Version tested: PlayStation 3
The myth that EA makes the bimbo football game and Konami makes the cultured one is probably dead by now, but just in case, I have sent it to McDonald's at 2am to spill Joey Barton's pint. FIFA has long since put its dark, deformed days of knee-length grass and knee-deep gameplay behind it, and with this 2009th instalment it delivers solid, realistic football along with its trademark compellingly polished presentation. And careful, because it probably is trademarked.
What's more, it's got more good ideas than FIFA's dad, Sepp Blatter, has had in his entire career. There's Adidas Live Season, which allows you to download form updates for your favourite league, and benefit from them in exhibition, ranked online matches and Interactive Leagues. Interactive Leagues were a good idea from last year, you may remember; you pick your favourite team, and then play against people who represent your next real-life opponent. Worldwide results in these fixtures determine worldwide positions on the Interactive League table. (The game will also support the FIFA Interactive World Cup.)
FIFA 09 also allows you to define tactical presets, and then map these plans to a d-pad menu, so if you go behind late in the game, you could push your full-backs forward and press for an equaliser at the touch of a button, or if you're 2-0 up you could load the midfield. There are slider bars for all sorts of variables, and toggles for things like playing the offside trap. As ever, whether your team can do all the things you ask of them is down to their individual stats, and you still have the option to pick and tweak standard formations, set up man marking and kick takers, and drop Dirk Kuyt even though you love him, in the standard way.
All of this comes in handy when you're playing with friends, and there's a new mode for that too. Lounge mode invites you to set up a league with up to 19 friends and then use "cheap shots" to give yourself pre-game advantages, like extra goals and reduced opposition performance stats. Or you can play them online in the 10-versus-10 games that rely on the "Be a Pro" mechanic introduced in FIFA 08, where you control one player for the whole match. Pre-release we couldn't get enough people together for this, but we wouldn't recommend anybody trying it out without practicing offline first.
Good thing, then, that there's a companion single-player mode, Be a Pro: Seasons, where you get four campaigns to try and rise through the reserves and first team to become captain of your country, as the game puts ticks and crosses against your name for moving into the right positions, completing passes and tackles, scoring goals and contributing to positive results. Online FIFA 09 Clubs allows you to set up a clan, effectively, and then compete for selection in Be a Pro online games. Whether online or off, you can use a typically robust character creation suite to define your player; from the name on his shirt to the sweatbands on his wrists. Well, that's just his torso, thinking about it, but you can also do how he looks, and whether he's got a stupid headband and poncy boots.
Manager Mode, EA's attempt to compete with Konami's revered Master League, also returns in tweaked but not expanded form, even though it's not mentioned on the box or in the manual. It puts up another stern test, allowing you to play around with a transfer budget, field weakened teams in the cup and get turfed out by your board if you don't win enough games, which you control in standard fashion. Konami purists may feel it's a bit light next to their obsession, but it's buckets more shiny water in a vast, vast well here, which also includes licensed leagues from across the world (Premier League, Championship, League 1 and 2 and FA Cup from England), albeit with randomised fixture lists.