Category: FIFA09

The power of suggestion

Yesterday morning I woke up, thought about my football gaming to come (mornings are my footy game time), and felt a gust of dejection.

After experiencing too many downs to go with the ups, I’ve fallen out—again—with PES2011 on the PS3.

PES6 on the Xbox360 plays a beautiful game of football, but it lacks modes and features. I struggle to get into its old-school Master League after the delights of PES2010’s and—yes—PES2011’s ML setups.

I haven’t been seriously into FIFA since FIFA09. I don’t think FIFA11 is going to change that. FIFA is on its way back to being a joke. Perhaps the biggest story of next-gen football gaming isn’t the decline of Pro Evolution Soccer since PES6, but that of FIFA since FIFA08.

For the past week and a bit, I’ve been flitting about from game to game, looking for a place to stay.

Over the past few weeks there have been a few suggestions from commenters on the blog that I might try the Xbox360 version of PES2011. Suggestions that I have pooh-poohed, as gently as possible of course, on the grounds of: WHY?!

A peculiarly stubborn aspect of next-gen PES gaming is this widespread—and often vehemently held—belief that the game plays differently according to any number of factors.

It’s the editing. It’s Konami’s boots-and-balls DLC. It’s the controllers. It’s the console.

At some level, we all know that such beliefs are, to put it bluntly, wrong.

But suggestion is a powerful thing. And the wish for a great PES experience is powerful as well.

So at times during this PES year, suggestion has had me uninstalling this, reinstalling that, messing about with different edit files and configurations, and generally turning in circles that always bring me back to the point where I started. The point where I’m watching my PES2011 players stumble about, and do step-arounds, and take elephant touches—all kinds of unmentionable things.

I must admit: the suggestion of trying the 360 version has wormed its way into my mind. Despite knowing that there is no way that PES2011(360) could be any different from PES2011(PS3)—because they’re the same game—I was considering it.

Because I wanted it to be true.

In a storybook world, I would get the 360 version and never see a stumble, or so rarely as to make no difference. And I would live happily ever after with PES2011 and Master League until September/October time.

Such is the lunacy that we call being a PES fan.

So here’s what happened yesterday. I woke up and knew within a few seconds that I would be getting the Xbox360 version of PES2011 today.

I also knew that I didn’t want to pay even a single penny for it. There were a ton of games on my shelf, gathering dust, that I could trade in.

I gathered them together. Batman: Arkham Asylum. Borderlands. PES2010(360). After a think, I added FIFA09 and FIFA10. (FIFA11 nearly joined them, but it’s a current football game and I want to keep it around.)

And into town I went. On the bus, using my travelcard. Not a penny would be spent on PES2011(360).

Incredibly, there were no copies of the game, used or new, in GAME. I did see copies of PES6(360) there, priced at 75p. Wow. The best pure PES action on a next-gen console, going for that price. We live in strange times indeed.

I ended up at Gamestation, where they had one preowned copy of PES2011(360), as pictured up top.

My trade-in games easily covered the £19.99 cost, and I received a nice few quid in cash on top. Not only was I not paying anything for PES2011(360), I was effectively being paid to test it out.

Cut to the chase? I will indeed. Imagine the scene going all wavy and out of focus, and now I’m back home, and the game has finished installing on the 360, and I’m playing it.

I usually play England vs Scotland as my first fixture on a new football game. A little tradition I’ve had for about 12 years now.

But I specifically wanted to see if certain things were absent from the 360 version of PES2011 that I disliked in the PS3 version.

(NB: I still knew perfectly well, at all times, that the games are the same game. I knew that they had identical coding, and programmed values, and that their handling would be identical. Nevertheless, here I was, a grown man, a rational man if you please, trying to see if 2+2 could produce a different result, just this once.)

My most recent PES2011 action on the PS3 was with Anderlecht in Master League. I knew their players and roughly what they were like, how they would handle in certain situations, etc.

I set up an Exhibition game with Anderlecht, playing against Internacional.

After a few game minutes, I saw this:

Yes, a stumble—one of several throughout the match. On the 360 the stumbles came at just the same frequency as in the PS3 version—pardon me, I mean as in my other copy of the same game.

I knew it before I began, but I did it anwyay.

