I think the mark of a succesful football game is just how much emotion it engenders - and Fifa 09 has had me absolutely clenched with rage and frustration as a last minute goal is scored leading to defeat, and absolutely elated as a long hard and important match comes to an end with a well deserved victory. Its made me cheer, its made me laugh, its made me smash my head against the wall - in short it plays a great game of football, with all the joy and frustration that the game entails.
Theres a lot crammed onto the UMD here, suprisingly so. The commentary is always a welcome addition, although as usual it mixes the sublimely apt with the completely random - Andy Gray continuously prattling about slide tackles and injuries and half time issues regardless of the context takes the shine off, but generally commentary is well done, with a good varied use of team and player names and the odd bit of banter which helps to bring the whole thing to life.
On the pitch, theres a wealth of controls for those who want to take charge of every physical nuance, theres a ton of tactics to apply, and theres a simplified control mode for those who want to just play without any real investment. Visually, its all rather nice. The stadia and pitches are well drawn, the animation is generally spot on with players running and reacting in a realistic fashion. Crowds however are dismal, consisting of flashing sprites - a shame but not a deal breaker.
Sound is fairly good - commentary aside, the chants and cheers of the crowd are fairly convincing. Theres the odd moment when a cheer is slightly delayed or played at the wrong time, but its mostly very atmospheric stuff.
Opponant AI is a tricky business. At Semi-Pro level once you get the hang of it, you'll be sliding 7 goals past every game, but upping to professional level whilst providing a far sterner challenge occasionally can feel a teeny bit false as teams or players who have spent the match shooting wide or giving away silly balls, suddenly and inexplicably tighten up and start carving big holes in your defence. Defence can prove tricky with the odd occasion where tackles simply don't work, allowing an opposing player to waltz through 6 defenders and score. Its awesomely frustrating at times, but generally a bit of patience allows for more succesfuly defence. Other issues are still present from previous Fifas where players are slow to react to loose balls, refuse to head up field or are simply facing or running the wrong way at a crucial time.
Niggles aside though, FIfa 09 recreates the atmosphere, ebb, flow and sheer excitement of a decent game of football amazingly well for a handheld format. Occasionally an exercise in frustration, it becomes massively addictive with that enjoyable 'just one more match' sensation that sucks you right into the game.
Well worth a go.