Month: September 2008

The road less travelled

So, it’s my regular FIFA Sunday spot. In lots of ways this is the trickiest one I’ve ever had to write. Not because the demo for FIFA09 is bad, but because it is good.

I’ve been absolutely hammering the demo over the past four days. But I’ve decided not to play it so much after today. In fact I’m going to try to stay off it completely and wait until October 3rd. I think the restricted 2-minute match just encourages a kick-and-rush approach. The demo limitation gives a distorted representation of what the new FIFA gameplay, and FIFA09 in particular, is all about.

I’ve now had several long sessions with FIFA09. It seems to be the game I was hoping for. It almost seems, heartbreakingly, to be the game that I expected PES2008 to be, one year ago.

In football games, it’s all about the handling. Football games have a handling in the same way that racing games do. There’s a feel. A heft. You know when you’ve hit a sweet spot, and you know when things are skidding out of control. There’s a groove. FIFA09’s gameplay, for me, hits that groove.

Inevitably, the FIFA09 demo has made me think some more about PES. A couple of years ago, Seabass’ team at Konami must have come to a fork in the road. Down one path lay the road of an ever-deepening simulation of football, with all the sturdiness and fidelity to the real game of football that the PES series had justly become renowned for throughout the gaming world. Down the other road lay the 5-4 goalfests of the arcade-oriented mass market.

We all know which road they took with PES2008. They took the road more travelled. The road that FIFA used to travel, year after year.

It’s tempting now, after seeing and feeling FIFA09, to dismiss PES2009 before even seeing it. The videos of PES2009 look rather crude. The promise of ‘PES5 in HD’ now seems rather empty. But, whoah… let’s not get hasty.

I’ve been playing PES and loving it for the better part of ten years; I’ve been playing FIFA and mostly loving it for less than one year. I’ll wait until I play PES2009 before making a final judgement on the road PES is going down, and whether I want to accompany it or not. I owe it that much.

FIFA09 Demo: 2nd Impressions

Just a very quick update today until a beefier one on my regular FIFA Sunday. After yesterday’s goal-drought, I finally scored a few goals on the FIFA09 demo this morning. I played five more games, and scored three goals in them. They were all scored with Drogba, who appears to be a monster of a player on FIFA09 so far. I’m repeating my routine from the FIFA08 demo last year: ‘beat every team with every team on every difficulty level’. So I’m just playing with Chelsea at the moment.

I dropped the difficulty to Professional. I had heard that the difficulty levels had been tweaked downwards in FIFA09. This was allegedly to make the game more accessible to arcade kiddies with attention deficit disorder a wider audience. But Professional level seems if anything a little harder than 08’s equivalent! It’s almost certainly just me, getting used to the new game.

I finally got to try all the speed levels. You can change the pace of the game between Slow, Normal, and Fast. Slow is roughly the same as FIFA08. Fast is very fast indeed—almost at PES2008 levels, which is saying something. Another concession to the kids there, I think.

Normal speed, for me, is the Goldilocks setting. It’s just right. I’m planning to make the 2009 season the season I start regularly playing football games online (and to write/moan about my experiences here on the blog). I just hope that Normal speed becomes, well, normal for online games.

And I found my perfect camera setting. I think I’ll be using this one permanently. It’s the default Tele camera, with the Height slightly increased and the Zoom pulled all the way out.

I also downloaded the PS3 demo just now. Yesterday’s PSN fiasco made me very glad that I also have a 360. But I want to get the final game on the PS3. That’s the platform my preorder is on. The 360 just freezes and crashes far too often for me to rely on it. It’s a rare session on the 360 when the DVD drive doesn’t suddenly go ominously silent, then several seconds later the screen freezes, and I have to pull the plug and start again. So, for a game like FIFA09 (and PES2009, eventually), my preferred console is the PS3.

I haven’t had the chance to install and play the PS3 demo yet today. Maybe later I will.

But I hear worrying things about the quality of FIFA09 on the PS3. Slowdowns, framerate drops, that kind of thing. Surely we should be past this kind of thing by now? Or maybe the framerate problems (if true) won’t be in the final version? I’m worried, because history shows us that game publishers are not above putting out unfinished products, and the gaming media is not above obediently keeping quiet about it. This is something I’ll be tracking very carefully over the next few weeks. If it turns out to be something we have to wait for a patch for, I’ll get the 360 version.

