james debate
james debate

Monday 13 October 2008

Another year has gone by, and that means we have another season of Fifa football games versus the competitor pro evolution soccer. Time was Pro Evolution was regarded as the clear victor, a paragon of footballing glory light years ahead of Fifa, a bloated, overfunded symbol of corporate greed, peddling an underproduced product. In recent years that idea has gone out the window. Few critics in the media still recognize pro evo as the top football game; EA has finally added some substance to all the glitz and glamour of their games whereas pro evo has largely stagnated in recent years. Especially the next gen versions, few people anywhere will claim that the next gen pro evo last year was better than fifa 08.

So now with another round coming up, Pro evo is fighting to regain its title, whereas Fifa looks to consolidate its position at the top and win over the remaining haters. So how is it then?
For the record, I played this game on the xbox 360 version.

To begin with the simple stuff, Fifa 09 excels in the same areas that Fifa always has. The presentation is second to none, with a kick ass soundtrack, top notch graphics and a generally impressive energy and atmosphere that in this department is leaps and bounds ahead of the competition.

The package is extensive, with 500 teams, 30 leagues, and thousands of players, almost all of which have official kits and logos and the real names and faces. That is the biggest thing you get in fifa as opposed to pro evo, this exceptional layer of authenticity really does make a big difference when you play.

The real meat and potatoes for single player are the two different types of career mode, manager and be a pro. The former is your traditional fifa manager mode where you take a team and control them through the years in a bare bones manager style of game, signing players, dealing with the media and managing the team affairs. The latter is the brand new extension of the 'be a pro' mode from fifa 08, where you control one player on the pitch and attempt to play as a part of a team. In this mode you can take control of a real player, or design your own, and then play as them starting off in the club reserves and working your way into the first team and international team.

On top of this is an online multiplayer mode that is simply in another league from its competitors, featuring online leagues, club battle modes and online be a pro modes, all on EA Sports's sturdy and serviceable servers. Another new feature is Adidas live season, a service which updates player stats as the season goes on based on their current form in real life.

But while all this is well and good, what will really determine the success or failure of the game is the football itself.

In short, it's a massive improvement. The game is much more fluid than before, allowing some sexy one-touch football to be played. The physics is impressively accurate, giving the game a really authentic look and feel as players really do battle out there on the pitch. It all serves to create what is surely the most accurate videogame portrayal of football ever.

Further more there is a new tactics screen in team management which allows you to take a much more direct control over how your team plays.

However it is far from perfect. There are still far too many 'on-rails' moments where the in-game player moves independent of the human player's inputs. Far too often you will play a pass and be unable to move the receiving player into its path, instead losing the ball to a much more mobile computer controlled team. This was a major problem with fifa 08, one which was fixed in the euro 2008 game and one which i never saw even in the fifa 09 demo, so the fact that it's here in the final version of the game is mind boggling.

Also the commentary is still really annoying. Last season's iteration was notable for having repetitive commentary and of particular weirdness was its excessive fondness for certain bits of discussion about really pointless stuff, for example there were like eight different bits of dialogue describing how the ref decides how much added time there is and then tells the assistant ref, making a point of informing us that it was not the assistant manager who decided this. Well this year you will hear over and over again about how sideways tackles are fair as opposed to tackles from behind. This gets really annoying because the new foul system seems to depend entirely on what angle the tackle is made from as opposed to getting the man and not the ball, seemingly just so they can have an excuse to bring up their new favorite bit of dialogue. Again this is something I swear wasn't in the demo, so i don't know where it's come from.

On top of which the game is alarmingly prone to glitches. It's not enough to ruin the game but far more frequently than in previous games the ball will suddenly exhibit ridiculous physics or absurd computer controlled player movements, or insane ref decisions (twice in my time playing the game i've seen goals awarded for shots that went wide of the goal- i know it happened once recently in real life but come on).

Pro evo, you'll find, is a much less realistic affair, but one which is buckets of fun to play, so this all really comes down to a preference over what type of football game you want, arcadey fun or realism. It's a direct reversal over how the games used to be during the glory days of pro evo when it was known as the realistic one versus fifa's arcadey fare.

Fifa 09 is a very good effort, but there are still too many flaws in the football side of the game, especially since there were so few in euro 2008 and in the fifa 09 demo, i don't understand where they've come from all of a sudden!


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