Reviewed: November 28, 2008
Released: October 14, 2008
EA is an impressive sports machine. They either buy exclusive licenses for games, swallow up small studios who do it better, flood the market with sub-standard games, or they actually do the right thing and just make the best sports game on the planet. Thankfully, soccer is one of the few sports that EA decided to play fair.
EA has struggled over the past few years as the 'next gen' systems were debuted. The first couple soccer games out of the gate were abysmal – and that is being kind. But over the past 2 years EA has pulled out all the stops to try and compete with Konami's Pro Evolution (aka Winning Eleven). EA made huge leaps to really compete for hardcore soccer gamers and they finally got it right in FIFA Soccer 09.
As has become the tradition for FIFA recently, when you start up the game you go straight into a practice field where you can test your skills one-on-one against a goalie. Press the start button and you get a nice menu system and off you go. The usual quick game works like any other EA Sports game. You pick your favorite team and by default it will put them up against their greatest rival.
Be A Pro seasons continues to build on the great idea of letting you make or pick a player to be for the entire season. You have specific reward goals and targets to meet for the club and national team which gives you more points to use for rating boosts. In FIFA Soccer 09 your player match rating will be dramatically effected by being in the correct position and making good passes. The really great side benefit for Be A Pro is using it as a tool to teach kids about playing their positions. It's almost a 'pre-visualization' for kids before they go play on their local teams.
Tournament mode includes sanctioned tournaments from Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Czech Republic, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Korea, Mexico, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, and the USA. Since most of our readers are based in the USA, it is worth noting that again EA has included the US Open Cup as a tournament however the only USA league included is Major League Soccer so the Open Cup tournament isn't exactly accurate. This past tournament, two of the final four teams were from the 2nd tier USL.
Manager mode is probably the one area in FIFA Soccer 09 that needs to be updated. Little has changed the past couple of seasons and it's showing its age. It is good for an extraneous module of FIFA Soccer that probably a small percentage of people actually use. However it may be time to include more content from FIFA Manager (not available in the USA).
The Xbox Live mode of FIFA Soccer 09 is where the biggest improvements and the most fun can occur. This year EA now can give you up to 20 players in a game playing live. I didn't think it would make that much difference in enjoyment, but I must say it's probably the most fun I've had playing FIFA Soccer in quite a few years. If you get with a good group of people who play their positions well, it is incredibly fun. If you get in with some knuckleheads who like to slide tackle in the goalie box, then it's not so fun.
Another new addition to FIFA Soccer 09 is the “Addidas Live Season” mode. In this mode you pick from Barclays Premier League, League 1, Bundesliga, Primera Division Mex, Serie A, and LIGA BBVA. Then every week you get to download the latest player rankings from your league. So if Rooney has a bad week, his ratings go down. It's a nice idea, but the catch is you have to pay for the privilege. Individual leagues cost 560 Microsoft Points while all 6 leagues can be purchased for 1,600 points. It's kind of neat to have current player stats from being a hero to being injured. But I don't think it's so neat that I'd give up my precious Microsoft Points for the small bit of fun I would derive.
Teams in FIFA Soccer 09 are once again by far the most extensive and fully licensed leagues in the business. Konami's Pro Evolution has improved with liscening, but it still just can't hold a candle to FIFA Soccer 09. This year EA includes leagues from Australia (A-League), Austria (Bundesliga), Belgium (Pro-League), Brazil (Liga do Brasil), Czech Republic (Ceska Liga), Denmark (SAS Ligaen), England (Barclays Premier League, Coca-Cola Championship, Coca-Cola League 1 and 2), France (Ligue 1 and 2), Germany (Bundesliga and 2), Ireland Republic (FAI Eircom League), Italy (Serie A and B), Korea Republic (K-League), Mexico (Primera Division), Netherlands (Eredivisie), Norway (Tippeligaen), Poland (Polska Liga), Portugal (Liga Portuguesa), Scotland (SPL), Spain (Liga BBVA and Adelante), Sweden (Allsvenskan), Switzerland (AXPO Super League), Turkey (Turkcell Super Lig), and USA (Major League Soccer). Aditionally there is a “rest of the world” category which includes 20 teams such as Boca Juniors, Corinthians, Kaizer Chiefs, Olympiacos, River Plate and two Classic and World all-star teams. There are 41 International teams.. All are licensed and all have the real player names and stats. Nobody else comes close.
