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FIFA 09 Full Preview ( Updated )

We're running up the field, heading into the offensive zone of Chelsea. There's not a defender within 15 yards of us. Ahead, an Arsenal striker is making a deep cut toward the Chelsea goalkeeper and, to his left, renowned striker Emmanuel Adebayor is positioning himself to try to make something happen. Suddenly, our teammate behind us sends the ball our way, which we deftly receive at full gallop. Two Blues defenders are closing in on our striker, but we manage to sneak in a perfectly timed through pass, which he fields, passes to Adebayor, who manages to get the goalkeeper out of position and... GOOOOAL!
Now, technically, our crucial through pass doesn't count as an assist on the scorecard, but it surely felt good to us, especially as an introduction to the new 10-versus-10 online play that looks to be one of the brightest features in EA Sports' upcoming FIFA 09. During a recent trip up to EA Canada we got the first look at 10-versus-10 play, playing a match with 19 developers and producers behind FIFA 09, and we can safely report that the new mode puts an entirely new spin on the virtual sport.

For those familiar with another EA Canada-developed sports game, NHL 09, FIFA 09's 10-versus-10 play is remarkably similar. As with the hockey title, you'll be able to form a club with your friends (a club can have as many as 50 members). Club members can take on other clubs in team matches, with the individual and team performances all counting toward that club's rankings in the overall standings. As for the FIFA league, it still seems to be in its organizational infancy in that there aren't set fixtures between clubs--instead it's a matter of ad hoc matchmaking between clubs and letting the results happen as games are completed. Still, as a first step, it's an exciting beginning for a feature that is destined to grow in the years ahead.

Other similarities between the online team play of FIFA and NHL are obvious. Take, for instance, the hockey game: When you enter a match with your friends, you'll be taken to a lobby where the team captains will be able to set team tactics. After that, you'll be taken to another screen where a mad scramble will result as players pick the position they wish to play on the pitch. As with NHL 09, with players rushing to take the forward position, you can expect to see most FIFA 09 players trying to get those coveted striker and midfield positions. However, it's important to note that regardless of the position you play (except for goalkeeper, which isn't playable in FIFA 09… look for that in next year's game), you always have a way to contribute to your team's success

For our 10-versus-10 match, we chose right midfielder, a position that offers a chance to see a bit of offensive and defensive play (and, due to our relative lack of experience, little chance of screwing the pooch for our Arsenal teammates). One crucial difference between FIFA 09 and NHL 09's Be a Pro mode is that you can only play as a real-life player in 10-versus-10 matches--no using a created player in his stead. So, for Arsenal we were decked out as Tomas Rosicky, and we hit the pitch, hoping to cause as little trouble as possible and maybe even make a play or two in the process.
A fundamental distinction between playing a regular match in FIFA 09 and playing a 10-versus-10 online match (or Be a Pro, for that matter) is that, for a good portion of the game, you're without the ball. That might sound obvious, but it's a crucial distinction, one that requires you to think a bit differently from how you might otherwise play a soccer game. In a regular match, you're looking to make passes, shoot goals, beat defenders, tackle a ball handler, and assume so many other responsibilities. The majority of the time in a 10-versus-10 match, you're looking to simply get in position to help make something happen, many times while the action on the pitch is happening 25 or more yards away from you

Developers told us that the first instinct for soccer novices, when heading online in FIFA 09 for the first time, is to simply crowd around the ball, with everyone--even those on the same team--fighting for possession. Defenders play well into the offensive zone, while midfielders and strikers basically play side by side. That's sure to be a recipe for disaster once the skilled teams start getting online in FIFA 09, the folks who know how (and, more importantly, where) to play their position. Playing 10-versus-10 like Little Johnny's First AYSO Game is sure to put you and your team in the loss column time and again

We had a fine time trying to position our player on the pitch to make things happen, and to its credit, FIFA 09 has a few camera angles to help you keep focused on the action. In addition to the vertical Be a Pro camera, which swoops in and out and even angles in on the action down the sidelines, there's a Tele camera option, which we like even more. Essentially a horizontal broadcast camera, the Tele option's big advantage is in letting you choose between focusing on either the ball or your player. With a press of the Select button, you can switch the camera's focus either on the ball or on your player. We found both camera options useful at certain times. Most of the time it pays to focus on the ball, even if you're player isn't directly involved in the play; however, you also want to be mindful of your player's spot on the pitch, always keeping him in position to get in on the action.

Simply because you spend a relatively minimal amount of time with the ball (depending on your position), the most telling part of the action in FIFA 09's 10-versus-10 play is how much of a thrill it was to actually have possession. It happened only a handful of times in the 20-minute match we played, but each time it was a heightened experience from your typical online FIFA match. You can't help but feel a tinge of extra responsibility with the ball at your feet, knowing that a great pass could end up in a scoring chance (as in the recollection that begins this preview), while a botched possession could end up in a score for the opposing team (which we also experienced). Get too aggressive on the pitch, and you might even get red-carded out of the game--which also happened to an opponent player during our match. In that case, the offending player is simply removed from the game (though he or she can watch the rest of the game if desired).

It's in that amplification of the soccer experience--that feeling of ownership over the moment with the ball in your possession--that strikes us as the best aspect of 10-versus-10 play in FIFA 09. Of course, network performance will play a large role in the mode's success. We played it in a relatively controlled environment, with no lag to speak of. We're very curious to see how the mode performs after the teeming hordes of FIFA fans take their clubs online.
Considering the FIFA team has long spoken of the ultimate goal for the series as fielding teams comprised of a country's best online players at each position for a virtual World Cup, it's fair to say that the current iteration of online 10-versus-10 play and its associated Be a Pro mode are just previews of where these features will head between now and the next few years. We look forward to closely following this evolution. FIFA 09 is set for release on October 14.

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posted by admin @ 22:24,


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