If you were worried about seeing little more than the latest kits and a few new haircuts, then wipe that damp brow. This year’s FIFA is vastly bigger and better than ever and leaves the previous iterations in the dust.
The big draw for many - the real names/kits/leagues - remains fully intact. Major and minor clubs from all around the globe are fully and realistically named and clad in the exact kit that you’ll spot them wearing on a Saturday afternoon.
Out on the pitch it’s all about the little touches. Players seem to truly exist for the very first time, with sweaty men bumping into each other and jostling just like a real game of football. Find your defender going up for a header with a huge burly striker, and expect to see them left flat on their back thanks to the brand new weight and inertia modelling. You even need to time the headers this time around if you want to succeed in flicking on and clearing effectively. Otherwise your player will jump way too early and miss the ball completely in the worst case scenario.
The ball too will never fail to impress. It drops, bounces, and skips off a wet surface just as you’d expect. Unlike the Pro Evo series which looks as if the ball is stuck on pre-determined rails, FIFA 09 spies the ball spinning and skewing just like a real game of football.
Sick of seeing defenders stick their arms up and claiming offside at every possible opportunity? Well now it’s all here in FIFA. Players purely and simply act just like you’d expect a professional footballer to operate.
A cracking little inclusion is players giving you a good visual hint for when they’re ready to make a run forward. Now if your midfielder is going to join in the attack, he’ll point towards where he wants the ball nudged towards, always into space. A fantastic addition that not only helps the realism levels, but gives a real helping hand for when to play a truly devastating through ball.
In fact, the animation full stop is a real cut above. Last year’s version could look a little odd, especially close range shooting which saw your player appearing to attempt a 30 yard screamer instead of a calm side foot into the goal. This time it simply looks, well, real. Even the replays are just about totally without the daft jerkiness, making re-watching all those glorious goals much more appealing.
For Pro Evo heads wanting to make the jump but worried about controls, worry no longer. Not only does the "Alternative" control selection remain which mimics the Pro Evo control system, but you can fully tweak to your heart’s content. A real handy option in order to get the most out of your fingers.
Remember the Be A Pro mode? That option allowed you to take control of just one player on the pitch for a single game, and you’d be rated accordingly. Play as the position defines and you’d get a top grade. Miss a few sitters, concede a penalty, and keep losing your marker and you’d be dropped to the bench. This time it’s vastly more expanded. Playing as either a real life professional, or creating your own superstar, you can now play through four full seasons of gaming greatness. Start life on the bench and take your opportunities to push yourself to the forefront of your manager’s mind to get to the top of the footballing tree.
And if that wasn’t enough, you can play a full 10 on 10 game online. With the goalkeepers still fully under AI control, 20 of you can have a real riot online. Find yourself in a game with 19 other gamers that want to play as a team and you’ll have some of the best fun gaming can allow.
There are, of course, still a few flaws. Otherwise why would we look forward to next year’s version? Opposition goalkeepers tend to wait an unhealthy amount of time to take goal kicks every now and again, which is a touch frustrating. Tricking your way through defences is still much more effective against human opponents than computer controlled players. Plus online does seem to have more games that are affected by a touch of lag. Though that’s not a huge point to take into consideration as its still less than one in every few dozen games.
But despite these few grumbles, FIFA 09 is the king of the football tree. Basically because it plays a blooming fantastic game of football. Pro Evolution Soccer 2009 is going to have to be truly special to reclaim top spot.