed improvent in the computer right off the bat in PES 2009 demo... it actually seemed pretty damn good.
 

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