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FIFA Soccer 09

Electronic Arts' FIFA Soccer 09 is the latest in their popular soccer sports genre video game franchise. The 2009 installment has been released on multiple platforms, which include Sony PlayStation 3, Sony PlayStation 2, Sony PlayStation Portable, Nintendo Wii, Nintendo DS, Microsoft Xbox 360, and Personal Computer. This review covers the Xbox 360 version; however, the comments should be applicable to the PS3 version. For the most part, "FIFA 09" features a similar, exciting soccer gaming experience as "FIFA 08". However, the controls have been improved and are more responsive. "FIFA 09" also has an expanded "Be A Pro", live season, and expanded multiplayer support.

For the most part, "FIFA 09" includes the same goodies from last year's release. The same standard modes are included, such as "Kick Off", fastest way to get a match going, "Manager Mode", control a soccer team through an entire season and manage all aspects of a squad, "Tournament Mode", compete in over 50 real world soccer tournaments or create a custom one, and "Lounge Mode", play with your friends on the same console.

The first notable change is the expansion of the "Be A Pro" mode, which was previously called "Be A Pro: Offline Training" and now is "Be A Pro: Seasons". The previous mode allowed you to select a team and play a single character. You would receive a rating at the end of each match based upon your performance. This mode expands it, allowing you to create your own custom player (or using an existing player), join a club, and play through multiple seasons. You start off on the national reserve squad and work your way up to the first team. You can also become captain of the squad. Until that moment, you cannot change the lineup in anyway. This mode also has an international squad that you get selected for when you get start to get really noticed. As you play, you get experience points based on your performance that can be used to boost your stats.

The second change is the new mode "Adidas Live Season". This mode integrates real world soccer player statistics into the action. Each week in-game player statistics are downloaded based upon real-life player performance. As you play, the team's performance will reflect the team's performance from their latest game. The leagues currently available in the Xbox Live Marketplace are Barclays Premier League, Liga BBVA, Serie A, Bundesliga, Pimera Division de Mexico, and Ligue 1. They must be purchased; a redemption code for one league is included with the game. Note that the live updates will only be supported from October 2008 to May 2009. The live season updates can also be used in "Kick-Off", "Ranked Quick Match", and "Interactive Leagues".

As for multiplayer options, "FIFA 09" has really vamped up the support. There is the same support for ranked or unranked matches, "Interactive Leagues", and "Online Leagues". The new multiplayer modes include "Be A Pro: Online Team Play", similar to the single player version, but you to play with up to nineteen friends online, and "FIFA 09 Clubs", create your own club, invite friends, or scout other online players.

Beyond the game modes, "FIFA 09" has a couple other subtle changes on the horizon. First, team management has been expanded with the ability to control, change, and customize player tactics. The new tactics options allows you to pick pre-defined tactics or make your own to set player focus by customizing build up, chance creation, and defense. The other subtle change is the controls. While I thought that "FIFA 08" had good controls, "FIFA 09" seems to be much more responsive with far less "accidental" passing. However, there are still some common annoyances, such as the AI taking control of the player when you get too close to the keeper and yellow/red cards are far too frequent.

As for the technical aspects, "FIFA 09" has great visuals and audio. The Xbox 360 version has support for 720p, 1080i, and 1080p. The graphics look very good. Details are drawn well with character models, field details, shading, glare from natural lighting, menus, etc. The end result is a clean and crisp experience. The only real issue I had was the flow of the character models. For the most part they look fluid in motion, but there are occasions when it just looks clumsy. For audio, the game has an almost identical play-by-play commentary with Martin Tyler and Andy Gray, which has gotten pretty dull.

Overall, "FIFA 09" only appears to have minor adjustments to the game play, but they provide more responsive controls. And the expansions to the game modes make it a must own for soccer fans. There are hours of play to be had. I really enjoyed what EA Sports did with the "Be A Pro: Seasons" mode -- working my player from the benches to all-star was very fun.