According to Argentina’s beret wearing pin-up guerrillero, Ernesto Che Guevara, football isn’t just a simple game. It’s a weapon of the revolution. If that’s the case, then the suits at Konami had better start packing their bags and booking their flight to Miami because the FIFA Revolution is finally here.
Earlier this year we tutted in disappointment at the limp offering that was Pro Evolution 2008. Long held by purists as the monarch of The Beautiful Game, Pro Evolution 2008 was, in the eyes of many gamers, so weak it should have been placed on life support.
Facing the press, Konami’s legendary developer, Shingo ‘Seabass’ Takatsuka admitted with lowered eyes that Pro Evolution Soccer 2008 was “far away” from the game Konami had wanted to see on next-generation hardware. This was, at the time, considered quite an admission from a man whose country takes a somewhat less than forgiving view of anyone unfortunate enough to bring shame or disrepute to their master.
In either case, it was a defining moment in Pro Evo’s otherwise untainted illustrious history. And one that developer, Electronic Arts, was quick to exploit.
With FIFA 08 winning much critical acclaim (cemented by the sublime Euro 2008), FIFA 09 is yet another broadside fired at an opponent already down on its knees.
There are some who whisper in hushed and guarded tones that this may be decisive blow in a bitter feud that has been waged since 1993 – the year FIFA International Soccer made its debut.
During the launch announcement of FIFA 09, line producer, David Rutter, promised no less than 250 improvements to the game. The more cynical among us will note that statistics are often used as a drunk uses a lamp post. That is for support rather than illumination.
Whether this new outing actually boasts 250 tweaks and advancements is a matter that can’t be easily quantified. What is clear, however, is that FIFA 09 is the closest to soccer’s Holy Grail – The Perfect Game – that we have yet seen. With this outing, FIFA has permanently banished the spectre of its early offerings which resulted in arcade-style gameplay and 14 – 2 scorelines.
Instead, FIFA 09 relies as much on mental agility and spatial awareness as it does on physical prowess. The game places emphasis on strategic game-play, midfield battles and possession football where failure to hold your formation is punished by crushing defeat. But not only does FIFA offer an engaging, realistic game of football, it’s all wrapped up in first-class presentation.
The game features a wealth of modes including Lounge mode (set up a league with up to 19 friends) and the new Be a Pro: Seasons mode in which you control one player throughout a four season career. Manager Mode also makes a welcome comeback in the 09 game. Here, as in Konami’s Master League, you are tasked with managing a club of your choice and taking them to national or international cup glory. Manager Mode is by no means an equal to the Master League but as an addition to an already impressive line-up, it serves its purpose.
EA has also implemented the much-anticipated 10-versus-10 online mode in which you control one player for the whole match. Although currently a playground-style, ball-chasing nightmare this mode has huge potential if you can find some sensible teammates.
To many, FIFA 09 is the culmination of several years of gradual, painstakingly slow improvements (often by trial and error), taking notes from the opposition and daring to innovate where others are content to imitate. The result is a class act in suspension of disbelief.
The in-game attention to detail nearly approaches Rockstar’s level of obsession in the GTA series. For example, players now raise a hand when calling for a pass, pick up knocks from collisions and, if you substitute one of your players, they will show their appreciation (or displeasure) through animated arm gestures. Almost as a side note, during substitutions, replacement players can now be seen warming up before running onto the pitch. Other nice touches include the improved animations and sense of player weight, which adds a new level of realism to collisions and tackles.
Along with the tweaks, EA has also introduced two major features which, collectively, raise the bar for future football titles. The first, and probably the biggest innovation, is the one that made us all sit up and slap our foreheads in wonder. FIFA 09 comes with the ability to define tactical presets, and then map these plans to a d-pad menu.
In effect this means that you are able to change your formation and strategy on a whim. As you judge the ebb and flow of the game, you can quickly change your strategy to match and, hopefully, outfox your opponent. Think rock/paper/scissors on a pitch. In front of 90,000 spectators.
Keeping an eye on the opposition brings us nicely to FIFA 09’s rather ingenious Adidas Live Season. The Adidas Live Season covers six European and Mexican leagues – Barclay’s Premier League, La Liga BBVA, Ligue 1, Bundesliga, Serie A and Mexican Primera Division. Live Season dynamically updates a player’s form and attributes based on their real-world performance. Gamers are then able to download form updates and use the data in exhibition, ranked online matches and Interactive Leagues. Sheer magic.
As in all things, however, FIFA 09 is not without its flaws. The perennial problem of passing to the wrong player simply because he was closer to the ball is still one to be ironed out. Selecting the right player quickly is sometimes hit or miss and yellow cards often seem to be handed out just for looking aggressively at your opponent. These minor niggles aside, FIFA 09 is without a doubt the best football game released to date and an absolute must for any football fan.
As you read this review pause for a minute and cup your hand to your ear. You will hear the football world resounding with the cry: “Viva la Revolution!”