Innovation was the last thing anyone expected from the games. Ever since the 2001 installment things went quite downhill and Pro Evolution Soccer took over the throne of soccer gaming.
To many fans of the series, like me, this was a hard thing to admit because no matter how much I played PES, I was never able to warm up to the gameplay style of FIFA’s competitor. For years I got my yearly soccer dose on my trustworthy PSP where FIFA remained entertaining and playable. And then, BAM, out of the blue FIFA 08 reclaimed the throne last year by making a phenomenal comeback on the 360 and PS3. High were my hopes for the PC version but it turned out that they shouldn’t have been. FIFA 08 on the PC was an abomination of a PS2 port that should have died somewhere in the pipelines over at Electronic Arts.
For FIFA 09, EA got the message and they promised a version that would be on par with the ‘next-gen’ versions on the consoles. On top of that they promised some innovation on the PC front to keep us happy again. The question is, did they deliver? Let’s find out!
When you come in the main menu you immediately notice that a complete overhaul was made and that EA went WEB2.0 with slick menus and widgets all over the place. You can track your online stats and see all sorts of information on your Adidas Live Season of choice. This Live Season is a fancy new feature where you can select one competition of choice for free, for extra competitions you need to dish out some cash, and real life performances from players are updated in your game almost instantaneously. So basically if Ronaldo scores a hat trick on Friday, he will play better in your game on Saturday. A nice feature, but I’ve never really noticed the impact in the game.
Feature-wise the 09 incarnation is pretty much leveled with the console cousins and there isn’t much left to wish for. You have friendly games, seasons, cups, online play, challenges, management mode and ‘Be a Pro’. Next to all the needed modes, about every professional football team is present and I wasn’t able to spot any faults in the player line-ups. The truth is, however, you can cram a live monkey into that DVD casing and make it hum TV show tunes, as long as the game doesn’t perform on the field no one will give a damn and toss it aside after half a try.
The first time you start up a game it looks like EA finally kept word and made an effort to deliver stunning graphics and a true ‘next-gen’ experience to the PC gamers. I know it sounds silly to use that term but I really want to point out that the PC gaming crowd is fed up with being left behind. I’m also pointing this out now because although up to this point everything seems happy in FIFA PC land, here is where it starts going downhill, for now. When the players are still in the catacombs all you can see is the slick models and very nice player animations and details. Then they run on the field that really looks amazing with the 3D
grass and you have that feeling that this year will be the year that FIFA on the PC will be a hit. Milliseconds after that, the feeling starts to crumble away when you notice the first hickup in the engine even though you have a powerhouse of a PC. It seems that EA decided to make FIFA 09 on the PC a hybrid between my precious ‘next-gen’ and the usual PS2 port. Players look awesome and so does the terrain, but everything else just looks plain ‘previous-gen’. The stadiums look like they could use some extra polygons, the parts just next to the pitch are plain looking and are in total contrast to the nice grass, the publicity boards are not nearly as nice as the ones you see on the PS3 and Xbox 360 but the crowd beats it all. They are still the same cardboard flat animated and pixelated monstrosities that roamed the stadiums together with the dinosaurs back in the old FIFA days. On top of all that it seems like EA did not polish the engine at all because even the best PC seems to stumble from time to time for no good reason.
Enough with the graphics, on with the rest of the game. Even though those graphics might not be what I hoped for, the sound makes up for a lot. The atmosphere during a game is just plain fantastic. Run out of the room during the match but leave the sound on and it’s like there is a live game on the television in the next room. Players are also grunting and making realistic noises and they never seem to be out of place. That cannot be said of the commentary in any other language than English. It is just plain awful and I swear it hurts physically after listening to it more than five minutes. In English, the commentators are getting better every year up to the point that they stopped bothering me a while back and now and then I even enjoy their non-stop babbling.
At first the gameplay seems a bit slow and the physics engine makes the whole experience seem heavy and artificial when playing with the keyboard. In ’09 you can also use your mouse in combination with the keyboard and it must be said, with a bit of practice it really gives a certain edge to the PC gameplay this year. Switch to the (Xbox 360) gamepad and after a few games you start to warm up to the way it all moves. Eventhough players collide once too often or look clumsy when they run into a team mate’s ball for the second time in five minutes it still feels great when you trap a ball, first touch away from your defender, set up a one-two pass, rush by the last defender by doing a trick move and then curl the ball over the goalie leaving him to eat grass.
Another thing I loved was the ‘Be a Pro’ mode. Starting a career as one player from scratch and build it out in your team of choice is a really good innovation and they came really close this edition. It is very exciting and hard at the same time to try and stick to your role and complete your tasks. The only thing that messes it up is the awkward camera positions near the moment of truth and the own life some top players tend to lead. When you play in a small team, you can define the match with some moves and decisions but when you start out in a top team like for instance Manchester United it gets really frustrating to be skipped over all the time and have Rooney try to score from 40 meters out every god-damn time you pass him the ball.
Also, big was my surprise when I found out that you cannot play 10v10 in the online version of ‘Be a Pro’. The rest of the online modes are really top notch and a selling point for FIFA on any platform on its own.
So all in all one can come to the conclusion that FIFA 09 PC is not a bad game. It offers a lot of features and will keep any fan busy for quite some time. It is just too bad to see that even though a lot of progress has been made it feels that the PC is still treated like the little retarded brother of the ‘next-gen’ consoles. A nice surprise and a big let down at the same time but I cannot get myself to hate it enough to stop playing so they must be doing something right.