FIFA 09 - Let's FIFA 09
It's the time of year when two footballing giants go head to head. EA Sports and Konami, figureheads Wayne Rooney and Lionel Messi, FIFA 09 and PES 2009.
And it should come as no surprise if you are a regular follower of the running battle for supremacy in the gaming market, that FIFA 09 has closed the gap on the highly respected PES version so much that the difference between the two is no longer one of quality, but of consumer choice.
Certainly EA Sports are in a far greater position to challenge Konami than they have been in the past. Talk of 250 new improvements to the game engine made FIFA 09 one of their most anticipated releases, although a lot of the changes were seen in the Euro 2008 game that we reviewed this summer.
The best addition to the new game, in my view, is the added physicality of the players. Now when Michael Essien comes up against Shaun Wright-Phillips in a tackle, he has the advantage as EA have included a vast array of attributes to give stonger, faster and taller players the edge over their competitors.
Battling for the ball is more of an art, eye-catching animations deal with the collisions that invariably happen between players and you are able to target the weaker players on the opposition to attack.
Elsewhere, the game engine has been made more realistic, in that a burst of pace will no longer get you away from your marker. Now the onus has been put on slow, patient, build-up play which rewards the creation of space and comes down hard on those who think they can just sprint through the entire defence.
Goals are harder to come by, meaning they are all the more enjoyable when they do go in, and EA has also included the custom celebrations that we were treated to in the Euro game. The reason for this is that Goalkeeper AI has been improved, and they are now more aware of where to position themselves, while also boasting improved reaction times and more of a human touch.
Customised tactics are also a new addition and you now have complete control over everything your side does with the game's overall responsiveness dramatically improved. Players will point to where they want the ball to be played, passing is crisp and through-balls (which were disappointingly weak in previous versions) are spot on.
If there is a criticism to be made in gameplay it is that although there are many settings that can alter the game speed and how much the computer aids the players, it still feels slightly slow. Especially when compared to the slickness of PES.
However, where FIFA really succeeds is the online innovations. Embracing the online connectivity of the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, the Adidas Live Season feature (which updates player stats from real-world competitions) is mind blowing. The game is kept fresh and players are improved or made worse with regards to their actual form.
A host of multi-player modes, including one that allows you to go online and play on a side with nine friends controlling the other outfield players on your team, put the games miles ahead of the competition in this area; although if that's not your scene, you can always use the Be A Pro mode - which allows you to control one player on the pitch and through his career.
The sheer amount of content in EA's efforts have always been impressive, and this version is no different. Quality visuals, sound and presentation, perfectly recreated teams and squad lists, awesome stadium shots and some excellent commentary from Martin Tyler and Andy Gray, all adds to the overall experience and the comprehensive coverage is hard to argue with.
Minor niggles in the package include the age-old issue of defenders that occasionally develop a mind of their own just when you need them at their best, a slowness in gameplay and some tiny text on some of the menus.
However, with a game this comprehensive, the good far outweighs the bad and EA have ultimately created a game truly worthy of being labelled a 'next generation' title. Quite simply, this is the best football game on the market right now.