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FIFA 09 First Impressions

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Games journalists far and wide have travelled to Leipzig today, hoping to get a glimpse of games such as FIFA 09. But it’s not just those who work in the industry attending; the event is open to the public. It’s always a breath of fresh air to hear the opinions of the gamers themselves and “sweetkilla”, a forum regular at Evo-Web.co.uk, was kind enough to write the following notes from his German hotel room. The original was a rough draft, so I’ve taken the time to neaten it up a bit. Sir, we salute you!

First Impressions

The first thing you’re presented with is the arena, which looks the same until, of course, you start taking shots and start moving around with the player. Players felt less heavy and seemed like they could turn and react to the positioning of their bodies much quicker. But for a better impression you need to play the game from the normal camera angle, obviously.

Gameplay is obviously the most important part of all, so I’ll break my thoughts down into several key areas.

Passing

The game is a lot more fluid than FIFA 08, and you can string passes together easily now if you are e.g. Manchester United. In FIFA 08 the pitch felt very congested at times when you had the ball, but now you feel like you have more time on the ball and more space to move into, which is excellent as sometimes (in Euro 2008 especially) it felt like your players wouldn’t pass quickly enough. Playing on “semi” passing, this little bit of added space makes the game much less frustrating than previous games.

Players are now put off the accuracy of their passes when they are pressed by the opposition, and this adds a whole new level of realism, although it has quite a strong effect. For example, if you are playing against an opponent who likes to sit back and defend, your players are able to pass the ball around them all night long and this seems to build up a hidden “confidence bar”, with passing accuracy rocketing to around 80%-90% accuracy. However, when the opposition start to pressure your team, you lose that bit of responsiveness, and passes become a lot less accurate. You can no longer string passes together when you’re under intense pressure, because it leads to a lot of mistakes, and although this is realistic, it means the game will become very difficult and very scrappy if your opponent sets his players to team-press!

Dribbling/Skill

This is one of my favourite parts of FIFA 09. Dribbling is now a lot more responsive. By that I don’t mean when you are using the “trick stick”, but when you are actually dribbling, doing 45-degree and 90-degree turns. It’s a lot more intricate and players can shimmy through players a lot easier than before. This is important because when you use Messi, for example, it is a lot easier to go around players without having to use a trick; last year in FIFA 08 I depended on the lane-change skill to dribble around players, but this is no longer the case and you can now mix it up with tricks and close ball control.

Crossing/Heading

Standard crosses in the box are basically the same as before, but now you can give them a bit of curl, which is good – but it was a lot more noticeable from set pieces and corners, where you can curve the ball a lot more.

Headers are a lot more like Euro 2008, meaning that if you win the header you now feel like you can really bullet the ball into the back of the net. Where you aim is where the header ends up, whether that be miles over the bar or the bottom corner. Aiming headers is a lot easier than in FIFA 08, where headers would often be too soft or simply not go where you wanted them to. You can now really pick your spot; I scored three headers with Berbatov, and managed to pick out the bottom corners three times in a row. I also scored a couple with other players, which were unmarked headers where I had all the time in the world to produce a good hard headed goal. I am happy to say this part of the game is much improved, perhaps too easy in-fact, but this is probably down to the players’ traits and abilities. Expect a lot more headed goals in FIFA 09!

Tackling/Collisions

This is a huge part of the game, and easily one of the best additions to the series. You can honestly feel the physicality of certain players when you have control of them, and is a massive help against quick, skillful players. In FIFA 08 I focused my game on defence and always used Inter Milan, and this is the same team I used in FIFA 09 when I noticed how useful the tackling/collision system is with certain teams. I had Maicon, Materazzi, Samuel and Chivu in defence with Vieira and Muntari as defensive midfielders (the rosters were up to date as of at least a few weeks ago), and I was up against Manchester United. My opponent set Ronaldo as a striker, with Rooney supporting him, and Nani and Saha on the wings. I knew this was either going to make or break the game for me, because if he could tear me apart like Manchester United could in FIFA 08 I would have been majorly disappointed – not because it was easy, but because there is no stopping the “big” players like Ronaldo in FIFA 08.

The game started and he piled on the pressure from the start. He was always looking for Ronaldo. I had Materazzi square up to him but with Ronaldo’s ball control he managed to get past him without even using a skill-move. He was through on goal, but Samuel came running in from an angle. He ran into Ronaldo and with a push of LB + A on the 360 controller (R1 + X on the PS3 pad) to try and win the ball, he barged in with his elbow and Ronaldo was shrugged off the ball. He didn’t roll over, he was just barged a couple of yards backwards, and with him off-balance I picked up the loose ball with Samuel (who is quicker than Materazzi and was able to recover the situation for me).

This happened several times, and the key to winning possession was coming at these skillful players from the side (rather than squaring up to them head-on), where a player’s strength can make more of an impact and you can be more successful with tackles from the stronger/quicker players in your side. As the attacking side, you can still beat defenders with players who are good in one-on-one situations, but if I had not been good with using the jockey button he could have scored on several occasions.

It really is difficult to explain the collision system; I’ve tried as best as I can but it has to be seen to be believed. It’s very hard to do it justice, and it’s definitely one of the biggest additions to the game.

