Whisper it, but this really could be a killer assault in the football war.
Until recently the general rule in the ongoing Pro Evolution Soccer/FIFA battle was "PES for gameplay, FIFA for style" but last year's FIFA 08 almost changed that with a game that not only looked the part, but was fun as well.
FIFA 09 closes the gap even further.
EA has promised that in excess of 250 improvements have been made to FIFA 09 and even went on to release a list of these changes a while ago to back this claim up. While you'd be hard pushed to notice them all, there's no denying that FIFA 09 flows much better than last year's instalment.
Player animations cut quicker when you perform a different move, meaning that when you get the ball and want to turn around with it you can now do it fairly quickly, eliminating that annoying lag in the previous games when you'd trap the ball then slowly turn around. It feels more like you're controlling a footballer now and less like you're driving a tank.
One of the other most noticeable improvements is the new weight system. Players clashing into each other now react in a different way depending on their size. So if you're controlling Arsenal's Theo Walcott, say, and you jump up for a header with Manchester United's Nemanja Vidic, you can expect to be picking bits of grass out of your backside for a while because it's likely that the clash will send you flying straight to the ground.
The stats have also been tinkered with. Players with higher numbers are now much more noticeably skilled in that department than their opponents.
For example, if you're playing against Liverpool and they get the ball to Spanish wonder kid Fernando Torres, you'd better not let him past you because he's insanely fast and will be hard to catch, more so than in previous games.
There are a few other additions that are a tad less necessary, but no less amusing. The ability to choose which goal celebration your player performs by entering a controller combination is a simple treat but one that can be hugely entertaining should you decide to annoy your Xbox Live opponents by doing the robot dance every single time you score.
Speaking of Live, it's fair to say that those who have their 360 online will be the ones to benefit most from the game's additions this season. The main reason for this claim is the presence of a new 10 Vs 10 multiplayer mode, which (as you'd expect) allows you to you control any single outfield player and take part in a match with 19 other human opponents.
While this could have been a lag-fest on PES - which struggles with a mere two players, after all - the fact that everyone connects through EA's reasonably stable servers means that this is about as good as it's going to get.
All Day I Dream About...
Also new for Live owners is Adidas Live Season, a subscription-based service that updates the stats of each player in a league depending on their real-life performance every week. It's a nice idea, but is let down by a couple of catches: it only covers six leagues and it's only free for one single league until the end of the current season.
What that means is that if you only want this feature for the Premier League until the end of this season then you won't have to pay another penny. However, if you want it running for Serie A as well, or just want it to keep going for the following season then you'll have to pay up, which is hugely disappointing.
That said, it doesn't stop FIFA 09 being the best game in the franchise to date. It's genuinely good enough that it might even convert diehard PES fans if Konami's update this year ends up being as lacklustre as last year's.
Even if that doesn't happen, FIFA 09 is one of the most enjoyable football games in recent years and well worth the asking price.
A strong contender for Pro Evo's crown
- The best FIFA gameplay yet
- Be A Pro mode is great fun
- Full 10 Vs 10 multiplayer
- Adidas Live Season is novel
- Still doesn't match Pro Evo's controls