FIFA Soccer 09 (Xbox 360) review
"For me, FIFA '09 is a multiplayer game. One so aggressively combative it's become a potential friendship breaker."
It's all too easy to fall into the expected FIFA vs. ISS rant you've probably heard at least once a year since forever, so I'll condense it and pretend that makes me slightly less of a hack. ISS was by far the better of the two football franchises but has stagnated in recent years, allowing FIFA the chance to close the gap.
EA keeps itself busy giving their game the expected annual graphical updates and renewing licenses so their version of Manchester United's veteran Welsh winger is known as Ryan Giggs and not R. Goggs like their rivals. There's a tidy managerial option that allows you be in total control on and off the pitch or just laze it up in the technical area and bark out orders. And there's the welcome return of the interesting career mode where you control none but a single, solitary player, fresh from its power buffing at the hands of the previous title, UEFA Euro 2008. You can even create a player in your likeness, shoehorn him into your chosen club’s reserve team and climb him up through the ranks until he's pulling on his country's shirt and looking very smug.
I appreciate every feature. I really do; they've been included with great detail, forethought and care, giving you, the consumer, just about every option imaginable with a virtual football and a 360 pad. I hardly touch them.
For me, FIFA '09 is a multiplayer game. One so aggressively combative it's become a potential friendship breaker.
Two pads, a crate of beer, the game in question and a wide-screen TV is all you need to create a small localised war zone and very colourful language.
When we first squared off, these one-on-one matches were clumsy. We spent all our time with the sprint trigger depressed, running our squads into the ground needlessly and damning precise control of our players. The delicate shooting method was ignored in favour of overpowered slices and spoons, seeing 95% of every strike sail casually over the goal and often out of the stadium. Every defensive stand-off was rife with vicious and ill-timed sliding tackles, back-dropped to the constant waving of yellow and red cards. Sometimes, the winner of the game wasn't so much who played the better football but who managed to keep the most players on the pitch for the longest.
But we learnt. My opponent developed a patient passing style designed to draw my team out before sliding in balls that would see strikers appear in holes no longer covered by my dishevelled defensive line. I leant the other way; my clumsy charges upfield slowly evolved into a blitzkrieg offence, chaining lightning breakaways with one-touch passes, sharp turns and blistering long-range shots. He countered by stuffing his defence, making me fight through a quagmire of opposing players. I countered by playing a high back line, ready to counterattack should I regain possession and ready to step forward and nullify his attacks with a wave of the offside flag.
We continued to evolve. He’d make pointed attacks down one wing, draw my defence in, then play a floated high pass to the opposite wing where an unguarded midfielder would be waiting. I would draw on the knowledge that he’d like to bring his ‘keeper out early at any sign of danger and develop an almost perfect lob that would loop the ball serenely over his head and into the awaiting net. He learnt how to stand off my encroaching forwards, making it hard for me to pass by without at least being able to hack me down. I learnt how to turn the corresponding free kicks into a series of sharp, short passes until the chance to smash the ball in the direction of the goal presented itself. We both learnt to swear and yell at the computerised referee like complaining to a digital representation loudly and angrily enough would reverse that awful decision he’d just made.
We’re one dodgy penalty decision away from trading blows. Perhaps when we started playing FIFA ‘09 together, it was just an innocent game between two friends. I think in how it’s ended up is perhaps the biggest compliment I can begrudgingly bestow upon EA; in mimicking football so brilliantly, in creating a template of the game so open to interpretation and so easy to mould to your desired tactics and quirks, it’s made us as impassioned about winning as we would when we step out on the grass to actually kick a ball around ourselves. Winning is everything, and if I have to break Robbie Keane’s digital legs to do it, then you can expected to see a hobbling Irishman in the immediate future.
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