Month: September 2008

Magic Monday

Ahhh, you just can’t beat the start of the week in which a big game will be released. Especially when you have a preorder for the game and its status has switched to PENDING…

Last year and this year I’ve pre-ordered my football games with GAME.co.uk. They haven’t let me down yet. Last year I received both FIFA08 and PES2008 on the Wednesday of release week. However, earlier this year they slightly blotted their copybook by not getting MGS4 to me until the actual day of release. Still great service, but I was slightly disappointed with them on that occasion.

As the little picture below shows, my order is moving. I’ve checked my credit card balance and the money is in the process of being taken. However, I’m not getting my hopes up. In the week of MGS4’s release everything also looked as if it was in motion on the Monday. And things stayed that way until the Thursday. If GAME treats its FIFA preorders as it did last year, they’ll dispatch tomorrow, Tuesday, and I’ll have FIFA09 on Wednesday. Here’s hoping.

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Today’s other big news is the confirmation that the PES2009 demo will be released this Thursday, October 2nd. Brilliant! At long last, the waiting—to see just what it’s like, for myself—is nearly over.

Listening to the latest WENB podcast is encouraging and slightly worrying at the same time. The two participants’ enthusiasm for PES2009 comes across well, although it’s worrying to hear them musing that the game is still too fast. This is a major worry for me right now. I’m worried that it’ll be another PES where you might as well just glue down the sprint button for the whole game. In my opinion, Pro Evolution Soccer as a franchise and a gameplay style has got to slow down. Its makers have got to be brave enough to just leave the more arcade-style football fans behind. The past few PES years have all tended towards speed and incessant goalmouth thrills. PES2008 was its ne plus ultra. It isn’t what I want.

Anyway. Roll on Thursday. And roll on FIFA09 while I’m waiting. As I’ve said before, I absolutely love this period before the games land. I suppose it’s a sad adult male’s equivalent of a child’s fevered excitement in the build-up to Christmas. I’ll be watching my pre-order and updating the blog all week. I won’t be frightened to call the posts things like ‘Terrific Tuesday’, ‘Wonderful Wednesday’, and so on…

Itchy fingers

Will these days and weeks never end? The run-up to the release of the two big games—FIFA09 and PES2009, naturally—is proving to be more excruciating this year than any other.

But I’m strangely coping better with it this year than any other. Partly this is a result of my severely lowered expectations regarding PES2009. I’ve also had the FIFA09 demo to play, and I’ve been playing other games (anyone for WipeoutHD?), and I’ve been busy in real life (if there be such a thing). I’ve also been enjoying all the debates on all the forums. In many ways, this period before the games are released is almost as good as playing the games themselves… So I keep telling myself anyway. Under the hood, I’m still impatient and twitchy for the kickoff.

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Still no PES2009 demo on the horizon. The smart money is on it popping up for download this Thursday (2nd October). If so it’d be a slight spoiler for the FIFA09 release, so it might happen. Personally I don’t think we’ll see the demo until the actual week of release, but I’m prepared to be wrong and would love to be wrong. There’s a lot riding on PES2009. I want to play it.

Even if PES2009 is a very good PES game (and I still believe it will be), it’s got major competition this year for the first time. Yes, FIFA08 was a good game, but it would be hard for me to argue it was a truly great game. FIFA09, from what I have seen and played of it so far, could be the great football game that I didn’t know I was waiting for. Over the past few days I’ve started walloping goals in from distance with the same kind of visceral joy that I once got from PES. At this stage I believe that FIFA09 could be the greatest football video game ever made, but that’s a big statement and it’s early days yet. I await the full game—which I should receive this Wednesday or Thursday in the post, if GAME.co.uk’s usual excellent service comes through for me. Fingers crossed.

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A brief word about the blog. As of the end of next week, daily posts should resume. I might take odd days off now and then, but otherwise I’ll be back to the daily chronicling of my football game experience. With one major difference: my posts will be, on average, a lot shorter than they were last year. I’ll be trying to keep each post around the 400 words mark, roughly the size of this one.

The in-betweener

Things have been a bit quiet for me on the blog recently. For most of this past year I’ve updated here every single day without fail. Recently that became several times a week. I will be getting back to daily updates in due course—probably after the release of FIFA09. For now, though, things just feel odd.

We’re firmly in the middle of the ‘phoney war’ phase leading up to this year’s big game releases. I’ve also been distracted by a few things in real life that I won’t go into here. All in all, my game-playing habits have taken a massive hit. This past week is probably the first week in around eight years that I haven’t played a single game of Pro Evolution Soccer.

My attitude to PES2008 on the PS3 is well-documented on this blog. But I had—and still have—a lot of time for the PS2/PSP version of the game. By rights, I should have been playing that. Ah, but times have changed. Things have moved on in the football gaming world. I’ve had the FIFA09 demo to distract me.

Below is a replay of probably the best goal I’ve scored on the demo. The quality is poor, but you can just make out what goes on. In case it’s not clear, the goal is a finessed lob-shot from the outer corner of the box that flies over the keeper into the far corner of the net.

Granted, it was on Amateur difficulty. I don’t expect to be curling them in for fun in the full game. But I am getting the hang of FIFA09’s much-maligned new shooting system. I’ve been amazed by the negative reaction to it in some quarters. To me it feels wonderfully intuitive and satisfying to let rip with ‘Bobby Charlton’-style shots. It reminds me of PES5’s shooting system, when you just had to feather the shoot button at the right moment to fire a rocket. We’ll see how this FIFA09 shooting plays in the full game.

