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…