The Boy With A Thorne In His Ultimate Team Side

Rumours of my newfound love for playing FIFA09 online would appear to have been exaggerated (by me). Yes, the game’s new Ultimate Team mode has finally tempted me to play other alleged ‘people’ online in several dizzying sessions just before and over the weekend. But the novelty has worn off more than a touch, as it was inevitably going to.

I’m still impressed with the overall feel of Ultimate Team, online and offline. As I’ve remarked before, it has the atmosphere of what Master League could and should have been like by now, here in space-year 2009. Tsk, tsk, Seabass. Look what FIFA went and did while you were looking the other way…

It’s not quite Master League and never will be, of course. But the core principle of Master League—a fantasy team that you build from scratch, contained within a fantasy league setting—is one of the most compelling gameplay ideas I have encountered in 30+ years of gaming. Ultimate Team kind of delivers that, albeit through a glass darkly.

Building up my squad is a slow, slow process. I don’t want to spend any real money on the Gold packs of cards (as EA plainly wants me to). So I’m trying to do it all within the mode’s out-of-the box constraints, which are pretty formidable. I have to buy a new Bronze pack of cards every few matches just to keep my best players. This restricts the amount of saving I can do towards getting a Silver pack. Gold packs might as well be located at the end of the rainbow for me right now.

My best players at the moment are all defenders and midfielders. Up front, there’s not much firepower. My best striker is one Peter Thorne, currently with Bradford City in real life. He’s a true journeyman striker whom I remember bursting onto the scene many years ago with Blackburn Rovers (yes, the Blackburn Rovers). In FIFA09 he’s a bit of a fox in the box, although there’s scant opportunity for him to be that online, where it seems goals are scored using supercharged strikers sprinting past your entire defence, or not at all.

It’s frustrating now that there’s nothing much to do with my team offline. I’d love for the timeless essence of Master League to be mixed with the good bits of Manager Mode, and then have the great bits of Ultimate Team added on top. They could package that as a separate game on its own—Ultimate Manager League Team—and I’d pay top price for it on release day.

I love Ultimate Team’s online trading cards system. I’m a sucker for card games and always have been. I can happily spend ages scrolling through the trading screens, which is a bloody good job really. At peak times the card lists take ages to load up, and then they move like treacle. And when you purchase a card, the game takes you to another screen where you decide what to do with it. Then it automatically takes you back to the screen you just left, which makes it load up afresh, which again takes ages… The process is frequently tortuous. Fortunately for me, I game at odd times—at off-peak times—and so the trading screens are usually quite zippy.

I’m still playing a few matches here and there online. There’s certainly no lag problems there. But the sheer sameyness of the matches is getting to me. Time and again it feels as if I’m playing the same person; an ADHD-afflicted 12-year-old who’s working his way through a bucket of espresso.

This ‘eternal champion’ of online football gaming just loves to play against me… He loves to play against everyone, from what I hear and read. You know the sort. When you’ve got the ball, he’s always got two players sprinting at you. When he’s got the ball, he’s always feeding it to his super-fast strikers and wingers, and running at your defence. When you’ve got the ball, he’s palpably annoyed with you if you manage to pass it around for longer than 10 seconds.

Maybe one day there’ll be a football game that is absolutely perfect online. One that balances deep strategic depth with pick-up-and-play action. One that’s like PES of old, in short.

Maybe PES2010 will be that game? It’s far more likely to be FIFA2010. I think Konami have left themselves too much to do. Can there really be any more debate? The crown—the Best Football Game crown that we feign not to believe in—is now EA’s to lose.


  1. Hi Not Greg,

    I often thought about a ultimate Master league mode – one that combined managerial offers and integrated the International calendar with the ultimate aim of being a international manager and winning the world cup – something that kind of follows real life football-ing structure.

    I also can’t imaging PES 10 being as good as FIFA10 in terms of variety of options and content, however i do at least expect it to play a decent game of football with fluid game play. If find the current PES09 not as responsive and as a result i tend tend to play it as often.


  2. FIFA is the new king.

    I’ve found that I can get ahold of Silver contract cards through the online trading post, and that is keeping me going. If I had to keep my silver players on my side with bronze contract cards, I’d be hosed.

    I’m interested to read how it plays out for you over time — I won’t be buying any packs with real money, either.

    I agree regarding the feel of the game mode like the best Master League games of old — it would be really nice if there was a league mode rather than the tournaments, but I’ve been having fun playing offline for the last few days.

  3. Put simply I will not be buying PES2010. My faith in Konami over the past 2 ‘PES’ games has been dented beyond belief. FIFA is now top of the tree and I can’t say it bothers me much at all.

    In saying that however I am still yet to get into FIFA08 or 09 in the way that I did with PES5, far and away my favourite sports game of all time. Although thatmaybe down to having less time to play games but atthesametiome having a bigger variety of titles in my library.

    I am eternally frustrated by not being able to have my PS3 hooked up to the internet while I’m at uni. Hopefully I’ll be moving soon and maybe all that will change, heres hoping.

  4. Neil—Take the licenses and league setup of FIFA’s Manager Mode. Add PES’s Master League’s customisation and its overall feel of being your team’s epic story from start to finish. Add Ultimate Team’s trading system (with or without playing cards). What you’d have then would be the greatest-ever game mode bar none.

    As for expectations of PES2010, I currently have none. I want it to be great, don’t get me wrong, but I’ve been burned before. At this stage I’m far more concerned about FIFA2010. If that game comes out without any significant overhaul to Manager Mode, it’d take something special in the gameplay department to make me buy it.

  5. ck – I’m embarrassed but I’ll admit it anyway: I didn’t know you could buy contract cards on the trading screens until you mentioned it. I went in this morning and slapped down a few bids for Silver cards, and will find out if I got ’em next time I go on. If I do get them, I might just be able to save up for a Silver pack all of my own. Cheers!

    No, I won’t be buying any real packs of cards either. Not only is there an important principle at stake—we do NOT want to be encouraging games developers when it comes to such microtransactions—but I want to see how far I can get just using the UT expansion mode’s own set of muscles, so to speak.

    I’m back playing offline. Haven’t gone back to online for a few days and probably won’t again until I get another few days off work. That really is the main issue for me and online—time. I love my offline gaming so much that I tend to want to use any time I get during a normal working week to do that.

  6. stinger – I’ll be very interested in previews, reviews, and the demo when it comes to PES2010. I know what I want to hear from start to finish: that PES has made the same kind of quantum leap that FIFA did from PS2 to PS3. If it has, I’ll buy it and shout about it from the rooftops (possibly literally: what a day that would be!).

    You know that I share your opinion about PES5. I’d probably still say it was the greatest game I’ve ever played, sports or otherwise. One of the reasons I still keep going back to PES2008 on my PSP is that it is so, so evocative of PES5 (which, strangely, I can’t go back to on the ‘big’ console).

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