As for PES2009, I await its demo with impatience. Part of me suspects that we won’t see it until days before the full game’s release, after sentimentalists like me have finally cracked and put in our pre-orders.

I’m still cautiously optimistic about PES2009. Despite the arcade handling (and it took FIFA08 to show us that, yes, PES is arcadey and always has been), that famous core gameplay—the classic PES gameplay—is something I very much want to see executed properly on the next-gen consoles.

Browsing the forums, it’s noticeable that the PES/FIFA arguments this year are fiercer than they’ve ever been. I’m amused to see legions of PES fans confidently declare that nothing has changed in FIFA for ten years, when in fact everything has changed, and massively so. It’s also amusing to see the same arguments that PES players always used against FIFA turned by FIFA fans against PES. Too arcadey. Too fast. Too many goals. A football game for kids

I’m not a FIFA fan—not yet. But, crucially, it’d be a stretch, after 2008, to still call myself a PES fan. I’m a pre-PES2008 PES fan. Yes, that’s probably about right.

Like I said, I await PES2009. With great interest.

Please, please, please let me get what I want

After several posts full of little other than high praise for the FIFA09 demo, it’s time for me to play devil’s advocate. At least a little. This is all based upon what I have found in the demo only. I know the full game will be different.

First things first. I think the FIFA09 demo does its job admirably. A demo is supposed to show off the gameplay of the full game. Nothing more, nothing less. As far as that goes, the FIFA09 demo does its job perfectly—and even goes that little bit further. I can’t remember the last time I played a demo that gave me such value. As of right now, I’ve yet to see a potentially greater football experience on the next-gen consoles. I await the PES2009 demo, whenever it shows its face, with interest. (Incidentally, if I was Konami I’d choose to release the PES2009 demo on October 2nd. It’d be a slight spoiler for FIFA09’s full release the next day.)

But what about the FIFA09 negatives? Are there any negatives? Of course there are.

Games would like to be viewed in the same way as art. They would like to be appraised in the same way as a book, a film, a television programme. And there is no such thing as perfection in art.

You can find imperfections anywhere you look, in anything. This is why arguments on the internet about games will never end—never. The FIFA09 demo is damn good, in my opinion, but like its predecessor it has received a fearful kicking from some quarters. 

Overall, I find that the FIFA09 demo promises a full game with the potential to be the best football game I have ever played. Better even than any of my beloved PS2-era PES titles. That is shocking for me even to think—never mind to write in public where anyone can see it. Over the years PES has been much more to me that ‘just a game’, and it still is. It’ll take another dismal PES year to change that.

If the demo is any guide, FIFA09 has resolved many of the issues I had with FIFA08. The crummy shooting, for one. I disliked in FIFA08 how the ball would often just die in mid-air. In FIFA09, the opposite would seem to be the case. Many early demo-players complain that their shots fly too hard, fast, and far, zooming over with the merest touch. They’re trying to sprint and shoot, of course—a PES trait if ever there was one. You don’t get penalised in PES for squeezing the sprint button for pretty much the whole game. In the new FIFA, you do get penalised, and heavily, in a number of ways—wild and wayward shooting is just one of them.

So, yes, I love the new shooting. I love the new passing and the new camera options. I hope I will love the new tactics customisation options—their limited availability in the demo was a disappointment.

Lots of people are still complaining about the new FIFA’s response times. I think too many people are still complaining about it for it to be some evil conspiracy. Right now, I honestly can’t see the problem myself. Response times seem vastly increased after last year’s (admittedly) rather sluggish handling. I think this one will have to wait for the full game before being resolved one way or the other.

So what’s still, as of now, bad? A few things.

The CPU players’ animations just prior to your kickoff—they all jump up in the air and shake the same leg at the same time. It looks very silly indeed and I hope it’s not in the final version.

The PS3 graphics are poor next to the 360 graphics (I’ve played both)—but actually I am less worried about this than some people. For me the PS3 graphics, if that’s what they are like in the final PS3 version, are just acceptable. It’s slowdown during gameplay that I was worried about, and there is none. Hopefully the framerate drops in the replays and cut scenes will be ironed out for the final version.

In general gameplay, the CPU still seems to have an insane possession bonus when it wants to keep the ball. At times, I find that winning the ball down in my corner areas is still virtually impossible. The CPU players will simply jink and twist and turn until they get their crosses in, and there’s apparently nothing I can do about it. Yes, I know all about the L2 shield thing. Perhaps I still need to work on it. Coming from a decade of PES play, I do tend to feel that I have a divine right to win the ball back whenever I want to.

No doubt the full game will be lacking many of the tweaks to Manager Mode that I would have liked to have seen. I’m just an offline player. If the online element was greatly reduced or even completely missing, I really wouldn’t care. For me, the worth of any game is still measured by its offline, single-player experience. We’ll see.

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And that’s probably my last word on the FIFA09 demo. As of today, I’ll be making an effort not to play it again. My last session was comprised of a few games on Monday night. The two-minute matches are adequate for their purpose—providing a taster of the game—but I dislike the way I try to play during them. I try to do too much too quickly. This is antithetical to the spirit of the new FIFA. I refuse to spoil myself for the full game.

For the next couple of weeks, my focus is switching back to the nominal subject matter of this blog. Pro Evolution Soccer. Come on. It’s going to be better than last year. That much is clear. What isn’t yet clear is: will it be better enough?

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