I’m on record as calling Master League in PES the best game mode ever created. I’m also on record, many times, as judging Manager Mode in FIFA (particularly in FIFA09) to be an empty, rather pointless experience.
I’m not into playing online. So, for the past 6 months, it’s been Manager Mode or nothing for me and FIFA09. I’ve been trying to get into Manager Mode. I’ve tried to milk it for what it has to offer. Things were progressing recently… but now along comes something called Ultimate Team.
There is one thing I want to say straight away about Ultimate Team. I want to shout it from the rooftops. For the first hour of playing Ultimate Team in FIFA09 I was reminded, again and again, of Master League.
Is Ultimate Team a Master League for FIFA? No, not quite. But it’s getting there. It’s approaching the ballpark.
Ultimate Team is a downloadable expansion for FIFA09. You get a five-match demo for free, after which you have to pay to unlock the full game. I paid my money after playing two matches in the demo. I knew it was going to be worth it.
It’s now 3 days since I first played Ultimate Team, and I have to say that I’ve already got my money’s worth. (About £8.50.) Even if it’s all downhill from now on, I’m satisfied with my purchase. And it won’t be all downhill from now on. All the signs are that I’m just getting started.
It’s a tough one to summarise. Before, I had only a vague idea of what Ultimate Team was. Imagine Master League re-engineered with Pokemon-style playing cards, and without a league mode… No, that’s doing UT a disservice. Let me try again.
You start off with a Default team of no-hopers (sounding familiar) that you have to build up into, well, an ultimate team capable of beating the very best. You play matches—tournaments, or one-off ‘club matches’, online or offline—that accrue ‘coins’ which you use to buy new card packs, that can contain new players, new grounds, new skills, new contracts for your existing players…
I created my club, and named them Allover Rovers. It seemed like a good name at the time. You have one permanent player whom you create before starting, just as in Be a Pro. I created myself, naturally, as a skilful central midfielder. Here I am playing in my team’s dodgy current home kit:
There’s a huge amount to assimilate. It’s intimidating at first. There are purchasable/tradeable cards for everything. Stadia, kits, attributes, managers, coaches… all these and more can be picked up or laid down, traded in, or pasted into a virtual Panini sticker album…
I was lost for most of that first session. What the hell is this? That? Uh? Luckily the anchor is the game itself, FIFA09. As in Master League, there is real pride and a sense of achievement—of incremental progression—to be had from playing Ultimate Team matches with your team, with your players. There’s a whole Team Chemistry gameplay mechanic that’s much more important (and involving) than its Manager Mode equivalent.
I lost all but a few of my first games. I scored no goals. After about ten matches, and enough ‘coins’ earned, I had enough to search online for the Left Midfielder I badly needed, and a better striker to replace my Default striker. Results picked up. Then they dipped once more. At the moment I’m on a weird losing run of several matches, and I desperately need to save for a speedy winger, or another good striker.
Again: does this all sound suspiciously familiar, or what?
Ah, but Ultimate Team lacks a sturdy, comprehensive offline mode. If I could play with my team—Allover Rovers—in an offline Master League-type setup, I’d declare the eternal football game war eternally over, and FIFA the winner. But as things stand all you get to do with your Ultimate Team is play online against other Ultimate Teams, or play offline against single-instance CPU teams. However, there are a range of offline tournaments to play, and I will do so next. I also may—may—play online, just to see what it feels like.
Oh, and this new expansion pack has a new commentator. Step forward Mr Clive Tyldesley, the commentator whom I rate as the best I’ve ever heard on a football game. Icing, meet cake.