The Xbox360 version of PES2011 is… PES2011. It’s PES2011! That is all.

Why have I written nearly a thousand words reporting that A is A?

They say that a definition of insanity is trying the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome.

And do you know what’s truly crazy? In my mind, I’m thinking: “That was only a few Exhibition matches. What I should do is start an ML career and see what happens…”

And so here I go again.

Coming this Friday the 13th on PES Chronicles: a new ML career, on the Xbox360.

God help me. No, seriously, God, if you’re there. Help me.

FIFA09: my one-year review

By this time next week we’ll all have played and hopefully enjoyed the FIFA10 demo. Those of us who like next-gen FIFA, that is.

I do like next-gen FIFA. As time passes, it feels less strange to say it. Maybe a year from now it won’t feel strange at all. I remember vividly the days when my only contact with FIFA was via the OPMS2 cover disc demo. After a very short minute or two, I’d put the PES disc back in the PS2 and forget that FIFA even existed. Oh, happy days.

Times have changed for FIFA. FIFA08 was a huge step in the right direction. It caught the gaming press, online and offline, with its pants well and truly down. Remember autumn 2007’s slew of mostly positive reviews of PES2008 and mostly negative reviews of FIFA08? How can we forget them? And as for the wider football gaming community—the arguments are still raging in all the usual online places.

And so to FIFA09—a strange beast in many ways. It failed to capitalise on the groundwork laid down by FIFA08. FIFA09 took a step or two back from the slow, simulation-oriented gameplay of its predecessor. It headed off back down FIFA’s historical fast and furious arcade-oriented route. It didn’t go all the way down that road. It stuck to the sidelines, trying to play both sides of the street. Perhaps it even succeeded in doing so.

On Day 1, I hailed FIFA09 as the greatest football game ever made. I shouldn’t have done that. It is very easy to get carried away by the fresh feeling of a new game. I won’t do that again.

After a few days with FIFA09, I was less enthusiastic, but still thought it a great game. After a few weeks, its many faults grated on me. I picked up PES2009, and played that for the next few months. I never really came back to FIFA09, never gave it another proper chance, until just in the last few months.

And I was very glad that I did. With PES2009 thoroughly out of my system, I had the time and space to give FIFA09 the sustained attention that it demands. This game isn’t easy. You can’t slalom your way past players and slam the ball into the net from 25 yards as a matter of routine, as you can in a certain other football game… FIFA09 makes you work hard for your rewards, harder than any other football game. It makes you work damn hard for the kinds of goals that are ten-a-penny in PES. This has led to many players adopting typical goal-scoring strategies in FIFA09, which has led in turn to the myth that you can only score certain types of goals in FIFA09: tap-ins, rebounds, etc. There is truth here, as there is in any myth, but also a lot of untruth.

In that recent purple patch with FIFA09 I found that my ratio of tap-ins and rebounds etc. fell in proportion to the amount of time and effort I put into the game. Once I’d resigned myself to not being able to pass-pass-pass-shoot my way to footballing glory, I started knocking it about—sometimes for ridiculously unrealistic lengths of time—in order to carve out the kinds of chances I wanted to carve out.

At times, the stuff I was able to do out there on the virtual pitch was like nothing I’d ever seen in PES. FIFA09 was incredible, wonderful, magnificent! At other times, yes, it was sterile and frustrating and tiresome, and I longed to run back to PES. But mostly the good angel won out.

FIFA09 also offers the best online infrastructure ever seen in a football game. I wasn’t interested in it. I detest the kind of football that is played online. I could put together a good case for why the online side of things is ruining football gaming. But it felt nice having it there if I wanted it. FIFA09 also offers players the choice of manual and semi-assisted controls. There’s also a range of difficulty levels leading to World Class and Legendary, both of which can make PES’s Top Player look like a beginner’s nursery.

Really, what’s not to love about FIFA09? Unfortunately, quite a bit.

The main problems with FIFA09 are easy to summarise: speed, shooting, and response times. The game is too fast for my taste, even on the supposedly ‘slow’ setting. (I am deeply worried about FIFA10 in this regard. Whatever noises a football game developer makes in the summertime about slow, simulation gameplay, by the time autumn rolls around there’s been a lot of focus testing and they just want to appease ‘the kids’ with a faster game after all. I fully expect both FIFA10 and PES2010 to renege on their summertime promises of slower gameplay.)

