FIFA Soccer 09 is the yearly update to the ever popular FIFA franchise. The series has long been blasted as the more arcadey version of the beautiful game while its main competitor, Pro Evolution Soccer, has long been praised by those who worship at the altar of the game as the one game that gets it all right. I was in the latter group, but with the release of FIFA Soccer 09, my opinion has definitely changed.
The gameplay in FIFA Soccer 09 is definitely a step up from just about any soccer game that has come before it. The pace of the gameplay has definitely improved over FIFA Soccer 08, with players moving more realistically. The passing game has also been improved, with the CPU starting a run when it finds an opening, calling for the through pass. Players also carry their weight now, with the bigger guys being able to out jostle the smaller for position. This is especially important during header opportunities, as you actually feel like you are jockeying for position rather than standing static, waiting for the ball to come to you.
The AI now gives even seasoned veterans a run for their money. No longer does the AI crowd around your player, forgetting there are 10 other players on the field. They move into position to steal ill advised passes, jostle relentlessly for the ball as you move down field, change tactics based on how you are playing, and overall, act more realistically than any other soccer game before it causing the game to ebb and flow more like a real game.
It’s the small things in the gameplay though that really makes FIFA Soccer 09 stand out from the crowd. Small things like the defenders putting their arms up looking for the offsides call, slider animations changing based on where the ball is when you initiate it and even pulling the keeper up for that late corner all adds to the atmosphere of the game. Overall, this is how the game should be.
Besides everything EA seemed to have gotten right with the game play, there are definitely some problems here. The series carries on the tradition of giving too much weight to the more popular players in the game, making them almost seem godlike. I can’t count how many times Ronaldo has scored on a seemingly impossible shot. The AI seems to lose its place on the field occasionally, dribbling the ball straight out of bounds for no reason. The keeper will occasionally also do some inexplicable things, such as diving for balls that are obviously out of bounds or coming off his line at the most inappropriate times. While these things can be frustrating, especially during close games, the good definitely outweighs the bad in the gameplay department.
The graphics in FIFA Soccer 09 have also been polished over last year’s game. The more popular players in the game look exactly like their real life counterparts and the pitch has never looked so green. The player animations have also been greatly improved, with each player moving fluidly. Overall, the graphics in FIFA Soccer 09 do an outstanding job.
All of the modes from the previous game are present, as well as some new ones. Manager mode lets you pick a club and take them through up to 15 seasons as you make decisions on trades, pay, ticket prices, and staff improvement. Be A Pro mode is back from last year, but has been expanded to allow you to play as your player for up to 4 seasons. In this mode you play as a single player on the pitch, playing your position and doing what your team needs you to do to win. As you progress in this mode, you can move up to team captain as well as play for your country’s national team. This mode may not appeal to everyone, as touches on the ball are scarce and some might find this mode boring.
Online brings something never seen in a soccer game before, 10 vs. 10 online play. This makes every player on the pitch, save the keeper, a live person, making tactics and strategy even more important. Be a pro mode also has 10 vs. 10 gameplay, but rewards people for playing in their correct position. Also new for FIFA Soccer 09 is the addition of Adidas Live Season. This feature tracks real world stats from 6 of the most popular leagues and updates your game weekly based on how each individual player plays. Does Wayne Rooney have an exceptionally good game this week? Watch as his performance improves in game as well. You get a trial of this when you purchase the game, but an additional payment is required if you want to keep it.
Leagues are also a part of online play, letting you choose your favorite team and join a league, trying to take them to the top. While this is definitely fun, it’s hard to find people to join some of the smaller leagues in the game. New this year is the addition of FIFA Clubs. This allows players to start a club consisting of 50 people, then fielding a team of your strongest, or most readily available 10 players to play other clubs from around the world. Clubs are set up with divisions, and based on your total points, you could be promoted or relegated within the division. This is a great addition and something that can be expanded upon with each new game.
FIFA Soccer 09 has set itself up to be the soccer game to beat. With finely tuned gameplay, fluid player animations, and wonderful graphics it’s definitely the best football game to date. A few annoying AI and online lag problems aside, this is a game anyone who is a fan of the sport should buy. Run out and pick this up and I’ll see you on the pitch.
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