EA has gone to great effort to bring the feeling of real soccer into the living room.
One way they have done this is by utilising the online connectivity that has been integrated into the game's core mechanics. FIFA 09 has integrated Adidas Live Season, which allows you to subscribe to certain soccer leagues that you have an interest in and the game will download weekly performance stats from that league and update the in-game players and teams accordingly. This means that teams will remain dynamic and no one team will remain the best. Similarly, transfers are updated, meaning that teams will remain true to their real life counterparts.
When you buy the game you receive one free soccer league to subscribe to with Adidas Live Season. If you want them all, you will be forking out either 1600 MS Points or a few dollars in the PlayStation store for a subscription to the end of 2009. This shouldn't be too big a gripe, however, considering most players will have a particular interest in a certain league.
There's also a range of other features including the "Be A Pro" mode which allows you to create a player and develop him through several seasons, moving teams and being called up to the national squad depending on your performance. You also will only play this player in the game, and a performance meter will track your play on the field, looking at where you are positioned and goal taking, as well as tackling. This gives you real time feedback on how you are doing on the field, as you will have a hard time making your player run all of the positions.
Be a Pro has also been taken online with 10 vs. 10 online play. Each person will bring a player to the team and everyone will have to work together to create passing opportunities and to win the game. This is an exceptional effort to really bring online play to life and it has worked very well.
The inclusion of online clubs also adds to this, meaning your virtual club (which you can create or join) will have to face off against other teams to become the number-one club. You can recruit good players you come across in online play, or just get your friends together. Each club can have a maximum of 50 players meaning that you will increase the chances of 10 of you being around for a fixture.
The online matches are also tracked by the EA servers providing you with updates at the official site. This will automatically be registered to a profile that you can set up on the site, and will also show you the top groups and teams currently being played. This site will also track your performance through all EA Sports soccer titles, past and present, that have been fitted with this feature. You can also upload videos of your goals or games up to the site to share with others. Within the game, you can also opt to have an email sent to you with the result of matches you play online, and you can also sign up for a podcast of your choosing (although on writing the review we had yet to see how these would work and we can only guess that a podcast had not yet been released). Again the manual was little help here and we can only guess that these podcasts may well play during a match or while browsing the extensive menus.
A great feature of the FIFA series is the management mode. It was missing from the earlier next gen versions but has been included since FIFA 08. This is a fantastic way to choose the club of your choice and to jump into a season with a real ability to affect how your team will perform. You can trade players and invest in different areas of the training, and then see how your investment comes together in the games.
You get feedback in the form of newspaper clippings at the end of the games, which is a nice added touch. Again, though, this area of the game needs more help for newcomers. It is not as self-explanatory as one might think unless one knows football. It will require some time to really learn how to use properly and how to manage your money, therefore it would have been nice to have a dedicated section of the manual covering this. But the mode itself works very well. It also goes a long way to adding longevity to the title, meaning you could well be playing this game in years to come without getting sick of it.
It seems EA has worked very hard in recent years to catch up to Pro Evolution Soccer, and it looks like they are making massive inroads into the competition.
FIFA 09 is a huge amount of game for your dollar, and any soccer fan will be exceedingly happy with it. It's not without its small bugs and annoyances, such as moments where the game appears to hang briefly on loading, but always seems to catch itself again, although these are few and far between. The progress made with this title is simply outstanding. Combined with a excellent menu system, a fantastic soundtrack as we have come to expect from EA, and gorgeous smooth graphics with no sign of slowdown, EA has exceeded expectations and made one of the most addictive and fun soccer titles to date that you really will have trouble putting down.
The worst part? This game will seriously impact your social life.
If you'd like to try before you buy, don't forget there's a playable demo available on the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live. We've mirrored the PC demo at GP Downloads (768MB).