As for FIFA09’s response times, there’s a peculiar kind of martyrdom in waiting for your player to take control of a bouncing ball, only for a CPU player, coming from several yards away, to nick it first. And the shooting is infamously wayward. I liked it at first, but came to strongly dislike it. Then, during my recent Indian summer with FIFA09, I came to like it again.

You can score satisfying goals in FIFA09. You just have to work so hard for them that the game becomes unwieldy and inaccessible for many. We’ve all got busy lives. There are scores of great games to be played. FIFA09, and the next-gen FIFA gameplay as a whole, is a little like War and Peace in a marketplace of penny dreadfuls. That’s not a totally accurate analogy, there, but it makes my point.

Somewhat randomly, here’s a replay of my most spectacular shooting attempt on FIFA09 all year. I missed, and I was offside anyway. But look at the dip on the ball just towards the end! If I’d been a few yards further out, and not offside, and if it had gone in the net, it would have been a goal…

Link: Offside power volley miss in FIFA09

It’s not right that this should be my first—and probably only—such shot attempt on FIFA09 all year. When PES players talk about FIFA lacking a certain special something, this kind of explosive shooting is part of what they have in mind. (Word is that FIFA10 enables this kind of shooting as part of general gameplay. We didn’t see even a hint of it in any of the Gamescom videos. I still think it’s a strange mystery that can’t be explained by ‘they were all nervous playing in front of spectators’ or ‘they were all COD4 players’. Fingers crossed.)

My final score for FIFA09 is 8.5/10. That’s something I’ve thought a long time about. I also gave FIFA08 a final rating of 8.5/10. FIFA09 is certainly a better game than FIFA08, so why not a 9?

Two words: Manager Mode. I’m an offline football gamer, and I play career modes for almost all of that offline time. Manager Mode in FIFA09 was something I had to work very, very hard to like even just a little bit. (And that happened very late in the year.)

I’ve had great times with FIFA09. I’ve scored some great goals and had some great matches. I’ll remember a few of the goals that I scored in my recent purple patch for a long time to come. But I’ll reproduce here a snippet from last year’s equivalent FIFA08 post—my feelings are the same this year.

Next-gen FIFA08 gets 8.5/10 from me. 8 would be too low; 9 would be too high. The game has issues preventing it from being a timeless classic. I’ve always found the shooting to be unpredictably fussy and unsatisfying—although, contrary to popular belief in some PES circles, with practice it is manageable and, in its own way, rewarding.

FIFA10 has got to see an improvement in game modes, on-pitch handling, shooting, and all the rest of it. Third time’s the charm. I ended last year full of admiration and enthusiasm for the next-gen FIFA project. I still have that admiration and enthusiasm and I’m really looking forward to FIFA10. But it’s significant that I’m also keen to see what Konami can do with PES2010. I’ve come to the belief that I can only play one football game at a time. This winter, it’ll either be FIFA10 or PES2010 for me—not both.

Not switching to manual just yet, thanks

Today brings my shortest post in a while. I’ll be back to posting thousand-word walls of text before too long. Right now we’re very much in the ‘phoney war’ phase of the football game year. There’s lots of talk and lots of bluster from various sources, but nothing concrete to get your teeth into.

A week on Thursday there’ll be some answers in the form of the FIFA10 demo. It’ll be a good demo, but I suspect there’ll be more questions raised after it. PES2010 has certainly got the banners raised among the long-suffering PES community. A rather premature sense of jubilation is taking hold, but I still have a queasy feeling about PES2010. I almost wish it was November already and the discovery phase was behind us. I just want to know.

Recently I’ve been talking about how I seemed unable to play FIFA09 any more. This followed a heady few weeks on the Xbox 360 version of PES6. I found myself unable to get back into FIFA09, and blamed my time with the PES game for ‘deprogramming’ me. I had come to regard FIFA09 quite highly, possibly more highly than at any time all year. My sudden inability to play it was as puzzling as it was distressing.

