FIFA 09 Demo Impressions - 22/09/2008

Like a physics lesson, but with more falling over.

‘Ouch! Oohwee!' – These were the sounds emanating from TGSN towers as we fired up EA's latest kick about, released this Thursday. You see, The Force Unleashed isn't the only EA-licensed game this year that features spine-splinteringly realistic physics; it seems the 2009 batch of sports games have finally tapped into the raw, macho athleticism that makes their real-world counterparts so enjoyed by millions of young, red-blooded males the world over. Forget booting someone down the stairs in GTA; forget face-planting a speeding sports car in Skate; there is nothing like witnessing a vastly misjudged, 90-degree angle tackle to send the opposition crumpling onto whichever body part the physics engine dictates.

However, while EA's tinkering has afforded a fresh, even dangerous sense of unpredictability to defensive scrambles and sideline-jockeys, midfield play can and often gets bogged down into cumbersome and frustrating mini-sessions of hot potatoe. Although the demo took place in a sunny New Wembley stadium, the high chance of stacking it coupled with the amount of time it took for players to find their feet after going to ground more resembled the rain-soaked condition in which this years UEFA demo was set. Yes, real-world players sometimes spend more time getting their bum muddy in efforts to sway the ref's decision (hello, Diving Drogba), but watching bodies collide on the telly is always going to be more enjoyable than attempting (and failing) to control them yourself. Though, misjudged as the developers were in their sometimes over-zealous incorporation of realism, play as a strong enough squad and the mathematically impeccable nature of the physics means the game has no fair choice but to let you send the other bloke sprawling.

The obligatory though minor graphical update keeps things looking great, if sweaty.

In a drastic contrast to EA's sometimes over-sensitive regard to realism, the game still seems to want to mirror it's arguably less technically impressive rival, PES. It is a sad day when a game employs accurate sweaty face modelling ™ but still only lets you run in 8 directions. Like the strictest breed of IT teacher, the game forces you into playing on a grid, and like a Windows 96 version of Ed-Excel it's hardly brimming with possibility; the trick stick is still as useless as a ball tied to your boot with chewing gum, and dribbling past the opposition is still only possible by running in straight lines. PES, with it's solid employment of D-pad accessible arcade football just about gets away with the ancient control method; in Fifa 09, seeing Peter Crouch moving in only 8 directions like a robot just looks odd (well, maybe not Peter Crouch).

We wouldn't be surprised if you could dance a rendition of the robot in the full game – surely a fan-pleasing, if David Brent - esq. addition to the already strong stable of goal celebrations from UEFA 08 if ever there was one. As well as having the rival-rubbing ability of pushing different buttons to perform different post-goal actions, EA professed to have added 250 improvements to the game. None are life changing, but each one helps Fifa inch closer to the great football game that's been dying to get out since 07. For instance, when you're aimlessly shooting at the goalie in that neat little training pitch now strangely taking over all EA sports titles, the crowd will instantly appear in the stands as the game loads– a neat trick akin to the sort of dream where you suddenly find you're in a lecture without any clothes on.

It will once again be a matter of personal preference as to who buys which franchise's latest effort.

Couple this with substantial treatment to the online (a lag-free 10 vs. 10 mode that's sure to trump last years lag-laden single player PES match ups), the 4-season long be a pro mode (similarly set to win out over Konami's copy-cat ‘Become a Legend' feature), and the application of updates to the game based on real-world player status courtesy of Adidas Live Season and you've got a package that cements EA's place as one of the worlds most thorough games developers. Though, no word yet on whether the man Berbatov will magically appear in the United team.

Fifa 09 is a technical showcase that feels so close to the real thing it sometimes hurts. We await PES's reply with baited pie breath.

Predicted score: 90%

- Ben P. Griffin (former PES fan)



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