Category: Coventry City

Manager League Mode

It’s time to get into FIFA09’s career mode in a big way. I’ve had my few getting-to-know-you weeks. I’ve also spent several days playing PES2009 just to see if things could be like they were between me and PES again (no, they can’t—not at the moment, anyway). It’s time to put my money where my mouth is. Time to walk the walk. I’m heading into Manager Mode, or as I will try to make it: Manager League Mode.

This name reflects that I will be playing with House Rules designed to make the experience as much like PES’s Master League as possible. I know—it’s absolutely crazy that the PES career mode is more realistic in many ways than its supposedly fully-licensed, official, FIFA equivalent, but there you go. Life’s not obliged to be consistent.

I’ll expand on my House Rules for Manager Mode over the coming days and weeks. They’re not that complex. There’ll be no consulting a rulebook every time I want to make a substitution. Most of my House rules will limit my coaching staff upgrades and my acquisition of new players on the transfer market. After 4 seasons in my Manager Mode career on FIFA08, I had Michael Owen, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Jesus Navas playing up front for Coventry City. I won’t let that happen this year.

I’ll be playing again as Coventry City on the PlayStation3 version of the game. Yes, the PS3—the console with the dreaded through-ball bug. It’s still not patched. Doubtless I’ll be moaning my head off incessantly about it until it is patched. I have noticed fewer issues since I switched to manual through-balls, but it’s early days.

I’ve mostly played FIFA09 so far on the Xbox360. The game is—just slightly—a better game on the 360. Better graphics, and better overall pace. Just better. Sadly, my 360 would seem to be on its last legs (after just 14 months, and relatively little use) and it’s not reliable enough for me to trust it. I have little enough time as it is. Constantly restarting after freezes and crashes is not something I can be bothered with.

I’ve been playing as Atletico Madrid in the Spanish league on the 360. I’ve just finished my first season and ended up in 4th place. The whole season was played on Professional difficulty. Early on I switched from all-Assisted controls to a mixed bag of semi-manual, manual, and assisted. This instantly made the game harder for me without having to change the difficulty level.

It turned out to be a rollercoaster of a season. Going over to semi-manual shooting in particular saw my goals dry up, and I slipped down the table. I rallied toward the end of the season and but for a few poor performances I might even have challenged for the title in the closing weeks.

What can I say about my Atletico players? I’ve loved playing with them. Forlan. Aguero. Maxi Rodriguez. And quite a few more. I think I’ve loved this season with Atletico so much because it’s been one of discovery for me. I taught myself how to shoot straight without the game helping me so much. Semi-manual shooting makes even the most straightforward goal something that you really have to work for. For example, this goal—

—is the quintessence of a bread and butter goal. But when using a manual through-ball, and semi-manual shooting, I was grinning as if I’d just netted a 40-yard screamer. The ordinary can feel that good in FIFA09. I can’t wait to see how my Coventry City career shapes up.

Here be dragons

I’m kind of itching to get back to PES2008 already – but why? It’s day 3 of next-gen FIFA08 week here on PES Chronicles. I’m going to be stubborn and see the whole week out. I think I’ll be happy when it’s over. But why???

Since I finished my first Master League career on PES2008, I’ve been playing FIFA08 pretty intensively – more intensively than I’ve played it at any time since I got it in September. Over the past few days I’ve played through almost a full season of my ongoing Manager Mode career with Coventry City.

I miss the ease of PES2008. I don’t mean that I miss winning almost every game 5-2. I miss the familiarity, the comfort, and the feeling of security that I get from PES. I know what I’m doing with PES. I know where I am, where I want to go, and how to get there. FIFA08 is terra incognita.

FIFA08 is a hard, hard game. This cannot be stressed enough. It’s hard to score goals. It’s hard just to create a good chance to score goals. Shooting is so formidably difficult that it’s not surprising so many people regard it as broken. It’s hard to pass the ball from player to player without the CPU intercepting. It’s hard to get the ball back from the CPU. It’s almost the Ninja Gaiden of football games.

There are five difficulty levels in FIFA08:

Amateur (moderately easy)
Semi-Pro (challenging)
Professional (hard)
World Class (very hard)
Legendary (very, very hard)

I’m playing on Professional now, after spending most of my time before this week on Semi-Pro. When I started winning most games on Semi, I made the step up. FIFA08’s difficulty levels have no exact counterpart in PES2008. Most of the time Professional feels as tough as PES’s Top Player with the Default squad in Master League. So it feels to me, anyway.

FIFA08 is slow and ponderous compared to PES2008. Hell, it’s slow and ponderous compared to any PES game. FIFA08 makes most of its own forebears look like children’s games (which is what they were, in the final analysis).

Lots of PES players this year have been caught out – or downright embarrassed – by the fact that FIFA08 on the PS3 and Xbox360 is a whole new kind of football game. (Thus the instinctive “FIFA is the same old rubbish!” is a tad misplaced…)

It has very little in common with its predecessors. It resembles no other kind of football game that I have ever played. Some people believe it closely resembles the first Pro Evolution Soccer on the PlayStation2 all those years ago.

High praise indeed, but I wouldn’t go that far. FIFA08 really is unprecedented in computer football game terms. There has never been a game exactly like it.

Without anything to compare it to, FIFA08’s gameplay is tough to describe in words. When it plays well (i.e., when you play well), it delights about as often as it frustrates. You have to work so hard to create goal-scoring chances. When they do come along, you have to work hard again to get a shot away, and get it on target. Hitting easy chances high, wide, and not-too-handsome is a regular occurrence. After 300 games on FIFA08, I still do it.

