EA's final professional sports game for 2008 is looking to continue the publisher's self-proclaimed emphasis on quality. Building on the framework introduced in last year's game, this season's soccer title promises a staggering 250 new features. While the marketing department may have used some fuzzy math in coming up with this final tally, there are some noteworthy enhancements in FIFA 09. Yet are the upgrades worth the price?
Where FIFA 09 truly shines is in its play options. The most addictive mode is easily be a pro: seasons, where you guide a created or existing athlete over a four-year career just from his position. Instead of just playing well on the pitch, you have both match- and season-based objectives to accomplish. Strong play earns you experience points, which are spent on enhancing various attributes. If you don't meet expectations, your character might be placed on the reserve team, ratcheting up the pressure to perform. The mode is not quite as engaging if you're playing a position other than forward, but it's hard to go back to traditional matches once you experience the format.
As in NHL 09, you can also take the be a pro action online. This offers even more excitement, as you'll be able to compete with as many as 19 other players for a full 10-on-10 experience. Screwing up by moving out of formation, getting called offsides, or missing a slide tackle will not just affect your athlete. You'll have your teammates to answer to, giving you flashbacks of disastrous peewee soccer games where parents and coaches shook their heads in silent disapproval. Best of all, the online action is not a lag-filled mess as you might expect with so many users competing on the field.
There are more online options as well. You can create your own club and challenge other user-created clubs in ranked matches, or compete in a FIFA interactive world cup for tournament-style action. There are also custom leagues supporting up to 32 players, and an option to record videos to share with the online community.
One questionable addition is the Adidas live season, which functions similarly to the DNA option in NBA Live 09. While you can receive weekly player updates, only one league is supported. You'll then have to pony up some extra cash if you want updates for other leagues. To be honest, the benefits aren't really worth it. You can only use the downloaded players in a limited number of modes, and the content only spans one season.
Those who prefer their multiplayer action offline will appreciate the lounge mode, which has you challenging others in the room for bragging rights. Points are tracked for each user during a match, and you can try to win up to 10 badges by completing certain milestones like scoring with a header. It's a more arcade-style take on the game, and the ranking system is a great feature for family members, dorm mates, or friends to track their performances against each other.
All told, FIFA 09 provides a wealth of on-pitch options. Aside from falling off the cliff with wacky minigames, there's not much more it could offer.
Controls are nearly identical to FIFA 08. Basic moves such as lob passes, ground passes, through balls, crosses, and shots are mapped to the face buttons. The shoulder button acts as a modifier for more precise shots and dribbling, and skill moves such as step-overs and 360 rolls are accomplished using the right analog stick. If you value skill and finesse in a sports game, you'll love what you can accomplish on the pitch.
Yet to be fair, it's not very user-friendly. For effective play, many moves have to be pre-loaded before the ball reaches an athlete. New users will also find it difficult to move the ball on the AI, so they should opt for computer-assisted controls--especially for passing. It minimizes the early frustration and lets you get accustomed to the action before you're ready to bump up the skill setting.
The AI is improved from earlier versions, and even FIFA veterans will find a challenge on the higher difficulty settings. Of course, that's primarily because the computer turns into a speed demon that's more adept at using tricks and skill moves, but it can be defeated through strategic play. You'll also notice that the computer will actually switch its formations and use its star players more effectively. The computer doesn't always make smart substitutions, and penalties are inconsistent, but the development team has made sure you'll get a fight on the pitch even if no friends are available.
One notable addition to the gameplay is improved management through custom tactics. If you find yourself having trouble against the computer, you can create specific defensive or attacking plays. Individual sliders let you tweak such parameters as speed, passing distance, positioning, aggression, and so forth. You can then assign plays to the directional pad for on-the-fly decisions. This proves useful in part because playing defense is tricky. If you get behind the ball carrier, it's difficult to recover. Adjusting your tactics will help cut off lanes and make it harder for the opposition to score.
FIFA Soccer 09 is one of the best-playing sports games on the market. There's so much depth that you can continually improve, but that also ensures that the learning curve is steep. Good luck online. The competition is brutal.
It won't take long to notice the improvements in presentation, with athletes dribbling, trapping, and kicking the ball with more diverse animations than in previous games. The atmosphere is excellent, thanks to a charged-up crowd that will chant, roar, and wave flags with palpable passion. It's only during the close-up views that things don't hold up. The default viewpoint looks sharp and detailed, and gives you a great view of the pitch-even if it doesn't get chewed up during the match. The personable announcing team keeps the action lively.
FIFA 09 may or may not have 250 new additions, but it's a strong-playing game with an extensive amount of modes. Factor in the hitch-free online experience and you have a disc that won't easily find its way back to its case. There is certainly room for improvement in a few areas, but FIFA 09 is easily the best soccer game for 2008. Even if you have a casual interest in the sport, you'll become addicted with improving your skills and the gameplay supplies enough latitude to do it.