Well—duh, as they say. Just yesterday I found out that I’d left the shooting setting on manual. A few weeks ago I tried out manual shooting to see how I liked it. I forgot to change the setting back to my preferred setting of semi-assisted, which I see as the best of both worlds. When I was unable to play and enjoy FIFA09 the way I’d got used to playing and enjoying it, it was because I’d fundamentally changed the game by leaving the shooting on manual without realising it.

I plan to go full manual on FIFA10 at some stage. It’s the logical thing to do after playing fully assisted on FIFA08, and semi-assisted on FIFA09. But not just yet. I’m not quite ready.

I changed the setting back to semi-assisted, and now everything is fine. Well, nearly fine. I still am seeing FIFA09’s faults a little too clearly, but I’ve also mostly re-settled back into the good groove I was in recently.

Barring the unthinkable scenario of both 2010 games being turkeys, these are my last sessions on FIFA09. I might still play it after September 10th, but I might not. I’d love to take my Atletico Madrid career in Manager Mode to some kind of conclusion. A league title would be nice; a Double or Treble would be fantastic.

In my current season I’m nowhere near the title, but I am in Europe thanks to last season’s Cup win. I met Juventus in an early round and lost the first leg at their place 2-1. That away goal was so vital. In the return leg at my ground it was 0-0 until the 80th minute. Then I fed the ball to Pavlyuchenko on the edge of the Juventus box, and smacked the ball into the top corner. It felt damn good.

Link: Winning goal vs Juventus FIFA09

2010 fatigue

It had to happen. Last week was a Gamescom orgy of wallowing in PES/FIFA forums and websites. I watched every video that appeared. I followed all the discussions and arguments down every path. Now? This week? I’m not so bothered. I’m like a kid who’s eaten too many sweets. When I think of PES2010 and FIFA10 right now, it’s with a certain weariness. So I have a feeling that I will be able to wait after all.

It’s all the Internet’s fault. Just a few years ago, games magazines were the primary source for previews and advance news. I don’t remember anything like the fevered speculation of today. Sites like WENB and FSB and PES Gaming et al either didn’t exist or were still at a bedroom-hobby level (like this site). No PES fan ever doubted that they were going to go out and get PES on release day and it was going to be brilliant, and we were all going to laugh at FIFA as usual. That was the way of the world. Anything else was literally inconceivable (the main reason that PES2008 effectively got a free pass when it first appeared).

The Internet was around, but it didn’t have anything like its current profile. It didn’t have the baleful influence it has on PES development today. I bet Seabass sits around at night and curses the Internet.

So, I’m not bothered about waiting for the 2010 games. They’ll come when they’ll come. What am I still playing? The answer is, not much. I’ve got 2009 fatigue as well. There seems little point in extending any of my careers on the 2009 games. I’d fire up my PSP PES2008 Master League career, but the handheld is occupied by another great Japanese gaming passion of mine, Monster Hunter Freedom Unite.

I have played several session of FIFA09 on the 360 over the past few days. I’ve ruined FIFA09 by spending those few weeks with PES6. During my purple patch with FIFA09—about 6 weeks ago now—I’d almost swear I was playing the greatest football game ever made. Now? Now I see all too clearly everything bad that any PES-schooled player has ever said about it. The main one being: you can’t score satisfying goals in FIFA09. This frustrates me even more now, because I regard it as something I’d largely disproved (if only to myself). I was belting them in from everywhere, using semi-manual shooting too. (Not as hardcore as full manual, but still harder core than all the lame-o online sprint-clamping assisted noobs, oh yeah…)

Here, once again, is a short compilation I made at the time of all my best FIFA09 goals. It’s now had the music removed, after Sevenload ‘did a YouTube’ and blocked the old version with The Smiths soundtrack:

Link: FIFA09 goals nomusic

Those were great days. FIFA09 played in its way on its own terms is one great game of football. Definitely the best football game on next-gen—so far.

But now I’m almost  back to square one with FIFA09. I’m frustratedly air-shooting my way through 0-0 after 0-0, wondering what happened to my golden spell. What happened was that I went and played PES for a week or two, and that undid all the good work with FIFA09.

This teaches me a harsh lesson, one that I’ve already learned lots of times over the past two years, but don’t want to face up to. I cannot really play both games and get the best out of both games. No man can serve two masters. There could be some hard choices to come for me in season 2010.