Written By: Mark Armstrong
Publisher: EA Sports
Developers: EA Canada, Sumo Digital (Nintendo Wii) and Exient Entertainment (Nintendo DS)
Released: October 3 2008
Consoles: Microsoft Windows (PC), Xbox 360, N-Gage 2.0, Nintendo Wii, Nintendo DS, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, PlayStation Portable, Zeebo and Java ME
FIFA games can be like Marmite – either you like them or you don’t. However, the difference is that the product which was once endorsed by Paddington Bear isn’t involved in a fierce rivalry with its closest competitor that has changed how such products are created, presented and judged forever. Fortunately for EA Sports, the developers behind the FIFA series (as well as spin-off games such as FIFA World Cup and FIFA Street), a major turning point in their favour came with FIFA 09. This entry, the sixteenth consecutive offering in the annual series, was the best FIFA game yet, primarily due to the influence of new technology on its gameplay and graphics: it wasn’t the first FIFA game to be released for the PS3/Xbox 360 generation games consoles, but it was the first to take full advantage of the new technology and create a football experience that these games have never provided before.
Perhaps the most revolutionary and exciting addition to FIFA – at least, on the PS3 and Xbox 360 and PC versions – was the new Adidas Live Season. In this mode, you could choose from one of six Leagues (Barclays Premier League, La Liga BBVA, Ligue 1, Bundesliga, Serie A and the Mexican Primera Division) and, for a charge of £4.99 for one, or £12.99 for all (although the first one was given free of charge until the end of the 2008/2009 season as a trial), FIFA matches would play out very similarly to their current real-life counterparts. This related to team transfer updates, but it was more notable in that the form of players was affected based on how their most recent performances were in real life. So, as good as Robinho was anyway on FIFA, after scoring a hat-trick against Stoke City, he’d play even better. On the flip side, if Robbie Keane went nine matches without scoring a goal in the League, for Tottenham Hotspur, that would affect his form on FIFA and make it harder for him to find the back of the net. It also affected the fitness of players: Fernando Torres’ hamstring injury put him out of action for Liverpool in real life at the time; on FIFA, he was still available to play, but his performance would be below par, and he’d find it harder to score. As the first game to include this feature, that alone made FIFA 09 special.
Another key improvement (one of over 250 improvements to FIFA 08, according to its producer David Rutter) concerned the Be A Pro mode. Last time around, the idea of a “Career” mode, where a gamer can take control of just one player (as opposed to a team) and make them a legend by the end of the season, was warmly received by fans of the series. In FIFA 09, Be A Pro Seasons allowed fans to follow the same formula, but now it lasted for up to four seasons. Similarly, online play was improved to the extent that gamers could now compete in online “10 vs 10” matches (as opposed to just 4 vs 4 the previous year), where each gamer controlled a player on the pitch. This meant that up to 20 people could participate in a single match – the closest step yet to EA’s dream of online 11 vs 11 matches.
As expected, each version of the game had an exclusive game mode or feature. Amongst them, the PlayStation 3 version had the FIFA Interactive World Cup, and shared the player-controlled goal celebrations with the Xbox 360 version (first seen in UEFA Euro 2008); the PlayStation 2 game contained a few extra stadiums; and the Nintendo Wii featured a Footii Match, where Wii characters replaced players in an 8 vs 8 match similar to the online 10 vs 10 games found in PS3 & Xbox 360 versions.
As was now standard with FIFA, all teams featured were updated right up to the day of the release and, in a astute move, by releasing the game on October 3 (a week later than the late September date for FIFA 06, 07 & 08), all teams were updated to the end of the summer transfer window (unlike the previous three games in the series). The teams themselves were as authentic as ever and huge in number, as literally dozens of Leagues (including some lower divisions) were present. And sound was the best that it had ever been in a FIFA game. The EA Trax offered a wide variety of tunes from all over the world (including Kasabian’s Fast Fuse and Sam Sparro’s Black and Gold), and the commentary sounded exactly as it did on television (Andy Gray teamed with Clive Tyldesley on PS2 and Martin Tyler on PS3 and Xbox 360; although a commentary team of Tyldesley and Andy Townsend was available to download, for a small charge, on the PS3 and 360 systems), and crowd chants were realistic and added to the atmosphere: whilst chants had always sounded exactly like their real-life counterparts, when playing at Anfield as Liverpool, such chants as “Five Times” and “Rafael Benitez” made it feel like one of those famous European nights.
Not everything was spot-on, though. Executing crosses and through balls could be a struggle. Many would rather have had 20-30 new actual stadiums (such as Goodison Park or the Etihad Stadium, which weren’t in at the time) than 20-30 fake venues that suited most of the teams. Some versions (such as PSP) felt like watered-down ports of their next-gen counterparts due to a lack of genuinely engaging exclusive modes. On the PS2 system, in particular, it felt like very few advancements were made (menus looked similar to those on FIFA 08, and the Challenges had been the same for years), which, as a result, gave the game a number of visual and physical similarities to FIFA 06, released three years earlier, never mind the version that was released twelve months beforehand. And why were Ronaldinho and Wayne Rooney the cover stars for the fourth year in a row?
To be fair, since FIFA has so many teams, the key improvements tend to be small tweaks or additions to previous modes. Despite some problems, the wealth of teams and modes, the online possibilities and the sheer authenticity of next-gen experiences made this a more viable and enjoyable option than Pro Evolution Soccer 2009 (which, beyond offering gamers the chance to participate in a Champion’s League, and with a couple of extra licensed teams, didn’t offer much beyond the 2008 edition). And,
considering what work could still have been done at the time to improve and expand the game, the future for the FIFA series seemed as bright as ever after this version.
Earlier on, it was stated that, with Marmite, either you love it or you hate it. In the case of FIFA 09, it didn’t matter whether you loved it for the fully licensed Leagues and wide range of interactive options when playing online, or you hated it for its limitations and/or flaws, because there was no denying that, for football fans, it was the best option available in order to recreate the thrills and spills of the beautiful game in the virtual world.
Overall Rating: 9/10 – Outstanding