Just like football fans, who always follow their beloved team everywhere and live and breathe each match, virtual football aficionados wait year after year for the release of a new version of their favorite game. They can consider themselves to be lucky, since for quite some time now they get to choose between two major series that fight for supremacy.
I am of course referring to Electronic Arts’ FIFA and Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer. However, it’s not a secret to anyone the fact that last year neither of them was received with great enthusiasm. FIFA 08 was reproached the lack of realism and field overcrowd, while the online mode of PES 08 was under any criticism.
Taking advantage of this year’s European Football Championship, EA Sports had the opportunity to prove that they could create a good game with Euro 2008. But I was pretty skeptic about it, since I knew that EA’s main challenge was called FIFA 09, still in production at that point.
The first thing I noticed in FIFA 09 was the almost identical menu of its predecessor, which, honestly, I never liked. Although it’s supposed to be simple and intuitive, it did not prove to be so at all. It continues to be dull, especially when it comes to the submenus for the online mode. Driven by curiosity, I start the first game and I noticed the improved graphics, players’ animation and the fluid way of moving the ball on the field. Even though I didn’t set the AI on a high difficulty level, it didn’t hesitate to steal the ball from me, intercept my passes or to forgive any of my mistakes each time it has the opportunity.
Compared to the previous titles, the gameplay doesn’t give me the impression of standardization. I don’t feel like I’m playing an arcade game, whereby everything was predefined, with no sign of creativity or spectacle. I was pleased to notice that the field overcrowding, very criticized on FIFA 08, has disappeared in most cases. Although sometimes too many players gather on the center, but this is after all a normal thing in modern football.
Another well implemented aspect is the air duels. I have never seen more realistic duels, not even in PES 09, which I had the opportunity to test and get a feel for some aspects of the game. Up until now, Electronic Arts had accustomed us with random air duels. Most of the times, it did not matter which player was taller, stronger or better positioned. The ball would fly around with no target.
In FIFA 09, things are quite different. It is very important the height of the players and especially putting them in connection to the ball in the air. And synchronization is crucial. If you jump too quickly, the ball will reach your chin, but if the jump is delayed, you cannot reach the ball. I liked this improvement, as it is essential for the gameplay. Especially since a short player will be able to steal the ball in front of a taller one, with the proper timing.
The passing system hasn’t been changed too much, but enough to observe the increased realism and attention to details. In addition to this, some passes can be launched without too much effort by pressing the same button, but with increased precision. So players, in addition to traditional passes, can also hit with the heel, the knee or back. Because of these implementations related to the movement of the ball, it’s easier to attack the opponent’s post, which will make it more difficult for him to defend himself.
But what do you do when you have to defend yourself? Although they say that the best defense is a good offense, this saying doesn’t really work here. Even though the game no longer encourages excessive use of tricks and of a single attacker to dodge the whole defense, it’s the easiest thing in the world to stop the invasion of a top team. It is essential to have a very precise timing for the tackles and not abuse the sliding techniques. Because the referee will not hesitate to show the yellow card or even to remove you from the field, if you are the last defender and you commit a foul from behind.
A nice thing to know about fouls is that you’ll never get a yellow or red card without actually deserving it. And the animations of linesmen amused me every time, and I hardly distinguished between those from FIFA 09 and those from reality.