One other thing. All this FIFA09 demo excitement has served to whet my appetite for PES2009 even more. I want that PES demo. I’m so curious about what it’ll be like. I watched a few more videos last night of PES2009 in action, and maybe I shouldn’t have. It looked absurdly fast and arcadey in comparison to FIFA09. 2009 is a big, big year in the football game world. I just hope Konami realises that.

FIFA09 demo: 1st Impressions

OK, literally moments have passed since I laid down the 360 controller after my first play of FIFA09. For now, here’s what passed through my mind:

Quick download. At 11:00 I grabbed the whole 740MB in about 15 mins at virtually my full download speed. What was I ever worried about?

Full match with penalties! Thank-you, EA. Finally, a full match in a sport game demo. I’m tired of playing sport game demos where you’re just getting into the action and then the half (or the quarter) ends and you’re thrown back into menus and promotional screens and whatnot. The full match in the FIFA09 demo (albeit only with 2-minute halves) is much appreciated.

Arena. Love the new Arena. The melting-into-the-stadium concept works very well. Most people have seen it in videos over the past few weeks. But the first time you see it for yourself, you’ll likely have been distracted by playing in the Arena, and the ‘melting moment’ will be a surprise. I defy you not to grin.

Shooting. First thing I noticed in FIFA09 – the shooting is massively improved (IMO). The ball flies straighter and farther for longer. My main gripe with shooting in FIFA08 was the way the ball just seemed to die in mid-air at times. Yes, yes, I know it was all about the famous ‘ten trillion decisions’ relating to player position, power, angle, ball velocity, angular momentum, etc., etc. But I prefer FIFA09 shooting, I think I can say right now. I was firing them off with Ronaldinho in the Arena straightaway.

General gameplay. At first it’s disappointingly the same… but after a while it’s rewardingly different. I’ll be honest. All through my first match I thought, “Uh-oh. This is virtually the same as FIFA08. Better graphics, better menu options, but the gameplay is identical. Curse you David Rutter!” But then I started my second game. And it clicked. It’s like the old PES games. It takes a while to pick it up. A game and a half in my case. (No doubt the anti-FIFA lobby won’t have time to wait that long. Just watch the forums, and wait and see.)

Passing and through-balls. Oh no… I skipped UEFA2008, apart from the demo. This power meter thing is largely new to me. I could barely execute a good pass or through-ball at all. In my third game I did start to get a handle on it. More: I started to revel in it. I’ll be bold here and say it could be the best, most intuitive passing/through-ball system I’ve ever come across in a football game. And it does hurt me to say that, remembering PES of old. So, yes, it’s early days yet, and possibly premature to go that far.

Game speed. Didn’t see an option to adjust it, so I assume I played on the medium setting. If so, I liked it and it seemed about perfect to me. Faster that FIFA08 but not ridiculously so.

Scoring. I’m embarrassed. I played three full games and I still haven’t scored once. I only came close twice. Once with a snapshot across the goal that the keeper palmed away. Another time, worryingly, I ran with Drogba straight from kickoff all the way through a massive hole in the CPU defence. I messed up the shot – took it too close to the keeper – but still, it’s a worry. I was playing on World Class difficulty too (I didn’t know it could be changed at the time). Hmmm.

Camera. Finally, a fully customisable camera in a next-gen football game. It still lacks all the options we used to have in the last-gen, but it’s nice to be moving in the right direction. One very disappointing thing: the End-to-End camera still doesn’t swing around in the second half to let you play ‘upscreen’ all the time. So I will never use it. I think I’ll end up playing FIFA09 using the Broadcast camera with height and zoom way down low—i.e., as close to the old-style PES Wide camera as possible, yes.

Conclusion. Yes, a conclusion (of sorts) just 20 minutes after playing three games on the demo. It’ll take a lot more play to be certain (and I need to score a goal!) but FIFA09 looks as if it’ll live up to the hype—or at least not fall victim to its own hype, which amounts to the same thing.

