Beaten by a girl

Today’s news in a surprising nutshell: I’ve started playing Ultimate Team online. I’ve only been playing it online for a few days but in that time I’ve played several matches per session, over three or four sessions. Which probably doubles my amount of online play for the entire year.

Regular readers will know that I dislike online gaming. Lots of people dislike online gaming, for lots of different reasons. My main axe to grind against online play isn’t the kids, the exploiters, the griefers, the glitchers, the cheaters, the racists, or even the vegetarians (damn them and their stinking hairy cabbages; damn them all to hell). I have nothing against online play per se. It’s the time for online gaming that I don’t have. Didn’t have.

Timewise, this week has been a good one for me. I had a few days off work, and I set aside lots of that free time specifically for gaming. I finished the penultimate mission in Valkyria Chronicles and I started its final mission. And then, crazily, I found myself playing FIFA09 online without meaning to. One thing led to another, and here I am a few days later, kind of addicted to playing a football game online. Me. Playing online. With great enjoyment. What gives?

It really was an accident, officer. At some point I intended to try out Ultimate Team online, but not until I’d utterly exhausted its offline aspect. And I have still got a lot to do offline. My team still isn’t much better than the Default one I started out with. I keep having to buy new Bronze packs of cards to get contract cards in order to hold onto my best players. At least one of them is up for renewal often enough to make me spend, spend, spend.

So I was actually looking for an offline tournament to play in. I needed a good wedge of coins to beef up my Ultimate Team in so many ways. I thought I’d at least get an offline tournament started, save my progress, and come back to it later.

But something went wrong (or serendipitously right), and I found myself pitched into an online tournament. Groan. I groaned. I didn’t have time for this, and should have quit and gone off to do other things, important things, but I thought I might as well play at least this one match. I was probably going to lose it anyway.

I did lose it, but not by much. It ended 0-1 to the other guy. I was disappointed to find that things haven’t changed much with FIFA09 online. The most popular tactic is still to feed the ball to a fast striker and run with it. My opponent had Yakubu playing up front on his own, and that was pretty much that. Little or no passing, no build-up play, certainly no wing-play. He just got it to Yakubu and started running, again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again. I stopped him every time, except for once. He got past my defenders and slotted the ball under my keeper’s body. It won him the game and thus, in his mind, justified his entire tactic.

I was out of the tournament—a tournament that I’d never meant to enter, so I wasn’t too distraught. But it whetted my appetite and I went to play a one-off ‘club match’ online. I lost that one badly, 0-3, and couldn’t have played worse if I’d deliberately tried. The online and offline games are very different. You don’t get as much time on the ball online. You don’t get to pause the game and make a cup of tea. Online play is an abomination!

I played on. God help me, I played on. Another match, and another, and another. An hour passed. And another hour passed…

The opponents came at me randomly. I took pride in fending off the speed demons of a four-star team (my team is still a two-star team). I earned a creditable 1-1 draw in that match, and I just knew the other player was annoyed by my possession football.

In another match I went down to 10 men with a mistimed tackle. My opponent scored from the free-kick, and it was the winning goal. Afterwards he sent me a message saying, and I quote, haha you play like a cheating asshole but I still kicked ur ass.

In another match I was the one with 11 players against 10. But I lost it in the last minute to a good goal scored by my opponent on the break. That opponent had a microphone on and occasionally she—yes, SHE—would exclaim or laugh out loud over my TV’s loudspeaker. When she scored her winning goal all I could hear was her saying “Oh my God, oh my God”, as if she couldn’t believe she’d won the match either.

Then I won a few matches in a row. Then I got beaten, slaughtered actually, 0-5. That opponent was a very good player who had a range of different tactics. All 5 of his goals were different in approach and execution. I tried to implement some of his strategies in my next match, but my connection dropped and I took it as a hint that I should get up, stretch my legs, go out into the weak April sunshine….

At the end of that accidental first session, two hours had passed and my morning was gone. That is why I tend to stay away from online play. I have since been back for another session or two. I plan to go back for more.

Played offline, Ultimate Team is interesting and even engrossing, but only up to a point. If there was a full Master League-style single-player mode to play in, well, fantastic—I’d happily play that for six months; just wake me up in September. But Ultimate Team has none of that. It almost hurts me to say this, but to get a real sense of occasion and accomplishment out of your team, it needs to be taken online.

These players are my players. I picked them all. I went hunting for them in some cases. Ultimate Team is effectively an online Custom Team mode for FIFA09. It’s almost certainly too late for EA to make it into anything more for FIFA2010. But for FIFA2011, why not go all-out for glory and institute a proper, comprehensive, offline league mode for Ultimate Team? I think it’d be quite popular, you know…

13 Comments

  1. What great news that you seem to be enjoying online play. Fantastic post today. Ultimate Team sounds like a great mode. Why do you doubt it could make it’s way on to Fifa 10 as a spring update just like they did this year?

