Month: March 2009

FIFA09: Ultimate Team – 1st impressions

I’m on record as calling Master League in PES the best game mode ever created. I’m also on record, many times, as judging Manager Mode in FIFA (particularly in FIFA09) to be an empty, rather pointless experience.

I’m not into playing online. So, for the past 6 months, it’s been Manager Mode or nothing for me and FIFA09. I’ve been trying to get into Manager Mode. I’ve tried to milk it for what it has to offer. Things were progressing recently… but now along comes something called Ultimate Team.


There is one thing I want to say straight away about Ultimate Team. I want to shout it from the rooftops. For the first hour of playing Ultimate Team in FIFA09 I was reminded, again and again, of Master League.

Is Ultimate Team a Master League for FIFA? No, not quite. But it’s getting there. It’s approaching the ballpark.

Ultimate Team is a downloadable expansion for FIFA09. You get a five-match demo for free, after which you have to pay to unlock the full game. I paid my money after playing two matches in the demo. I knew it was going to be worth it.

It’s now 3 days since I first played Ultimate Team, and I have to say that I’ve already got my money’s worth. (About £8.50.) Even if it’s all downhill from now on, I’m satisfied with my purchase. And it won’t be all downhill from now on. All the signs are that I’m just getting started.

It’s a tough one to summarise. Before, I had only a vague idea of what Ultimate Team was. Imagine Master League re-engineered with Pokemon-style playing cards, and without a league mode… No, that’s doing UT a disservice. Let me try again.

You start off with a Default team of no-hopers (sounding familiar) that you have to build up into, well, an ultimate team capable of beating the very best. You play matches—tournaments, or one-off ‘club matches’, online or offline—that accrue ‘coins’ which you use to buy new card packs, that can contain new players, new grounds, new skills, new contracts for your existing players…

I created my club, and named them Allover Rovers. It seemed like a good name at the time. You have one permanent player whom you create before starting, just as in Be a Pro. I created myself, naturally, as a skilful central midfielder. Here I am playing in my team’s dodgy current home kit:


There’s a huge amount to assimilate. It’s intimidating at first. There are purchasable/tradeable cards for everything. Stadia, kits, attributes, managers, coaches… all these and more can be picked up or laid down, traded in, or pasted into a virtual Panini sticker album…

I was lost for most of that first session. What the hell is this? That? Uh? Luckily the anchor is the game itself, FIFA09. As in Master League, there is real pride and a sense of achievement—of incremental progression—to be had from playing Ultimate Team matches with your team, with your players. There’s a whole Team Chemistry gameplay mechanic that’s much more important (and involving) than its Manager Mode equivalent.

I lost all but a few of my first games. I scored no goals. After about ten matches, and enough ‘coins’ earned, I had enough to search online for the Left Midfielder I badly needed, and a better striker to replace my Default striker. Results picked up. Then they dipped once more. At the moment I’m on a weird losing run of several matches, and I desperately need to save for a speedy winger, or another good striker.

Again: does this all sound suspiciously familiar, or what?

Ah, but Ultimate Team lacks a sturdy, comprehensive offline mode. If I could play with my team—Allover Rovers—in an offline Master League-type setup, I’d declare the eternal football game war eternally over, and FIFA the winner. But as things stand all you get to do with your Ultimate Team is play online against other Ultimate Teams, or play offline against single-instance CPU teams. However, there are a range of offline tournaments to play, and I will do so next. I also may—may—play online, just to see what it feels like.

Oh, and this new expansion pack has a new commentator. Step forward Mr Clive Tyldesley, the commentator whom I rate as the best I’ve ever heard on a football game. Icing, meet cake.

Spring forward, fall back

I’m downloading FIFA09 Ultimate Team as I type. The download is 1.62 GB—what the frak?—and has been motoring along fairly quickly, so it should be ready to play soon. I hope to get it all set up and a few matches played before I have to do other things later today.

I’ve spent the past few days reading up about Ultimate Team. I had no real idea what it was all about. Some kind of trading cards mini-game? But it turns out to be so much more than that, almost like a multiplayer Manager Mode. Could this be the game mode that gets me playing online regularly? I doubt it—my life just isn’t online-friendly. I’m not online-friendly. But at least it could get me playing FIFA09 regularly again.

Wednesday’s post about the future of PES—in particular, about the familiar rumours of PES2010 being IT, the BIG ONE, the Return of the King, etc. etc.—was PES Chronicles’ most-viewed new post for some time. Probably those phantom PES2010 Googlers had a lot to do with it, but I also think that it’s symptomatic of a real hunger for PES news out there.

For all the disappointments of the past two years, those who played and loved PES with all their heart and soul until just a few short years ago haven’t gone anywhere. It’s still in our memories, in our bones, in our blood, in the fibre of our being. FIFA09 is the best football game of this generation so far, but PES built up enough stock over the years 1998-2006 to easily effect a comeback. IF the new product is right. We’ll see.

But not too soon, eh? I’ve got FIFA09, and Ultimate Team, and PES2009’s Become a Legend, and PES2008 on the PSP, and lots of other games besides to be getting along with right now. The clocks go forward this weekend (spring forward, remember). Summer is just around the corner. It’s a long way to September and October. I’m far too old to be wishing my life away.

For next week I have a plan (I’m just like a Cylon in that respect). On Monday I’ll post about my immediate impressions of FIFA09 Ultimate Team. On Wednesday I’ll post about Become a Legend, which I should have got around to playing by then. And on Friday I’ll talk about my new love for knitting. Not really. That last one was a joke.

To play the King

In Monday’s post I mentioned that, just lately, I don’t seem to have the time and opportunity to play games. Things have taken a turn for the worst. Since Monday I have only managed to play approximately 20 minutes of Puzzle Quest on the DS, and about half an hour of Everybody’s Golf on the PSP. I was sitting on a bus on both occasions.