Custom Formations

Another new feature is the ability to truly tinker with your formation. You can now set four custom formations up, store them and take them online, but the big part of the new formation settings is “player roaming”. You can set which areas of the field each player commands, telling them to risk going into certain areas, or staying strictly within their zone. So if, for example, you want your full-backs to stay back for the entire game and provide no attacking width, staying put and tightly marking the likes of Robinho and Robben, they will do that.

Another example; if you want Gerrard and Lampard to roam, in-case there’s a lucky bounce they can latch onto and dispatch into the back of the net, they will do that as well. You can really see the difference when you alter the tactics in this way, it makes a huge difference. I was using a 4-2-4 formation but I wanted my full-backs to push forward, with my defensive midfielders covering the space left behind by each full-back when they were in the attacking third. So I set this up, and what did I see? Cambiasso and Vieira occupying the left-back and right-back positions whilst my full-backs were giving me some attacking width. I thought this was a great addition to the dynamic of the game, as “player arrows” have never made as big a difference as this in previous football games.

Now you feel like you are the manager of your team, and that you decide what your players do in the course of the game. Of course, I could also have had Cambiasso and Vieira roaming into attacking midfield positions, putting huge pressure on my opponents, but my strategy in FIFA is to keep the defence as tight as possible!

Sliders

This section will be brief as I only altered the sliders once or twice. I can see this being used in the last twenty minutes of games very often, when you need to really pile on the pressure on your opponent. I didn’t use this too often, I was too concerned about my defensive line, but you could definitely see everyone push up when I set the “chance creation” slider to the maximum setting. Expect to be countered very easily if you dare turn up all the sliders!

Goalkeepers

Now, this is the one aspect of the game people are the most worried about and, from my experience, I can honestly say there is room for improvement here. It all depends on what goalkeepers are on the pitch – once again, player ratings are of huge importance. I used Tottenham, who still had Paul Robinson in goal, and he was pretty much a Euro 2008 goalkeeper, i.e. he could be beaten at the near post pretty easily, and the same with finesse shots from the edge of the area. But when I had Julio Cesar of Inter in goal, people were regularly having their shots saved when it was one against one, and it felt like every one against one was a 50/50 situation. Cech made the most miraculous save I have ever seen in a FIFA game; Rooney blasted a shot like a rocket, the ball hit the crossbar and bounced down onto the line, with Ronaldo coming in for an easy tap-in. Cech was on the floor, Ronaldo was closing in, and Cech scrambled across the goal on his knees to punch the ball away just before Ronaldo could arrive. This was probably the most exciting thing I saw all day, with the goalkeepers having such life-like animation for that kind of situation. I’ve not seen anything like it before in FIFA, or in any other football game for that matter.

Cech could also deal with long shots comfortably, but was definitely weak on crosses and corners where he was often caught napping. On a few of these occasions he came out to catch the ball and didn’t get there in time, reminding me of many a David James howler! My advice is to pick a team with a goalkeeeper rated 80+, otherwise they may concede some poor goals.

Shooting

Talking about goals, shooting is one of the most important aspects of a football game, and I think FIFA 09 has got this spot-on. The ball feels a lot less “floaty” now, and shots seem to have a slight accuracy increase from distance when compared to FIFA 08. The power in these shots is also a lot more noticeable, and was clear to see when I scored a couple of scorchers with Adriano and Drogba. I hit some long, hard shots with power that smacked into the bottom corner of the net, which wasn’t possible in FIFA 08, and the curl and power of the shots is now a lot more realistic. This is another area I find hard to explain but a lot of people will absolutely adore this! You can actually feel and see the power in shots now and it makes a massive difference. The response times when shooting are also spot-on and I have no issues with them whatsoever.

AI/Player Movement and Reactions

AI seems to be exactly the same as in FIFA 08, and as such, you are forced to use the player roaming feature mentioned previously to make the players move into positions they should occupy. It would have been a good idea for EA to set player roaming for the players that move into certain positions in real life, but once you have set this for your team, it makes no difference either way I suppose.

Player movement in attacking areas is pretty good once you start tapping the LT button on the 360 controller (L2 on PS3) to trigger player runs. Seeing them call for the ball, pointing when they want the ball played, is a very good visual aid as many previews have stated. You now feel like players are reacting to situations like this as they should. Player turning has improved and along with what I detailed in the dribbling section, people should have no complaints with responsiveness in this area! Players do what you want them to when you flick the analog stick, and with closer touches that also helps to increase the responsiveness.

“Super-cancel” is much improved, as now you can finally get your strikers out of those “railed” runs and start running towards the ball at full speed more often than before. There are still occasions when they stand still, meaning you have to react within the first second of receiving the ball or else you lose possession, but I am hoping this is tweaked just slightly before release. It’s definitely improved and should be less frustrating for the more advanced players who use these features.

Some of the new animations are excellent, especially reactions to things unfolding on the pitch. When you do an awful pass, or you are greedy with the ball and take an awful shot, players will react to these situations and it is great to see! You will constantly see the likes of Ibrahimovic and Berbatov moan when delivery is not perfect, just like they would in real life.

I have missed out a couple of things like how player traits and player ratings affect the game, but I may go into more detail about these at some point. For now, I think the above tells you just how much an improvement this game is over FIFA 08 and Euro 2008.

Thanks once again to sweetkilla for passing on these notes and allowing us to produce this draft.

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