For example, take a look at these two goals:

They’re taken from the past few days, when I reached that 300-game mark. In the first case, a half-volleyed long-range goal into the top corner from my striker Jesus Navas, it was the first goal of its kind I had scored in those 300+ games. I’ve scored dozens of long-rangers where I’m running straight at the goal and I’ve dinked one over the keeper straight down the middle. But a half-volley from distance into the top corner? Never, until now. On PES, they’re pretty common.

The second goal in the clip (I’m attacking ‘south’ in the replay) shows the kind of patient passing play you have to engage in to get ‘bread and butter’ goals in FIFA08. One of my other strikers, di Natale, applies the finishing touch.

I doubt that I’ll end this week believing that FIFA08 is better than PES2008 (although anything is possible). But scoring those two goals gave me more satisfaction than any of the 136 goals I scored in my recent Treble-winning PES2008 Master League season.

And that’s what scares me.

Let me be person number 1,023,334 to point out the droll irony of this year’s PES/FIFA faceoff. The world has turned on its head.

PES, once the discerning footie fan’s preferred game, is now an arcadey shoot-’em-up (sad but true). FIFA, which has been little more than a joke for so long, is a tough, demanding, unapologetic simulation of the sport.

No other FIFA game has ever been like FIFA08. Few other PES games have ever been like it either. FIFA08 is not for the faint-hearted. It’s not for the impatient. It’s certainly not for anyone who thinks a FIFA game should be all about the pass-pass-shoot-score gameplay and 8-3 scorelines of old.

Yes, yes, yes. But is it the better game? Which one do I enjoy playing more? Do I itch to get back to PES2008 just because it’s a lot easier? I’ll try to come to some kind of conclusion before the end of the week. May God have mercy on my soul…

Master League: Game On

After twenty minutes spent editing all the English league team names, I turned my attention to PES United. Every year this is the team I take over and play my Master League career with. I always change their name to that of my home-town club – Coventry City – and edit the kit to the traditional (and world-famous) Sky Blue colour.

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I was concerned that PES2008’s trimmed-down Edit mode wouldn’t let me do what I needed to do. But it was fine. Yes, it’s a poor Edit mode this year. I feel a lot of sympathy for fans who love nothing more than to spend hours tinkering with players and kits and boots and logos and whatnot. But the bare-bones Edit mode happens to be adequate for my modest needs.

The only thing I usually do that I couldn’t do this time was add a shirt logo. At the moment I cannot be bothered messing around with EyeCams or whatever it is I need to use to transfer images into the game. I would have liked simply to add some text and use that as a logo, but even that function is denied. Curse you Seabass!

I zipped through the Master League setup screens, impatient to finally get going. I chose Top Player difficulty with 10 minute matches, and I selected the Teamgeist ball to play with. When it came to choosing the transfer market levels, I went with Normal for everything.

And so to the formation screen.

I was interested to see some additions to the Default squad players. As well as the usual and expected Ivarov, Ruskin, Minanda, and Castolo et al, there’s a handful of new faces. Baumann, El Moubarki, Van den Berg, Ettori. They’re all around the 20-years-old mark. I think they’ve been added not just to bulk out a seriously stamina-challenged squad, but to provide you with some youngsters to develop over a few seasons. Ordinarily you can’t get rid of the Default players fast enough (I’m looking at you, Ximelez). If you still have any of them in your squad after a few seasons, you’re not doing things right. But this crop of new players looks promising – especially Van den Berg. I’ll be keeping a fond eye on all of them.

As ever, the main formation has got to be a 4-3-3. And, again as ever, setting up an initial First XI is a matter of choosing the best of a pretty bad bunch. Here’s the formation and selection I started with:

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I know. With these players, it’s a formation that cries out: Attack me! But I have found that I cannot play with any other style of formation. Playing with two up front just feels wrong. With a 4-4-2 or a 3-5-2 I can never seem to make things happen. It’s 4-3-3 or bust for me. (I do kind of cheat on this a little by having two alternate formations assigned to strategy buttons, and I use them on the fly in the midst of games. But they’re very special alternate formations, and I use them in a peculiar way.)

I put all the defenders’ and the DMF’s defensive arrows on full. I set up a couple of attacking runs for the AMFs and CFs. (They haven’t worked out too well and I’m chopping and changing them from game to game.)

Then I was ready to play. I had chosen to play in Division 2 of League B, after a few minutes’ confusion over just which League had all the English clubs in its Division 1. After messing around for a while I finally just swapped out the entire Division 1 of League B for all the English clubs. This way, when I get promoted, I’ll be taking part in a virtual English Premiership. That’s the way I like it. However, I did not change any of the clubs in Division 2. Consequently I find myself playing in a real mish-mash of a league. Celtic and Rangers are there. Galatasaray are there. Rosenborg are there. River Plate are there. There’s no rhyme or reason to it. Never mind.

I forget now who I played in the first game. Whoever it was, they were all over me. I was cursing the Default players’ treacle-slow movements and response times. I viciously cursed their oil-tanker-like turning circles. I went 0-1 down. Then, somehow, I scored my first goal. Nothing special, really. But the first cut is the sweetest, or something.

The game ended in a 1-1 draw. Overall I was much happier with the Default players than I have been at the start of Master League in the last few PESes. This year they seem more resilient and more capable on the ball, relatively speaking.

I got a shock when it was time to choose my team for the next game. Barely any of the First XI had more than half their stamina left. It’s going to be a long, hard season.

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