Let the Hooliganism Begin
The vivid onscreen graphics, handheld control scheme, matches short enough to kill some time whatever situation you’re in; I’ve always felt soccer games work extremely well on the PSP. You don’t have to be a lunatic soccer fan to appreciate how the sport and its atmosphere translate to video games, and FIFA has consistently offered fantastic simulations to represent and recreate the beautiful game . But for anyone who may not be a complete football ‘head, how much each edition has to offer is an annual dilemma more casual fans are faced with.
As for what new features 09 has to offer from recent years, the biggest highlights are its Be A Pro: Seasons mode, its Casual Controls setup, a few new moves added to the list, and an updated animation system. With the release of a FIFA title every year and other EA soccer games such as World Cup and UEFA European Championship, one of which is released every two years, the difference between them all becomes hard to distinguish. Those who haven’t picked up an EA soccer title in recent years may definitely want to check this one out because, on its own, FIFA Soccer 09 for the PSP is a fantastic game.
Developers have implemented a few new offensive and defensive moves to add a bit more variety to the controls, but essentially it’s the exact same FIFA we’ve played in the past. Shielding is introduced to the attack game using R1 or combined with the analog to stop the ball and shield or push your marker. There are new advances in the faking controls to include a fake throw and a fake first touch to pull off before you make contact with the ball. The scoop turn, heel-to-heel, and step-over roll are crafty new skill moves that can be used to school an opponent online or sitting next to you.
In an ongoing campaign for family-friendly play by EA, they’ve introduced Casual Controls to FIFA, similar to Rookie Mode in Madden. It simplifies the game so much that controls consist of nothing more than hitting X to pass and Circle to shoot on offense, and X to switch players and Circle to slide tackle on defense. Players are on auto-pilot, which means they’ll run and get the ball all on their own with you having only to make their passing and scoring decisions. A.I. works pretty well in this mode and scoring is extremely easy, though anyone who has played any EA soccer game for more than one match will find little use for Casual Controls.
The biggest addition to FIFA Soccer is the Be A Pro: Seasons, which is similar to Be A Pro modes found on other recent EA Sports titles. You take on the roll of your favorite player or create your own to progress through an entire four seasons and improve, building skill levels along the way. In the case of FIFA, your character will be able to do things such as call for a pass or shot and manage the entire team, playing as one player on the field. Be A Pro uses a third-person camera view when playing as single-player, which would be the vast majority of people playing on the PSP. The problem with the camera view is it is somewhat boring playing one position, especially if you’re on defense. Much of the game involves watching the A.I. control the ball from your perspective, though it does offer a completely unique way to play the game. You’ll have to time your running to avoid being caught offside on rushes on offense, and defensively you’ll have to hold down your turf and make sure you’ve got opponents covered.
Other modes make a return this year including the lengthy Manager Mode, Tournament Mode, and the wildly entertaining Challenge Mode with mini-games to occupy your time. There is a whole lot to do with FIFA 09 with replay value in spades. There are also a whole lot of teams included in the game, mostly from European soccer leagues I have never heard of. North American soccer fans will enjoy the inclusion of all 14 Major League Soccer teams.
Visually, EA soccer has never looked better. They’ve implemented a new animation system that has improved on the fluidity of the game and the way players interact with one another. While in-game animations are improved, they won’t drop the jaws of anyone familiar with the series. There are new animations of players celebrating a goal, complaining to the ref, becoming injured, and other incidents to give FIFA 09 an updated feel.
Still, this game is far too familiar to other FIFA games in the past. The menus look great as always, yet are completely unchanged. End-of-the- half replays look exactly the same as they have for years, with the same slow-motion montage of highlights from usual camera angles. Stadiums look pretty much the same as they have in recent years, with bright-lit fields and massive crowds that are blurred in the background. Ambience of the cheering spectators captures the atmosphere of a soccer match, though all sound effects are completely the same as they have been in the past. Player models are also seemingly identical to recent installments, with some athletes who look nothing like their actual self. Shadows on shorts and jerseys gives athletes a realistic appearance, especially on replays, as clothing has the illusion of flapping in the air and moving around. While EA has seemingly perfected their soccer simulation on the PSP and have changed some gameplay elements for the better in 09, visuals and other elements offer little reason to believe their latest installment is at all fresh.
The commentating is typical of past games, sounding much like a live soccer broadcast with a little too much repetition. The soundtrack is filled with enough Brit-pop and Euro dance music to make me want to turn off most of the songs in my playlist (the option is nice), obviously intended to appeal more to gamers on the other side of the pond.
For the football fanatic and the casual sports gamer, FIFA Soccer 09 continues the tradition of offering a great handheld experience on the PSP. It may very well be their best offering to date, and while less enthusiastic fans of the sport may not feel the need to update their yearly collection, if there is one PSP soccer title to purchase, this is it.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.6 Graphics
Stadiums, crowds, and character models are typical of FIFA titles. Updated animations make in-game action slightly more fluid than in the past. 3.7 Control
Control scheme works well on the PSP, while not offering much different from previous installments but a few new moves. 3.7 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Decent commentating is matched by a huge, worldly soundtrack. Stadium ambience is as expected, though in-game play lacks any new sound effects from past FIFA games. 3.8 Play Value
Though it may lack enough new features and modes to entice the casual gamer, FIFA 09 may be the best title of the series to date. 3.8 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.