I’ll be back. Sadly, work and other commitments will keep me off the demo for the rest of today. I plan a long session tomorrow for a more in-depth appraisal, hopefully with some replays and ad hoc screenshots. In the meantime, I predict an entertaining day across all the usual forums, with the (utterly bogus and childish) PES-FIFA war raging. I guarantee that the #1 anti-FIFA09 complaint will be “LOL it’s the same as last year”. Me, I’ll be keeping out of it. No time, you see.

‘Twas the night before FIFA09

Well, ’twas the day before the demo of FIFA09, at least…

I had planned to post today about a little experiment that I’ve been running. The other day I got the much-reviled next-gen PES2008 out of mothballs and put it back in my PS3. I played it for the first time since January. Back then, I swore never to play this dismal excuse for a PES game again. But never say never, as they say. Whoever they are.

Pre-PES2009, I wanted to give last year’s infamous rush-job one last go. Just for completeness’ sake—to round off the football game year, and deliver one more, probably devastating verdict on the game that nearly killed PES for good (In my opinion.)

I was going to make that post today. I was anticipating that the PES2009 demo would appear for download tomorrow, as heavily rumoured in various places. Alas, it seems now that the rumours were false. The demo likely won’t be out until the end of the month. So I’ll postpone my little epilogue to next-gen PES2008 until closer to the actual release of the PES2009 demo. For now, I’ll just say that PES2008 does have some surface playability—last year I did think it was a good game for the first month, after all. But overall, it just feels more unfinished than ever. It feels even less like a true PES game, after my several months of playing the PS2/PSP version. I’m angrier than ever that it was published in that state. Curse you, Seabass.

For today, I’m very excited about getting my hands on the FIFA09 demo tomorrow. Hopefully it’ll appear on the Xbox Marketplace in the early morning. I expect the PSN version will pop up around late afternoon. (Although, casting my mind back a whole year, I think I recall FIFA08 appearing on PSN around the 10 a.m. mark, which was as unusual then as it would be now. So we’ll see.)

My expectations for FIFA09 have actually dipped slightly. Oh, expectations are still high; but until the last week or so, they were mega-high. That’s not a healthy state to be in. There has never yet been a perfect football game and there never will be one. Seeing a few lukewarm previews and reviews of FIFA09 has helped to dampen the fire somewhat. A consensus seems to have emerged that those of us who skipped UEFA2008 should find FIFA09 to be genuinely revolutionary, fresh, and compelling; those who have played UEFA2008, on the other hand, might be relatively underwhelmed. I’m in the former camp. I’ve only ever played the UEFA2008 demo. I refused to purchase a game that only features international teams and game modes.

Of course, all that UEFA2008-related chitter-chatter might just be this year’s ‘thing to say’ for the anti-FIFA lobby. They’ll doubtless be as prominent this year as last. My favourite ‘thing to say’ from last year, which still crops up from time to time, is that the loading time one-on-one sequences in the Arena are more enjoyable than the game itself. It was interesting to see that one appear and spread like a virus. It’s one of the memes of the new FIFA, from a PES point of view at least. It will be back in new colours this season, oh yes. It’ll be just one facet of a mighty backlash against FIFA09, I predict. Within an hour of the demo’s appearance, there’ll also be posters on FIFA forums declaring they’re going back to FIFA08 and staying there. It’s all part of the annual fun.

My wishlist for FIFA09 contains surprisingly few items. I would love the shooting to be better than FIFA08’s—more intuitive and less fussy, especially from distance. Yes, I’ll say it: I’d actually love the shooting mechanic in FIFA09 to be similar to PES’s shooting mechanic. Oh, I know now how arcadey that is, but I could always switch to semi-assisted or manual settings if it proved too easy. The rest of my wishlist is mainly stocked with things that I won’t be able to check up on until the full game comes out: the transfer market in Manager Mode, and things like that.

Tomorrow will be all about checking out the most important thing in FIFA09. The gameplay.

I’ll post a quick ‘First impressions’ post tomorrow evening after I’ve (hopefully) played the FIFA09 demo for an hour or two. I’ll then follow up with a more considered reaction on Saturday or Sunday.

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