    It’s funny you should mention the infamous “feed-the-pacey-striker” tactic. Players like Agbonlahor are very dangerous to play against and Fifa 09 tries to reflect that. But if you defend very deep, get the midfield involved to block passing lanes or drop back to reduce the space behind them where attacking players like to roam–tight man marking can reduce the amount of time the forwards have on the ball–they should be manageable to a certain extent. You can significantly reduce the amount and quality of service to the front man, as can happen at the highest level in even the best clubs (if he is not flexible and cannot adjust by showing good movement). How deadly is the lob through ball in your opinion not-Greg? It’s most effective use should be as a cross field diagonal pass. It can work well in one-two plays. It’s commonly used to play behind the full back for an attacking winger to collect in the pocket around the box. They shouldn’t be an issue for a decent defender if done while going down the gut unless played consistently on the break in a long ball tactic.

    I was thinking about how right the balance was for finding your striker in football games, when I was playing PES yesterday. My forwards easily got more touch than my other players, and I found that very weird considering how a striker on an off day can easily be taken out of the game. I haven’t played Fifa obviously. But what’s your view on striker service?

  2. steph_wheeler—if you ever get your hands on the game, one of the things you’ll find ‘wrong’ about FIFA09 is how the aerial through-ball, so beloved to PES players for many years, just doesn’t work in the same way. The defenders are always there to intercept and head it away. Or the ball lands so far in front of your striker that the keeper has an easy collection or clearance. In FIFA08 the aerial through-ball was a great weapon—a bit too effective, really, so it’s no surprise they decided to ‘nerf’ it, as I believe the kids say.

    Re. stopping service to fast strikers in FIFA09…. Everything you’ve said applies to PES, but sadly not to FIFA. You have to see it to believe it, I’m afraid. There are settings to try to get your defence to sit deep, but in practice this doesn’t happen. Offline it isn’t really a problem, as the CPU never seems to exploit the pace+strength exploit. Unfortunately, about 80% of online players have the fast striker running at your defence as their only tactic—seriously.

  3. It’s funny how different players experience different things with their game! I believe the aerial through ball is FAR too good in FIFA 09. When I got to a certain stage in my MM with Valencia, I could knock it over the top and get a one on one with Villa virtually every time- even on World Class. (hence the winning games 6-0 on WC, when professional gives me a hard time with basic teams)

    You’ll find as you play online, that’s the sole tactic used. Ronaldo upfront and repeated aerial through balls. Anyone else’s experience similar?

    I don’t blame them though. As tedious as it is, it’s the games fault for allowing this tactic to work so often.

    As for PES BAL I have never tried and it and probably never will. Tried BAP and it was okay…….

    Glad to see your enjoying online! It does nothing but stress me out, only because everyone seems to be 100 times better than me. Online really shows how good you really are- rather than how good you think.

  4. The most popular tactic is still to feed the ball to a fast striker and run with it.

    Yes, because the game engine rewards this play . . . really, insists upon it . . . by nerfing attacks in the air and shots from distance. Getting a one-on-one is by a long stretch the most reliable result.

    Honestly, I find myself playing the same way (although I do like to stroke it about a bit and play more clever one-twos to gain the same result) because I know that crosses in from the wing or shots from further than 12m out are basically throwing possession away. They’re not going in.

  5. Oh, and regarding my frustration with the game — I’ve learned that the game expects you to continually buy packets.

    I think the concept is, you buy a bronze pack every other match to get contract cards, and save up for the occasional silver, or bi-annual gold pack.

    Of course, luckily for their bank account, EA has made it possible to buy a gold pack for those who don’t want to wait. πŸ˜‰

  6. If you want to retry our long awaited FIFA match again Not Greg, i’ll be on much of today.

    Just had my favorite online experience just now. Went to a random unranked match, he picked Brazil against my Valencia- I was two up in 3 game minutes. Two attacks, two goals. Has David Villa been increased again? He was on stoppable- even in the arena.

  7. Not Given – first, re. the through-balls issue, it might just be me (I never lied about being an average player). I just cannot get them to work reliably in the way I could in FIFA08 last year, and of course in PES for the past hundred years.

    After a few days, online play is now starting to feel very samey. If I didn’t know better I’d swear I was playing the same person, with the same handful of moves, over and over again.