There are no women’s teams once again. So any of you women who make up the reported 40% of gamers, please feel free to call and/or write EA about this oversight. With a new women's professional league coming back to the United States in 2009 and the recent success of the USA National Team in the Olympics, maybe it's time for the women to be given their due. Maybe EA should try a downloadable content module of women's teams just to test the market and see just how many women's soccer fans would pay for such things?
In the Creation Mode you can create your own player. You'll have the chance to pick from a very long list of hair and facial attributes as well as body types. Every year the computer models for soccer players gets better and this year is no exception. The player models are phenomenal and most of the big name players are easily recognizable.
The graphical improvements in FIFA Soccer 09 are subtile but make a huge difference. They didn't have to re-write everything, but they instead choose to tweak the current model to the maxium. Players are rendered beautifully. Most major players are easily identifiable from their scanned-in facial features. Even the lessor known players are pretty accurate using the standard player creation models.
Stadiums are rendered in great detail from the stands and fans right down to the pitch. The grass is textured as it should be and there are various mowing patterns on different fields.
The menu system interface is crisp and takes full advantage of HDTV resolutions. That's great for everyone with an HDTV, but just a warning for those of you still living in the '90's... FIFA Soccer 09 is nearly impossible to play on standard definition TV's. Reading the menu's are close to somewhat educated guessing. Which isn't that big a deal if you just want a 'quick play' game. But if you want to read the scoreboard and see the time left, it can be a real eye strain. It would be nice if EA did provide an interface choice for SD users.
Clive Tydsley and Andy Gray are back again to do a great job adding excitement to the game. Player names seamlessly blend in for commentary in the major leagues while other not-so-major leagues (such as MLS) are instead announced with positions and other generic comments. The really great addition this year is downloadable alternate commentary packs. You can download many different languages for free. The normal stadium sounds are amazing. There are specific chants and songs for larger teams that really bring out the incredible atmosphere at soccer games around the world.
This season EA has vastly improved the value and longevity of FIFA Soccer 09 by making some interesting content available for download on Xbox Live. Not only do they offer the “Live Season” content, but you can also download alternate audio commentary in various languages. The game ships with English commentators Matin Tyler and Andy Gray but there are alternate English commentary from Andy Gray and Martin Tyler is available free, while commentary from Clive Tyldesley and Andy Townsend is 400 Microsoft Points. Other commentaries are available in Mexican Spanish, Italian, German, French, Russian, Dutch, Czech, Polish Swedish, Hungarian, Brazil (Portuguese) and general Spanish. This is a great add-on but I really wonder why they don't include other items such as minor league teams, more stadiums or really push the boundaries with a stadium builder.
The manual is again the usual 38-pages English and Spanish. Nothing too extensive there, but it helps to have the control diagram close by. It's also helpful to see specifically what areas of FIFA Soccer 09 have new content.
FIFA Soccer 09 has 48 achievements for 1,000 points. Tasks range from the simple (uploading a video to EA's server) so the insanely difficult (reaching legendary status). You get various rewards just in the normal course of playing with achievments like 'playing over 50 hours'. 17 of the achievements are secret so you won't know until you unlock them (or look them up on Google). Some of them are funny while others leave you scratching your head in wonder.
EA does it again with FIFA Soccer 09. I am amazed that there are still those who swear Pro Evolution is the best soccer game. FIFA Soccer 09 has everything Pro Evo has, plus the kitchen sink. FIFA is simply the best soccer game on any platform.