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FIFA 09

FIFA

It’s that time of year again, the new football season is a few weeks in, days are getting shorter and the weather is getting worse; but there’s one shining light, reason to be excited, as advertising boards across the country’s top stadiums have begun to glow with the words “Let’s FIFA 09”. Yes, it’s been a year already and EA Sports are looking to win back the title of best football game on the market with FIFA 09.

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The FIFA series has been building steam these past few years, and over the summer the Euro 2008 edition was definitely a bright spark. Looking to build momentum with FIFA 09, EA have invested heavily, and they’re here to show a new touch of class, much like Chelsea this season. The gameplay has come leaps and bounds since last year, and it shows a new, more accurate representation of the beautiful game.

Opening the game for the first time you’re greeted to a vast arena where only Ronaldinho and a goalkeeper are present. Here you can test out the latest batch of tricks, and also try your luck with the different shot types on offer as well as free kicks and penalties. It’s a great way to get accustomed to the way an individual player handles, and you’ll need that experience later on for one particular game mode – but I’ll get to that later.

“The gameplay has come leaps and bounds since last year, and it shows a new, more accurate representation of the beautiful game.”Entering your first match you can configure your team to play how you like. There’s a large selection of tactics to chose from so coming up with a game strategy is a breeze. This is all done using the new custom tactics that are specific to each team. So a team like Arsenal will play it along the ground, and keep a free flowing movement, whereas Chelsea will put more balls in the box and keep well organised. It’s a great new feature that differentiates each team, even if you only really see the effects on the opposition.

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On the gameplay side of things there’s a lot to love. All passing is manual so you can choose how much power you want to put on the ball, allowing you to get it into those tight areas that would otherwise be inaccessible. Through balls are also much improved, mainly because players make intelligent runs behind the defence, making your passing task an easy one, and one that is essential to the game as it’s highly encouraged. It’s extremely difficult to beat defenders by running at them, so build-up needs to be slow and precise resulting in a very realistic style; one that trumps its rival Pro Evolution Soccer, which has edged towards a faster paced, more arcade-like style of play. You’ll need to take all of the chances you can get or all your hard work will be wasted. I remember the days of scoring six goals a game, but they’re long gone now and games are often won by a single goal. Goalkeepers have been improved to make your task harder, getting off the line faster and keeping hold of loose balls to stop any easy tap-ins

All of these elements come together with an excellent looking animation system. Players will jostle for the ball, and make inch perfect sliding tackles, toppling the opposition player over with them. In full flow it looks superb, almost like watching a game on the TV, especially combined with the slick broadcast style presentation.

Sadly this falters in the menus where everything gets very clustered, mainly in manager mode. Here you’ll chose any team from a selection of hundreds, and plan to take them to the top. You can sign players, chose sponsors, sort out player contracts, hire staff and scout young talent among many other features. It’s a decent mode that one can invest heavily into, but Be A Pro should attract the bigger audience.

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“In full flow it looks superb, almost like watching a game on the TV.”Be A Pro featured in last year iteration, but was only available for singular matches. You could chose one player from a team, and would play as him for the whole match. Now, in the new Be A Pro: Seasons, you can guide a player through a four year journey to become an international hero culminating in a World Cup championship. It’s a brilliant mode that lets you create a player and start out in the reserves, or chose a familiar face and play in the first team from the get-go. Whichever one you chose you’ll be given different season objectives for both club and country as well objectives for each match. These differ depending on your chosen position, so if you’re a striker you may be asked to score a goal or get four shots on target, whereas a defender might need to keep a clean sheet. Completing these tasks will earn you experience points allowing you to upgrade your players stats. If you create a player he’ll start off with an overall rating down in the 60s, so you’ll want to complete as many as these tasks as you can to improve multiple aspects of your game, and move up in the ranks, eventually breaking into the first team and onto the international circuit.

It’s a thrilling ride being one part of a massive puzzle and thankfully the AI on your team-mates is tremendous. They’ll pass the ball around with all the finesse you would expect, and they won’t need to rely on you to create chances for them.

The default Be A Pro camera will follow your chosen player from behind at a very low position close to the pitch; however, this can be changed to any of the other camera views on offer. From afar the game looks stunning. Each stadium in the game is re-created with exceedingly high detail, proving to be hugely accurate renditions of their real life counterparts; the realistic shadows they cast onto the pitch look great, and they change depending on the time of day and weather. Up close things aren’t so pretty. Some player models are good with a few being almost uncanny, but others look nothing like they should and it’s a tad disappointing considering their statue. Other than this the visuals hold up well, and at the moment they’re miles ahead of the competition.

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“Each stadium in the game is re-created with exceedingly high detail, proving to be hugely accurate renditions of their real life counterparts.”The sound design is also admirable, with Sky Sports’ Martin Tyler and Andy Gray manning the commentary position. They’re fun to listen to and do a good job of keeping up with the action. Sometimes they’ll talk about something completely irrelevant – like a player being injured even when no such incident has occurred – but it’s nothing to get in the way of the overall quality. There’s also a decent amount of music on offer; typical sports game fare in all honesty.

The highlight, however, is the crowd noise. It’s regional, so depending on where you’re playing the crowd will sound different. It’s breathtaking when you play somewhere like South America as the crowd becomes immensely loud, screaming chants and pounding those thundering drums; it really urges you on to do better and score a goal to make the crowd erupt.

FIFA 09 is the best FIFA in years. The gameplay has vastly improved, and moulded itself into a realistic experience that encourages slow and thought-out build-up play. There are plenty of game modes on offer that should keep you busy for months, and that’s without mentioning the stable online play that includes a 10 vs. 10 Be A Pro mode.

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FIFA has definitely caught up in the title race, and I would imagine many Pro Evolution Soccer players are converting over to EA’s franchise. It’s going to be interesting to see who winds up the winner of this hardly contested match-up.

9 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Senior Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in June 2008. Get in touch on Twitter @richardwakeling.

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