    They all love passing to a striker just in front of my defence, who then spin-turns and sprints to the goal. That’s the one and only thing they all do, 99% of the time. I anticipate and stop them 9 times out of 10, but that 1 time out of 10 when I don’t stop them makes it all worthwhile for them. For all my tippy-tappy passing and possession play, I rarely get a goal, or even a chance at getting a goal. But I’ll cover all this in some detail when I post about UT again next week.

    I missed out on our long-postponed game again yesterday – was working, and went out after. I’ll be available Monday early evening if you’re around then. Same goes for anyone else who fancies an online game (PS3 or 360)—email me your gamertag/PSN ID instead of posting it here, though.

  8. ck – I scored a headed goal from a cross online the night before last! I took the ball all the way to the touchline, then one-tapped a cross in hope. My striker was there just inside the edge of the box and connected to send a looping header over the other guy’s keeper. I couldn’t believe it. Headed goals are rare enough offline; online, they’re virtual dodos

    I don’t hold the kick-and-run tactic against the online players. As you say, when other scoring methods are so ineffective, the game obliges players who want to compete to adopt that tactic. I want to compete too, and I am looking for a fast striker. However, my online enthusiasm is waning now. I wonder if it’ll survive another week? I don’t know.

    Re. the UT game mode blues, yes, you do sort of have to buy a pack every few games to keep the team together. Sorry, I assumed you were doing that anyway and that you were just not getting the contract cards, or you had too many players.

    I’ve actually played UT more offline today and yesterday. I got thumped by the CPU a few times, and now am in a mini-crisis that sees my best players on 1 contract left, no contract cards, and no coins. I have to take the field with my also-rans, many of them playing out of position and delivering a catastrophic hit to team chemistry, to try to save my whole career. But this is the stuff of a midweek post methinks…

  9. I’ve been playing online all weekend, in the various tournaments, and I have to retract earlier statements about the variety of goals. I’ve scored off of little chip crosses in from the touchline, early crosses from 20 yards out, corners, and (gasp) even a midfield rocket from outside the 18 yard box. To my shock and amazement I’ve even managed a couple of one-two passing combos slicing open defenses.

    I can’t speak to online in all of this as I’ve only played a couple of matches online, but in my offline play I’m able to build attacks from multiple directions now, rather than relying on the long ball up the middle. I can vary my attacks, take advantage of what they’re giving me, and play accordingly.

    It does seem (as one of your other readers mentioned), that EA included a game-play update with the UT download. I haven’t picked up Manager Mode since UT came out (and likely won’t again, to be frank), but the gameplay in UT is *much* more satisfying than the gameplay in MM seemed. Combined with the team-building aspect that used to make Master League so satisfying, I think this FIFA has put all doubt to rest.

    I’m officially excited for FIFA ’10, and only FIFA ’10, if you know what I mean.

  10. Makes me look forward to online-done-right in a PES2010 game….

    That would be FUN.

  11. TareX – online done right in PES2010 and with a truly next-gen PES to boot (whatever that might be)… That’s this year’s dream, but unlike in the past two years I’m rapidly losing the sentimentality and goodwill I still had towards PES back then. This year there’ll be no auto-buy—I swear it. I’m waiting for the previews, reviews, and the demo. If PES2010 is any cop, all should be out well before the game is released.

  12. firstly, ive been an avid reader of your blog for some time now and have to thank you for pointing me in the direction of valkyria chronicles; great game. On to my point, ive recently gone back to pes 6 i cant bring myself to play fifa not yet anyway. I play online frequently and cant stand the archetypal online pes player, the one that uses messi constantly never strings together 4 passes and constantly frustrates me with only 30 to 40 percent possesion, im guessing this sort of underhand tactic is employed frequently in fifa aswell. Dont give up hope on the online gaming scene, yesterday i went 10 unbeaten with my possesion play, it was entirely satisfying to knock the ball around my back four before lumping it up to the head of peter crouch, retain possesion and then listen intently to the groans of the opposition on my head set. Anyway im guessing that similar tactics could be employed in fifa with some succes and playing online the right way is actualy alot of fun, for me at least.

  13. Tom – thanks for your comment, and I’m happy to hear you’re happy with Valkyria Chronicles. It’s certainly a different game for a console. I still haven’t finished it. I have a go at the final mission most days but rarely get very far. One day I’ll set aside the time to just sit down and finish it at last.

    Online play on FIFA09 is pretty much as I’ve described in the post, and as you can glean from any of the FIFA09 forums. 80% of your opponents will just try to feed the ball to their fast strikers/wingers, and run with it. They’ll do this again and again until that one time when it works, and they score. You end up trying it yourself out of frustration, and the game then becomes akin to basketball.

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