I considered not posting at all today. There’s not much point in a non-gaming blog, is there? Even less point than there is in a general gaming blog when I’m supposed to be a football game blogger—specifically a PES blogger.

The wheel of life turns. Soon enough, I will get back to my usual routine. I’ll have time and space again to play games, games, and more games—until I’m heartily sick of games, probably. Become a Legend on PES2009 is first on my to-do list when I fire up the PS3 again.

One item of interest in the PES world is the recent return of WENB. That’s the Winning Eleven next-gen blog.

WENB started up in 2007 in the run-up to PES2008. Some sections of the PES community have never forgotten or forgiven WENB for acting as unwitting cheerleaders for that infamous game. Surely PES2008 was the most anti-climactic games release of this new console generation? Arguments still rage about whether Gears 2 or Killzone 2 or LittleBigPlanet have been successes or failures, triumphs or disappointments. My money’s on PES2008 as the worst game since E.T. on the Atari 2600. Okay, maybe a slight exaggeration—but for most PES fans it’s emotionally true.

Post-PES2008, some of the Internet was not kind to WENB. Some of the criticism was deserved, in my opinion. But most of it wasn’t. Alas, in the run-up to PES2009, history kind of repeated itself. WENB hyped it up again, and we were disappointed again. Granted, PES2009 was a hundred times the game that PES2008 was, but it still wasn’t the game we wanted and needed it to be.

I don’t blame WENB for adopting a pro-PES stance, for taking the line that this time it was really going to happen. For one thing, they had a successful PES website to run. For another thing, the people behind WENB are clearly PES fans, and they wanted to believe too.

And then WENB disappeared. For months. I don’t know how or why, precisely. There was some mention on their forum of it being due to legal difficulties with advertisers, but I don’t buy that. Disputes with third party content-providers don’t take websites offline for several months. WENB was damaged by the downtime, and it suffered additional damage due to their puzzling silence.

But now it’s back. WENB is back, with its familiar greengrocer’s apostrophe’s and random news items. Of course, it’s all by way an appetiser for the main event: those traditional long summer months of PES rumour and speculation. They know that those of us who still remember them are following them still. As the summer unfolds the site will probably get back to where it was before in terms of traffic.

Their latest podcast is a welcome return to the virtual airwaves for Adam and Suff, the figureheads of the site. They’re as engaging and likeable as ever. They’ve got their podcast performaces down pat after notching up a half-century of podcasts with this instalment. It’s a decent listen, but I feel curiously detached from PES at the moment.

I’m wary of PES2010. I fear the consequences of it being just another average football game. There’s some talk—on WENB, and everywhere else that PES fans go—about whether PES2010 will be the Return of the King. Reading/hearing between the lines in the podcast, I think Adam and Suff are older and wiser this year as well. Perhaps they, better than anyone, know that if PES2010 doesn’t see the Return of the King, then the King is well and truly dead.

Back to the Future

Real life—life away from gaming—has intruded once again. Over the past four or five days I haven’t had time to do anything more with my main consoles than look at them longingly, and think of the days when I could (and did) spend 10 hours a day gaming, for days on end. Those days are a long, long, long way behind me now. I suspect that there’s a whole generation of gamers out there in much the same situation as me. Where do all the years go?

Up steps the PSP. Last year I spent several highly enjoyable months playing ‘last-gen’ PES2008 on PSP (and on my backwards-compatible 60GB PS3). For me, that version PES2008 was almost the best football game of the 2007-2008 season. FIFA08 just edged it out, in my opinion (other opinions are available).

Last-gen PES2008 was a great PES game, a classic of the PS2-era PESes. I preferred it to the public’s darling, PES6. I found PES6 rather lacklustre after the pyrotechnics of PES5… But, whoah. This isn’t the time or place to get into another ‘best PES’ discussion.

So last week—I think it was Friday—I found myself once more sitting with my PSP in hand, playing PES2008. I resumed my Coventry City career in Master League. It seems to me that I am always resuming some Coventry City career or other. It’s like one of those recurring archetype things. Yes, I really do need to get out there and try meeting other people/game modes/teams every so often. (Become a Legend here I (be)come…)

It was season 2019 in that PSP ML career. After the first third of the season I was top of the table, but not doing so well in Europe. I’d been away too long. I’d forgotten most of the little tricks and touches that enable you to play any familiar PES like a favourite old fiddle. Somehow I was putting together wins and draws in the league to keep me in the #1 position. But in the Champions League-equivalent I was bottom of my group after two matches and two resounding defeats.

I managed to win the next fixture to give me a fighting chance of qualifying. But then I lost the fourth match, and drew the fifth. I was out of Europe by the close of play of this sequence of matches—which was just last night. Yes, between Friday and Sunday I only had time to play about 8 matches on the PSP. These are lean times indeed in my gaming life

The way old-school PES handles is just sublime. Yes, its engine is open to abuse—more than open to abuse. If the fabled ‘true next-gen’ PES ever does come out, it needs to come out without the defensive ‘squeeze play’ technique, whereby you simply clamp Square+X+Sprint and win the ball back more often that not. It also needs to ditch the transparent scripting of tackles, for example, where you win the ball but your player then pauses for just long enough to allow the same player you tackled to retrieve the ball and race off with it. I also hate to see my players visibly being slowed down to allow loose balls to run out of play for CPU throws and corners. All of these and many more are familiar moans.

Those quibbles, though, are far outweighed by the greatness of old-school PES. If Konami and Seabass (curse him) can somehow, somehow, stitch together a genuine next-gen game engine, and marry it to the intuitive feel of old-school PES, well, that’ll be FIFA knocked into a cocked hat. And not before time.