There’s been some recent controversy in the football world about whether video replay footage should be used to clarify important penalty decisions and the like. To our mind, the answer’s simple: use it. The argument that it might slow the game down seems a bit daft to us, when balanced against the fact that the World Cup could possibly be decided by some tart flopping over in the box.
Still, you can’t worry too much about these things when a review copy of FIFA 09 has plopped through your letterbox. And the good news is that the game continues the sterling work we witnessed in the recent Euro 2008. The ‘Be A Pro’ and online modes have been fleshed out considerably and the football engine itself further tweaked towards perfection.
FIFA plays with a pleasing accuracy: the passing game has a realistic flow and both dribbling and ball control feel natural. It’s still quite difficult to beat defenders, although putting some time in and mastering a few trick moves helps on this front. Perhaps most importantly the computer AI is sharp, so you’ll face challenging opposition and your team-mates will make clever off-the-ball runs which a player with vision will be able to capitalise on.
The tactics system has been revamped, so now in the excellent manager mode as well as controlling team selection, deciding transfers and developing players, you can adjust a number of tactical variables with sliders. These dictate the speed and riskiness of your passing build up play, the aggression and pressure level of your four-man defence and so on.
If you’d prefer to control one player rather than managing a team, the Be a Pro mode is where it’s at. In FIFA 09 it’s been expanded to cover a four season career. After creating a player you begin in the reserve squad, where good performances might get you noticed enough to be picked for the first team. The eventual aim is to qualify for your country and carve out a career as an international.
We enjoyed this immensely. With match performance bonuses to aim for (which give extra experience points to help develop your footballer), multiple seasons and tangible career goals, there’s lots more depth to Be a Pro than there was last year. If you haven’t tried Be a Pro yet, it’s worth coming back to FIFA just for this. Having to control a single player and constantly consider your positional play is a refreshing virtual football experience.
The one downside to Be a Pro is that the game can be a little unfair when evaluating your match performance. Your rating is constantly adjusted when you make a positive impact (a tackle or completed pass) or a negative one (a cross blasted into the stands). Your positional play is also rated, and this is often where the game is at its most harsh.
For example, as a midfielder you’ll run back close to the penalty box to defend, but when the keeper gets the ball all of a sudden the game’s indicating that you’re miles out of position and should be in the centre circle. Often you’ll end up sprinting back to places while shouting “Give us a chance” at the screen, using up precious stamina in an effort to avoid being marked down for positional play. These demands seem a little unreasonable at times, and we’d like to see a little more give and take on this front in the next FIFA.
Online play is the final area where improvements have been made, with Be a Pro being implemented so full 10 versus 10 matches are possible where each player controls an individual footballer. Then there’s FIFA 09 Clubs, in which you can form a club with friends and take on other human teams in ranked matches. These are quality additions that seriously bolster the multiplayer side of the game.